Just three years ago, she was one of "three chicks with credit cards" trying to form a consortium of female bloggers.
Now, former CNN journalist Lisa Stone is championing a network of 2,200 blogs in a fresh strategic partnership with iVillage, taking on a new $5 million investment from iVillage-parent NBC Universal, and playing host to as many as eight blog-publishing conferences this year around the country. This Friday, the BlogHer conference in San Francisco is expected to attract as many as 3,000 bloggers, some of them mothers driving across the country via caravan while blogging about their trip. (Stone co-founded BlogHer in February 2005 with Elisa Camahort Page and Jory Des Jardins.)
CNET News caught up with Stone on the eve of her fourth annual BlogHer event to talk about online advertising, the presidential campaign, and what it takes to be a successful blogger.Can you tell me why this deal with iVillage is significant?
Stone: Our mission has always been to raise the profile of women who blog, as well as create great opportunity for their economic empowerment. With this relationship, we're excited to drive reach, scale, and additional advertising revenue for our BlogHer ad network members.
What are the terms of the deal?
Stone: Two key things are going to happen. We're creating promotional opportunities across the different sites, from Blogher.com to iVillage.com and BravoTV.com properties, also from those sites to Blogher's 2,200 bloggers. So No. 1 is driving the reach that these bloggers have, and the second thing is we'll be working together to collaborate on advertising sales with NBC Universal for our inventory.
Today BlogHer reaches more than 8 million unique visitors a month, according to Nielsen NetRatings. We're a long-tail play that achieves about 100 million impressions a month and 45 million pageviews. A year ago, we didn't (register with) Nielsen. We had 180 blogs in our network and we thought we were achieving close to 1 million unique (visitors). We've grown 10 times and we're excited to begin monetizing this network.
With so much new content in your network, how do you choose what to feature?
Stone: We have a two part approach. The first is that on BlogHer.com, since we launched the site on January 2006, we've been creating a new service to cover what's hot by women who blog. Women are blogging about everything, from business and technology to parenting and food. We cover the entire spectrum of women's blogging. As part of our initiative moving forward, we are working to help introduce these voices contextually across the NBC Universal sites.
iVillage, for example, going back to their days as ParentSoup, has an extraordinary footprint in parenting online. And we'll be hoping to introduce our mommy bloggers to that audience. Today, we have more than 1,000 moms and dads who blog in the network.
So do you use technology to help in that process, or just editors?
Stone: RSS feeds are a programmers' best friend in a collaborative initiative. Both sides are using widgets to syndicate headlines from a central place.
You have an extensive background in journalism--having worked as a reporter at The Oakland Tribune and CNN--and I wonder how you see the current state of journalism and how BlogHer's network fits into that picture?
Stone: I'm almost never asked that. Let me roll tape back to January 30, 2006, when we first launched the BlogHer.com new service that you see today. We made a decision at that time that we wanted to raise the profile of what women were doing by using the very best so-called traditional media values to cover the new media space. That's the reason why we launched with the editorial guidelines that you see linked at the bottom of every page in the network. Every blogger signs that when they join our network. We've always said we don't care how big you are, we care how good you are.
We are interested in embracing the spirit of civil disagreement. We believe in the First Amendment and we want people to blog about the full range of topics in our list. At the same time, we decline to publish content that we consider unacceptable, like something meant to harass or abuse someone. Nor something that's libelous, defamatory, or infringing on anyone's copyright. We're also not interested in publishing editorial content that's paid for by a third party, or pay for post.
So with that baseline, how do you see BlogHer fitting in the media world?
Stone: Today, American women are not only the most powerful consumers in the world, we're also the power users of Web 2.0 and social media technologies. What that means is that if you are interested in truly covering a story, given the way in which people are using these technologies, you must include voices of women in what you're covering. What BlogHer is doing is fulfilling a mission, shining a spotlight on what these incredible users are saying, when they say it.
It is a whole new world for media programming, and this partnership indicates how increasingly important the user will be with NBC and BlogHer moving forward.
You're coming up on your fourth annual conference with BlogHer. Can you put that in context to when you started?
Stone: BlogHer started as a labor of love by three chicks with credit cards who wanted to answer the question, "Where are the women bloggers." And in 2005, we blogged the question to other women we knew. But we thought instead of blogging about it, we decided to have a big get-together. Three hundred and five women showed up from four different continents.
We were so surprised that we sent a survey out afterward, asking them what they'd like us to do. They said: We'd like more conferences. We'd like some way to find out what each other are doing, and BlogHer.com was born of that. And the third thing they said, we'd really like a better business model because while we love Google AdSense, we don't think we're getting the high-level cost per impression (CPM) ad rates that we think our blog writing should command. And that spring our blog ad network was born with 34 mommy bloggers.
Today, nearly four years later, we're starting our fourth annual conference, but in fact it's one of eight we're holding this year. Instead of 305 women, we are reaching between 2,500 and 3,000 women. And that's just in person. We're also hosting BlogHer in Second Life.
We've safely put to rest the question, "Where are the women bloggers?"
But it's myth that it's all just women bloggers.
Stone: That's right. Some of my favorite food and parent bloggers are men and another is Laid-Off Dad. We're also publishing our first anthology this summer--Sleep is for the Weak, True Tales of Parenthood--and Laid Off Dad is one of the 23 featured authors.
Vertical ad networks are all the rage in the investment community. I wonder how you see BlogHer as different from others like Glam Media and how your ad rates compare to programs like Google AdSense?
Stone: Frankly, with the seismic changes in traditional media and the growing interest female users are demonstrating in social networking and blogs, I don't think there's a better time for advertisers to put a toe in the water and send messages out to blogs. And when they do so, I think they need to go with the best quality blogs out there.
We've innovated a long-tail network like no other. We publish the largest number of blogs by moms and dads. This is one of the reasons, with relationships with GM, Kraft and Dove, we've been able to syndicate ads that make our bloggers happy. The long tail brings a particular advantage to the advertiser because each of these communities shows loyalty, and we find click-through...is very good. We run double-digit CPMs, average between $10 and $12, with parenting at premium.
So what's your advice to new bloggers out there who want to find recognition?
Stone: First, they should blog what they love. The passion for your topic can not be disguised. And I think the only way to feel like a success when you're writing something every day is to truly enjoy it. The second thing is that people participate with other blogs. There's nothing like reading other blogs to make you a better writer. And there's nothing like commenting on other blogs to raise the profile of your voice. The answer is that you're joining a community. You're not just trying to grow massive traffic. You're establishing a voice and you're joining a juggernaut of a movement. To do so will take dedication, heart, soul, and stamina. This is a marathon not a sprint.
You just raised $5 million from NBC Universal and Venrock. What's your path to profitability?
Stone: I don't think we're commenting.
What's next for BlogHer then?
Stone: A year from now, I look forward to some groundbreaking cross-programming strategies with iVillage and other NBC properties. I'm also excited to see what happens with our bundled sales approach with women at NBCU, which includes fantastic video and contextual tools. When plugged into BlogHer's network, video should really pop and be viral. BlogHer's is a wonderful opportunity for NBC's quality video shelf.
So how is this year's political campaigning coming to your blog community, given the growing power of bloggers in politics in general?
Stone: I'm happy to say BlogHer got an exclusive video interview with (Barack) Obama recently. And once we finish this conference, we plan to do a matching video interview with Senator McCain. BlogHer is also happy to be sending a team to both the Republican and Democratic conventions. (We are nonpartisan.) And on the iPhone, if you go to Blogher.com/politics, there's a widget for women who blog politics to add. They're color-coded and searchable by state. That will be a really good guide during the conventions.