If you haven't been introduced to BritMums yet, I urge you to listen up and take note.
This weekend, the online community, formerly known as British Mummy Bloggers, gathered together for BritMums Live, a high-profile conference with over 500 delegates in attendance, attracting members from all parts of the country and with a diverse range of personal stories and blogging achievements.
Bloggers, old and new, listened to inspirational talks from blogging peers, as well as a range of celebrities from the more traditional media world. Well-known bloggers such as Antonia Chitty, Julia Boggio and Kate Davis-Holmes, sharing programme time with some of the nation's well-known faces including Sarah Brown, Cherry Healey, Eleanor Mills, Katy Hill and Ruby Wax. The topics were just as extensive, from experiences with depression to finding your voice, photography, publishing, video blogging, beginners tips, advanced tips, work\blog\life balance, food and blogging for happiness. And the great thing was, it didn't matter about any individual's background, whether it was journalism, TV or blogging, being a speaker or a member of the audience, the atmosphere felt very much a level playing field.
One of the key messages to emerge from the conference was how influential bloggers have become and the evidence was pretty clear, with major names such as TK Maxx, Crocs, Panasonic, Lego, Warner Bros and Butlins being present on the day as sponsors. Brands are keen as ever to win over online voices, using modern-day word-of-mouth to share news of their latest products, through blogging platforms and micro-blogging such as Twitter.
But it's not just about manufacturers and retailers getting buy-in. In recent years, there has been an increased trend in bloggers standing up for their passions and working in partnership with the third-sector, raising the profile of charities and key issues. For example, many of the BritMums community have already voiced support for PiggyBankKids, a charity founded by Sarah Brown, that helps vulnerable babies and children. PiggyBankKids' presence at the conference spoke volumes, as did the fact that fundraising enabler Give as You Live was the event's key sponsor, highlighting how online shoppers can raise money for their favourite charity at no extra cost to themselves.
At the Blogging for Greater Good discussion, members of the panel - pictured above - highlighted the power of bloggers in profiling good causes and reinforced the point that charities don't necessarily need bloggers' donations, it's the blogging that is most important, encouraging support from online followers, as well as friends and families. It's very much about sharing the personal stories that people have to tell that can connect closely to a specfic cause.
Whether as individuals or a a group, blogging seems to be entering a new era, It was mentioned on more than one occasion how professionals within 'traditional' media have been turning to bloggers and Twitter to source stories, topical commentary as well as content for programmes and new TV formats. My own experience can already testify to that, having had several opportunities to contribute towards and influence production content for a range of local radio broadcasts, national radio and a TV documentary. It now seems to come with the territory and as been something that's taken some time for me to get used to.
Four years ago, it felt like wading in jelly to justify myself as a blogger but things have since changed and both BritMums Live and the recently-held Cybher demonstrated that many other bloggers have noticed the changes.
So, what did I personally gain from this weekend's event?
Firstly there's the gratitude that I've continued to blog about a topic that I care about, despite numerous moments of self-doubt and the odd period of burn-out. BritMums Live served as a reminder of why I started blogging. It's about the passion and the sharing. This blog may be niche, but I do it because I care about my children and the generations that follow. If I can learn and help shape positive change as a result of my discoveries, I will be happy that I've done my job as a blogger.
Then there's the awesome support. A hugathon, full of old friends and new aquaintances. I tend to be one for discrete waving than shouting out a total roll-call, so I shall just say, quite warmly and with much appreciation, thank you all, you know who you are. And to my pals who buffered my nerves during the awards evening, and then boosted the flow of wine when I didn't win, an even bigger thank you to your good selves.
And finally, there's that kick up the backside again, the one where I should really pull my finger out and write that book. With great advice from author and mentor Antonia Chitty, I now need to jump those hurdles of time-conflicts, mobilise my resources and get cracking.
Of course, being a waste-geek at a conference that coincided with Recycle Week, I couldn't help cast my mind back to the fabulous contribution the community gave to the campaign, just three years ago in 2009, and I wondered if there could be scope again. It was much fun with lots of people rising to the challenge and demonstrating tonnes of creativity in spreading the word, so I very much hope it can happen again.
In the meantime, there's no way a rubbish blogger should really end a blogpost about a blogging conference, without demonstrating some evidence about what bloggers are doing to shrink their rubbish.
So here's my old pal and 'Rubbish Dieter', Tim, author and blogger at Bringing up Charlie, who after a dash of wine, attempts to reveal the fullness of his relatively new compost bin. He slimmed his bin by 50% you know!
Oh yes, sorry I forget to say, the conference may be called BritMums Live, but in this age of equality, fathers are made welcome too.