Australia's premier event for bloggers - the Problogger Training Event - is over for another year.
It was the fourth time in as many years that Darren Rowse and the crew from Problogger have run the annual event, which serves as an excellent barometer of the state of blogging in Australia.
With that in mind, I'm happy to report the local blogging scene (maybe we should start calling it an industry?) appears to be in pretty good shape!
Between 400 and 450 bloggers piled into the QT Hotel on the Gold Coast to absorb the latest information on growing your blog, your brand and your business using content marketing and social media strategies.
Put in perspective, this was double the number of people who attended the second event in Melbourne in 2011. The 2013 confab was run over two days and had backing of the likes of Virgin Australia and Tourism Queensland (both did a sterling job of leveraging their involvement in the event), among other sponsors.
So what does this mean for brands and marketers?
Simply, the seismic shift in the online media landscape continues, with increasing numbers of new influencers making their presence felt - on the social web, yes, but just as importantly, at the cash register and in other areas too.
Regular readers of PR Warrior will be aware I tend not to look at blogs in isolation but rather try and connect the dots of the reach and influence of the people who write them.
It became obvious at the Problogger event that many serious bloggers in Australia are becoming fully-fledged content creators, community builders and mini-media enterprises in their own right - they shoot video and/or photos, some produce audio content via podcasting, and most are hyper-connected across social networks. They are telling stories that resonate with their audience, growing their following organically through word-of-mouth not only through their blogs but also social networks, and building their brands in accelerated fashion.
Clint Gregan aka Reservoir Dad is set to extend his sphere of influence into bricks and mortar territory with a forthcoming new book release. Ditto Styling You's Nikki Parkinson. Ditto Pip Lincolne from Meet Me at Mikes.
And there were hundreds of others in attendance at the Problogger event who in their own unique way are finding their voice through blogging, as well as leveraging multiple channels to actively share stories and ideas, grow their visibility, build authority in their particular niche, and speak to - and engage with - hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of people across the country (and in some cases, internationally).
At the conference we heard from New Zealand-based Trey Ratcliff (wearing possibly the only Google Glass in Australia), who urged the audience to live in the now. Ratcliff has amassed a global audience of millions across his blog (Stuck In Customs) and various social media channels (he has a following of 6.3 million on Google+ alone), and has built a hugely successful enterprise off the back of his personal brand. He is one of the micro mavens I cover in my book, microDOMINATION.
Amy Porterfield, from San Diego, showed us there was a heck of a lot more to Facebook that simply posting updates with pretty pictures.
Jim Stewart demystified the murky virtual waters of SEO and helped bloggers better understand how to get found on search engines; founder of the Australian Writers' Centre Valerie Khoo provided tips on blogging for business; award winning film-maker and photographer Hailey Bartholomew shared ideas around making videos on iPhone/iPad; while Ed Dale (pictured above) piqued participants' interest in the nascent (but growing) area of digital magazine publishing for iPads/tablet devices - yet another exciting frontier we're about to experience!
Darren Rowse aka Problogger - who has amassed an audience of five million across his two blogs - carpet-bombed the packed audience with gems of inspiration.
And finally, in an excellent move by the organisers, singer-songwriter (and an engaging public speaker in her own right) Clare Bowditch inspired the packed venue with her stories and authentic charm (catch Clare in action below).
Bottom line: If you think blogging is simply about pyjama-clad narcissists typing away in a basement writing posts for nobody in particular, you'd be barking up the wrong virtual tree.
Blogging today is all about connecting and engaging with real and growing audiences; sharing stories and ideas and generating discussion and two-way interaction on and offline; but most of all, it's about building and fostering a sense of genuine community of fans, followers, supporters, enthusiasts and advocates of the blogger's brand, of who they are and what they stand for.
On an obvious 'surface level', a thriving local blogging scene provides brands with myriad exciting opportunities to partner with active content creators in interesting ways to reach new audiences and gain valuable third party endorsement along the way (whether paid, or earned).
On a deeper level, however, brands should be looking at how bloggers are creating content, building their own media brands and connecting with their community across multiple channels - and learning a thing or two from them!
These are all pointers to where marketing and PR is headed generally. Ignore them at your professional peril.