Monday, September 1, 2014

Tales from the Trip: Beer Bloggers Conference 2014 - Part 2

We love San Diego

As promised, we're sharing more of our epic beer adventure to San Diego with you all. Last time we told you about the crazy fun pre-conference tour of the up-and-coming LA beer scene; this time we'll tell you about what we learned at the conference proper.

Yes, we actually learned stuff while consuming unfathomably large quantities of excellent craft beer.  We swear that we actually remember (most of) what we learned in conference sessions.

No, we won't bore you senseless (or at least we'll try not to.)  But we figure some of you might be beer bloggers yourselves or might have interest in beer blogging.  And we're nice people, we believe in sharing, so here you go:

Lesson 1: BYOB

While you will be served seemingly never-ending streams of awesome beer, there will be unfortunately-timed beer gaps you'll need to cover.  Bring some of your own favorites and enough to share.  The "dry" periods are during the educational sessions, which we'll talk about below.  Don't get a good buzz going at lunch only to find yourself unprepared and stranded in a 2-hour lecture block with nary a beer in sight.  This is a recipe for disaster.  We're endlessly thankful for our buddy BrewDad who learned this important lesson long ago, and like a Good Samaritan, offered us liquid-aid at our most dire moments.  Bless you BrewDad!
Someone else planned ahead and filled this growler at Societe

Adam and I divided and conquered the sessions, so here are the highlights:

Lesson 2: Ethics for Bloggers are Highly Subjective

Have some.  Ethics, that is.  The guy next to you might have a wildly different take on what's ok and not ok, but that's to be expected. Those differences fueled some fun discussion.

One of the most discussed topics was disclosure of compensation. There's a consideration for norms and scale that plays in here.  For example: Want to accept a paid beer-trip across America from some purveyor of mass-produced American adjunct lager?  Fine, just please disclose it so everyone who's reading your posts can be appropriately skeptical of your claims of quality.  Do you accept free beer-mail from a local craft brewer, or free admission to a brewer's dinner?  Most folks seem cool with this, and agree you don't need to explicitly disclose that you got a freebie because that's kinda the norm.  This is because everyone assumes you got free beer, much like movie critics get free movie admission. 

But bloggers have various policies on this - some do a blanket disclosure, others handle case by case, and others go the assumptive route of "everyone knows I get this stuff free" and don't disclose at all.  We're fans of disclosure, so you'll see us note when we get goodies for free.

We got this delicious beer free from the good folks at Ninkasi - see, disclosure!
The hottest debate centered around whether bloggers should be critically journalistic, or whether it's ok to be nice and "cheerleaders" of the industry.  We heard from experts who said, essentially, don't post if you aren't bettering the beverage with your commentary, with the implication that criticism should be constructive and informed. We heard from others who said they only post about stuff they really like and want to promote, and if they don't like a particular producer they won't give them the free publicity a blog post provides.   Where do we stand? We're all about supporting the craft.  So pretty much, we write about what we like and promote what we love. But we respect that other people have a different approach to their blogging, no worries.

Conclusion: if you're blogging, have some kind of an ethical policy and hold yourself accountable. Do your best to be forthright and transparent, and most of the time you'll be ok.

The ethics panel in progress... where's the beer?
Lesson 3: No Crappy Photography or Blair-Witchy Videography

In today's world, there's no excuse for crappy cell-phone pictures.  With all the tools, equipment, and even apps out there to help improve your image quality, pasting a crap picture is unforgivable and lazy.  We were feeling a little sheepish about this because hey, let's face it, we're not the Ansel Adams of beer.  But, they educated us on what is and isn't good use of images, how to actually take good photos, and even what equipment we might want to (eventually) invest in.  We got some ideas for how we could step it up a notch and post more compelling images with the wordy stuff.  So hopefully you all notice some changes as we get better at this whole photography thing.

This is a crappy photo, and we are ashamed we took it
(but tasting Sour in the Rye from the barrel
was an unparalleled experience) 

This is not a crappy photo (and the beer was amazing)
Lesson 4: Keep the Blog Theme Updated Please

The nice folks giving this talk were from Automattic, the peeps who bring us Wordpress.  We don't use Wordpress (evidently most of the internet does, placing us solidly in the minority) but we still took away some good tidbits.

Most importantly, bloggers need a modern theme so if it hasn't been updated in a couple of years, it might need a replacement.  Sprucing up should include eliminating annoying things like content carousels which almost everyone hates, or including cool plugins that run your twitter feed or a calendar of events, etc.  Our theme's a couple of years old so we may take their advice and do some remodeling soon.  Thanks for the tips, Automattic guys!

Lesson 5: Take Social Media, SEO, and Marketing More Seriously

Evidently, we have a lot to learn to figure out SEO, and click through behaviors, and the importance of links.  We write this blog because we really love drinking beer.  And we were driving our friends nutty group-texting them pictures and descriptions of endless taster trays.  But yes, we would love it if we could reach more people to spread the gospel of delicious craft beer, so there are some technical things we need to learn to do.  On the plus side, we're not hopelessly unprepared.  One of us has an MBA with a marketing focus (though social media didn't exist back when we earned it - damn we're getting old) - so we have a ton to learn on this but figure we can put those marketing smarts to some use here!

This photo's a little crappy, but here we are learning about
brewing industry marketing, with Aubrey Cole from Warsteiner USA and Ben Weiss from The Bruery

So yeah, we learned a lot and think our blog will be shinier and more awesome after we implement some of the tips and tricks we picked up.  We certainly hope you guys will like the upcoming changes!

Next post will be way more beer-y, we promise.

Cheers all!

Gratuitous beer porn from our trip to The Yard House

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