There Totally Are Cliques At BlogHer. Have Fun Anyway.

07/20/2011 By Shawn Burns

Every year the posts and comments flood the Internet:

“BlogHer is awesome and so much fun and if you don’t have fun there it’s your fault!”

“I went to BlogHer last year and it was very cliquish and I didn’t have any fun.”

“There are no cliques at BlogHer! No one is cool! Everyone is just as nervous as you are, so if you didn’t barge into a circle of friends who haven’t seen each other for a year and introduce yourself and ask to be adopted, that’s your problem.”

“I introduced myself to this one person at BlogHer and totally got a brush-off.”

“No really, there are no cliques. There’s something there for everyone, but you have to want to have a good time or you won’t have a good time. You have to find your tribe!”

This will be my third BlogHer conference. I didn’t go last year, except in spirit, but I can tell you, honestly, there are cliques at BlogHer.

I know there are cliques at BlogHer because I’m in like nine of them, and they are full of cool bloggers. You are probably afraid you’ll have a horrible interaction with some of them, and I promise you at some point you will have a horrible interaction with someone if you put yourself out there. I have. It doesn’t make them bad people, and it doesn’t make you a loser, and nobody is going to talk about you behind your back. But there are totally cliques at BlogHer.

How could there not be? While on the one hand, BlogHer is a wide community, and “community” in the best sense of the word, it’s not like everyone is everyone else’s best friend. But where there are friends, there are cliques. Which is to say, where there are friends, there are groups of people who want to spend time with their friends; and they are not all great at schmoozing, so they won’t schmooze. Or they are great at schmoozing, but only from the comfort of their own group.

I’m not great at schmoozing. I need a group of people I recognize in order to relax. If I’m sitting alone at a table at a party it’s because I’m too nervous to go insert myself into a conversation with people I admire but don’t know and who probably don’t know me. I wait for someone I know or who knows me to find me, and then we aggregate more and more people until we reach a critical group mass. I am, despite all of my behaviours, shy. Or I think I am. This might have been a problem for me at BlogHer if I hadn’t already established relationships through blogging, and then cemented those relationships in person. You have to put in the work ahead of time, because getting into groups during a first face-to-face meeting is daunting.

You might be that rare individual who shows up at BlogHer, declares your undying love for a blogger you’ve never met and only rarely interacted with, and be immediately swept into a clan of hilarious, smart, ridiculously competent and worthwhile people. I think that’s happened every year. There are definitely many cool, popular bloggers who will meet a total stranger and say “Yes, now it’s a party! Let’s go have fun and learn about each other.” There are many cool bloggers who won’t do that. I don’t hold that against them. But I also don’t think that it’s unfair to see it as cliquish. I do think it’s unfair to think of “cliques” as, by definition, being full of mean-spirited people.

I used to tell Emily that there were no popular kids at my high school. We all kind of just did our own thing, and that drama that’s depicted in pop culture just didn’t exist. She replied, probably accurately, “If you didn’t notice a popular group at your school, you were probably in it.” I begged off for a while, “No, no, I was a nerd, a geek, I was so insecure, I was blah blah blah…” But when I look back at high school I can see that there were definitely groups that hung out together, and I was able to hang out in a lot of different groups for whatever reason. I was not unliked. My perspective is definitely skewed.

I think bloggers who are cliquish don’t know that they are cliquish because they rarely let insecurity stand in the way of their having a good time, and they have to do far less work interacting at BlogHer than others because they already have established relationships. Their perspective is skewed. BlogHer doesn’t appear cliquish to them because they’ve broken through whatever barriers there really are to meeting and befriending a lot of people face-to-face, and they think everyone should be able to accomplish the same thing. So before, during, and after BlogHer their mantra will be “I made my own fun and didn’t go out of my way to be snotty, so I certainly can’t be accused of being cliquish. And none of my friends are either. So, there are no cliques at BlogHer.”

It’s wrong. There are cliques at BlogHer. It can seem intimidating to approach people in groups, people who are with their friends, people who seem to be surrounded by hangers-on or a galaxy of stars. It can seem intimidating because it is intimidating! There is a chance that if you approach that person you will get blown off, because they don’t actually know who you are, or they do know who you are and they’ve interpreted your interactions with them far differently than you have, or they are in a hurry or they are not very nice or they are very nice but they have a headache or they are perfectly healthy and nice but they are absolutely terrible at dealing with people.

There’s also a chance that if you approach that person, you will have a pleasant interaction, they will remember your name forever, and you will become great friends. There’s a chance, and it’s a risk.

Wayne Gretzky’s most famous quote is “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Gretzky missed a lot of shots, but he also scored a lot of goals. So many, in fact, that no one remembers the ones he missed. You will be faced with cliques at BlogHer, and you might miss your shot, blow your intro, leave an interaction with a bad taste in your mouth. But you might also have a great time.

You definitely won’t have a great time if you let the cliquish-ness (for whatever reason people appear to be or actually are cliquish) get in your way. It’s not your fault if you don’t have fun at BlogHer. There are a lot of factors that contribute to someone’s good time, and your own effort is just one of them. However, it’s your fault if you don’t even try to have a good experience, to do the things that you think would improve your day.

Maybe you’ll find a tribe, maybe you won’t. Maybe if you meet me I will recognize your face, your name, your blog name, your Twitter handle; maybe I won’t. There are no guarantees in life but for this: If you see me at BlogHer and greet me with “O Captain My Captain” I will help make BlogHer worthwhile for you in whatever way I can. I know a lot of people in the blogging world after nearly four years of doing this, and if I know someone you would like to meet or say hi to, I am utterly thrilled to do it. It makes me feel cool and important. It also makes me feel cool and important if you just want to meet me and hang out. I can’t promise that we’ll spend a lot of time together, because I will be doing my best to see friends I’ve missed for almost two years now, but I will stretch myself thin for you.

Okay, fine, you don’t have to say “O Captain My Captain”.

(Editor’s Note: This post is from 2011. I will not be at BlogHer this year.)