What I Learned at the rewardStyle Conference

what i learned at the rewardstyle conference dallas

Last week, I headed to Dallas with Shaheen, Blair and Jenn for the three-day rewardStyle conference, otherwise known as “rStheCon.” For those of you who aren’t personally involved in the blogging world, rewardStyle is an affiliate marketing company and monetization platform used by fashion, home, beauty and lifestyle bloggers. Essentially, if a reader clicks on an “rStyle” link and makes a purchase, the blogger receives a small commission. rewardStyle is also the company behind LIKEtoKNOW.it, which you’ve probably seen on Instagram. (If you sign up here, you’ll receive emails with shopable links when you “like” photos with the LIKEtoKNOW.it hashtags/links.)

Blogging and the use of affiliate links has become quite the controversial topic. Some view it as a money grab, and one that cheapens sites. Others–like myself–think it can, if used wisely and appropriately, allow bloggers to create more content and better content. Blogging is expensive! There’s the obvious cost of buying products to feature, yes… but there are so many other expenses that go into it behind the scenes.

Because I work with affiliate companies and take on campaigns, I’m able to do more and blog more. (Great English there, haha.) It’s a fine balance between “selling out” and remaining true to yourself and your “brand,” but as I’m not independently wealthy, working with affiliates and brands has helped me grow my blog in ways I never thought possible. And as you are the reason affiliate marketing companies and brand collabs exist, it’s truly because of YOU that I was able to move to Chicago and start blogging on a somewhat full-time basis. I hope you know how incredibly grateful I am. (Remember this? How far I’ve come in terms of personal happiness…) Thank you!

Bloggers’ use of affiliate links is another topic for another time, though. Back to the conference:

Overall Experience

In the past, I’d been too nervous to attend the rewardStyle conference because (very honestly) I didn’t think I’d have anyone to talk to, and the flashbacks of being a new student in a scary new high school were simply all too real. I definitely acknowledge that this was utterly ridiculous; I’m in my 30s, for crying out loud. But hey: we’ve all been there, right?!

When Blair texted me a few months ago and said we should probably go, I was still on the fence. This would likely be my last chance, as (knowing me) I won’t want to leave Baby L for a conference in the future. Yet I wasn’t sure how I’d handle a three-day event being so preggo. But I signed up and booked the plane ticket, and I’m so glad I did!

First of all, I was able to keep up. There were certainly times when I got tired, and boy, did I sleep well at night! But for the most part, it wasn’t as exhausting as I thought it would be. (Though I did end up skipping the last party.)

Secondly, the conference was NOT scary. I pictured girls dressed to the nines, pretending not to know each other and acting like celebs. And a whole lot of competition and cattiness. But the exact opposite occurred. Okay: attendees did look stunning, while I could barely squeeze into my outfits. (Which, I swear, totally fit me when I originally packed my suitcase.) But everyone was so friendly, genuine, humble and supportive. I reconnected with some girls from New York, and I finally met bloggers I’ve been following and chatting with over the web for years. Really, meeting everyone was one of the major highlights of the trip, and my vision of how it would go couldn’t have been further off. (Shame on me!)

Finally, attending the conference was extremely worthwhile. Of course, I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that rewardStyle’s purpose for holding the event every year is to educate their publishers so they make more money, so rStyle, in turn, can make more money. That said, I took away way more than just how to increase profits.

The conference also provided me with a lot of motivation and inspiration. If I’m being real here, I’ve been struggling with running this blog over the past few months. Sometimes I absolutely adore it, but there are other times that I feel a bit worn out by it. Mitch and I have talked about it extensively, and think it’s undoubtedly because of the added financial strains we’re currently under with the house renovations, along with the fact that I’m pregnant and stretching myself a bit too thin. (So tired all the time!) But I needed a little reminder of why I love blogging so much. And the conference served as a big reminder. Never have I been more excited by this little community I belong to. :)

rewardstyle #rsthecon party

The Schedule

Thursday:

  • Blair, Shaheen and I flew to Dallas in the morning, went out to lunch, and then hung out at Blair’s parents’ home, where we were staying. (Thank you so much, Culwell Fam! You’re the best!) Later that night, we “checked in” at the conference at The Joule, and attended the “Publisher Pool Party,” sponsored by Misguided, on the hotel’s rooftop.

Friday:

  • We grabbed breakfast and coffees outside of a ballroom in the Joule, where the keynote was being held, and then settled in to listen to Amber Venz Box, president and co-founder of rewardStyle, speak.
  • Right after that, the first panel started. Titled “Content Evolution: Exploring New Channels and Seamlessly Integrating Your New Interests,” several successful bloggers spoke: Monika Hibbs from Monika Hibbs, Mary Seng from Happily Grey, Samantha Hutchinson from Could I Have That, and Victoria Magrath from In the Frow.
  • Between panels, there was a shorter talk on harnessing cross-border consumer trends.
  • The second panel was titled “Building your Brand Beyond the Blog: How to Leverage Your Following to Tackle What’s Next.” Panelists included Zanita Whittington from Zanita Studio, Louise Roe from Front Roe, and Saga Beedy, part of the Sincerely, Jules team.
  • Lunch with Rodial in The Joule.
  • After this, everyone followed their own schedules. I had 10-minute brand meetings with Joe Fresh, Colleen Rothschild and Sole Society, while others took classes, attended their own brand meetings, or walked around the Networking Hall, interacting with other brands at their individual booths. (Other brands included Kendra Scott, Moon & Lola, Ann Taylor, M.GEMI, Topshop, Splendid, Modcloth, REISS, Express and Minted. There were more, too!) You could also visit the Creative Suite, where you could consult one-on-one with rewardSryle’s graphic design, photography, and UI/UX experts. The place to go for tricky problems and questions!
  • Later that night, we attended a cocktail party with Joe Fresh in the Tasset Sculpture Garden, right across from the Joule.

Saturday:

  • Everyone followed their own schedules once again. I attended three classes (classes I didn’t have time to attend: Analytics + SEO, YouTube, Mobile Photography + Instagram, and Content Marketing in China), and spent time in the Networking Hall. (There, I visited brands’ booths, chatted about possible collaborations and gave out my business cards and media kits.)
  • First class: Brand Collaborations
  • Second class: The LIKEtoKNOW.it Blueprint
  • Lunch in the Tasset Sculpture Garden with LuisaViaRoma
  • Third class: The Rules of Engagement
  • I skipped this because I was too tired, but most attended the LIKEtoKNOW.it Finale Party later that night. It was held at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas’ Art District, and everyone wore white. Pretty funny: I literally outgrew the white dress I brought while in Dallas. Baby and I clearly had too many morning pastries. ;)

rewardstyle rsthecon

What I Learned from the Panels

Invest in what you own. Social media outlets are ever-changing, and it isn’t wise to put all your eggs in one basket. (Remember the huge freakout over Instagram’s algorithm change last week?! What would happen to your brand if Instagram disappeared? Would you disappear, too?) Your actual website is the only thing you truly own, and therefore it should be your primary focus. (But, of course, social media is important. It can potentially drive traffic to your site, allow followers to see a different side of you, and help you maximize your earning potential.)

Set realistic goals. I think we’ve all been guilty of setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves at some point. I, for one, had entirely too many goals this year! It’s time to get real. Sit down and actually write them out. Have weekly meetings with yourself to reflect on them, and be objective and honest about your success and failures. Did you simply not do what you originally set out to do? Did everyone hate your first beauty post? What could you have done to make it more successful?

Pick your social channels. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by how many social media outlets you “have” to manage, and you’re not enjoying managing them, you’re not alone. Consider taking a step back. Just because everyone else is Snapchatting, for example, doesn’t mean you have to be. Ask yourself what the best investment of your time is, what engages your followers the most, and what you like doing. Hearing this made me feel a lot better, as I’m not a huge fan of social media. I LOVE blogging, but social? Meh. For now, I’m focusing on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, and mostly forgetting about Twitter and Snapchat. And that’s fine. Spreading yourself too thin isn’t a good thing!

Integrate the social channels you do use on your blog. Don’t make them entirely separate! Maybe you have a blog reader who never visits your social channels. Don’t make your Instagrams, for example, which you’ve worked hard on, inaccessible to her. Display them prominently on your homepage or integrate them into your posts from time to time. That said, your blog should feature additional, more thorough content than your social channels do. Your social channels are a peek into your life; your blog is the whole package.

Travel! Traveling is one of the best ways to engage your readers, as it’s naturally interesting. Everyone loves an adventure, right?! But don’t think you need to be a millionaire booking flights to Tahiti to make this happen. Weekend trips allow for engagement, too. Love where you live, and share it with your readers! (Also, use appropriate hashtags while traveling. Engage those in other parts of the country/world, and gain more followers. Another idea, if you can’t travel, is to dive deep into what it really means to live in your hometown. Ask your readers about where they live, too.)

Have a mentor. That mentor doesn’t need to be a well-known blogger; in fact, she doesn’t even need to be a blogger. She just needs to be someone you admire, and someone who’s found success in the areas that you need improvement in. Having someone to bounce ideas off of is invaluable.

Relax. It’s easy to worry when you’re your own “brand.” After all, if you don’t put the hours in, who will? But it’s important to put the laptop away at the end of the day. Have a cocktail and enjoy your life. If you’re not enjoying your life, chances are that others won’t enjoy reading about it.

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What I Learned from the Classes

Class: Brand Collaborations

Use different images on your social feeds. Your favorite photo from a given blog post is probably the lead photo on said post. But that doesn’t mean that specific photo should appear on all your social feeds! (TOTALLY guilty of this.) Mix it up, and truly tease your blog content. If you’re featuring your living room, for example, perhaps you shouldn’t put a photo that showcases its entirety on your Instagram channel. (Why would anyone visit your blog that day if they’ve already seen the goods?!) Feature a corner of it, and tell ’em they can see the rest on your site. On Facebook, don’t use that corner again. Perhaps use a photo of your dog on the couch, or a coffee table setup. Again, mix it up.

Remember to tell your story. If you’re aching for more engagement, go beyond product shots and try to sell a lifestyle. Make the brands you collaborate with characters in your story… not the entire focus. Talk about what you did that day! Talk about your innermost thoughts! Include the brand, but showcase your life through lifestyle photos, too! Integrate, integrate, integrate. (But realize that this takes more time and a bit of adjustment. It’s really easy for Mitch and me to run outside after lunch at a restaurant, for example, and snap a few shots of what I’m wearing. Within minutes, we’re done. But it takes a little more effort to snap a few photos throughout our day. That said, it certainly makes my posts more authentic and more interesting!)

Consider what brands are looking for. In terms of quality, they’re after:imagery that shows detail

  • Professional imagery that shows detail
  • Narratives that are tailored to each social channel
  • An authentic voice
  • Creative storytelling
  • Relevant copy that endorses the brand in a natural way
  • Content that can be cross-promoted

In terms of qualities, they’re after:

  • Professionalism
  • Responsiveness
  • Consistency in quality of posts
  • Fulfillment of content requirements
  • Posting on time
  • Addressing any uncertainties (Not sure whether you’re allowed to tag other brands in the Instagram photo? ASK.)
  • Planning ahead
  • Availability (Can they reach you?)
  • Easiness (Are you an easy blogger to work with? If you make their jobs easier, chances are they’ll want to work with you again!)

Looking for more partnerships? Endorse brands you’re not even collaborating with. For example, I endorsed Lilly Pulitzer on my blog and social channels when I first started blogging because I truly loved Lilly. (Still do!) I had absolutely no idea what I was doing at the time, but this (eventually) lead to a partnership with the brand. Get on your favorite brands’ radars. And be smart about it! If you’re just beginning your blogging career, feature some smaller brands that might be interested in cross-promotion. And don’t forget to use brands’ hashtags and tag ’em in posts.

When you’re collaborating with a brand, promote your content (and love for that brand) longer than requested. WHY have I never considered this?! For instance, I have a really fun collaboration coming up with TOMS. I’m a huge fan of the brand, as I used to wear their slip-ons while walking to and from my job in New York, and I love that they donate pairs of shoes to the less fortunate. The collaboration requires some social promotions, and I obviously plan on fulfilling those requirements. But why not go the extra step?! Put up some Instagram and Facebook posts in the weeks leading up to the actual blog post; continue promoting the brand and the content well after the publication date. Performance is usually reported six weeks after!

Have a media kit. There are a zillion ways to build a media kit, and maybe I’ll write a post on it one of these days if you guys are interested. In your media kit, though, you should introduce yourself, feature engaging and beautiful photos that represent who you are and what you do, list previous collaborations, highlight testimonials and press coverage, include packages and rates, and talk numbers. (Numbers: traffic, reader demographic, social media stats, follower counts and conversion rates.) Media kits save everyone time, and they can help you highlight your best qualities.

Build a target brand list. What brands do you really want to work with? What brands do you convert well for? What brands do you actually love? Don’t be afraid to say no. Some brand collaborations may actually hurt your blog. If it’s not a good fit, it’s simply not a good fit. (Even if the $s are tempting.) Trust your gut!

Look at brands that actually do collaborations. Maybe Barbour doesn’t do a ton of collaborations, but department stores that carry Barbour do. Be smart about where you invest your time.

Be easily discoverable. Use hashtags, and keep your account managers and PR contacts posted! (For example: Having a baby? Moving? Switching careers? Getting married? Make sure to tell your connections about this stuff. Love how I didn’t do that, haha. Way to fail, Kelly.) Also, have a publicly available email address on your website. And make it easy to find!

Price yourself accordingly. Honestly, right now I set my prices based on my demand. (If I’m getting too many offers and am getting overwhelmed, I raise my prices.) But this probably isn’t the best way to go about setting my prices. Instead, I should be looking at my historic CPA (Cost Per Acquisition) performance, past pricing and whether brands responded positively to it, traffic, engagement rate, conversion rate, testimonials and press, and frequency and coherence of posts.

Consider lowering your prices for certain campaigns IF: it’s relationship-building, there’s a longterm value (will you potentially be able to work with this brand again and again?), and if the gifting value is significant. If, for example, a brand wants to send you on a vacation and pay you nothing… well, this might be something to consider. ;) (Though you still might say no! So many factors at play here.)

Work on improving your conversion rates to impress brands. Use text links, widgets, apps and be mobile-friendly. Create and deliver additional content and links both before and after the campaigns. The more you earn for the brand, the more they’ll want to work with you in the future!

Class: The LIKEtoKNOW.it Blueprint

Post high-quality, unique content when using LIKEtoKNOW.it. Just because you have nothing else doesn’t mean you should post a photo. Put effort into your shots.

LIKEtoKNOW.it users like inspirational story-telling. This doesn’t mean that your captions have to be long; your content simply needs to tell a story and engage your readers. A shot of your sunglasses and earrings next to a cup of coffee doesn’t really cut it anymore. ;)

Moments are better than posed content. SO true. How often am I in the exact same pose, simply because it’s easy for me? Way better to be walking across the street, laughing with my husband, or playing with my dog than just standing there, staring at the camera. I need to work on this.

Use the products you feature in real life, and capture those moments. It makes everything more relatable! For example, don’t just hold a bottle of moisturizer. Instead, actually apply it to your face in your real bathroom, as you always do. Before, you were boring your followers. Now, you’re giving them a peek into what your life is life, what your home looks like, and how you do things. Engagement is key.

Talk personally and about real life. Everyone is comfortable with different levels of this, but sharing your life makes readers more interested in you! If your main focus is style, don’t be afraid to incorporate your life in to your style posts. You are more than just a pair of cute pumps.

Focus on creating aspirational content. What parts of your life are the coolest? Your followers are “buying” into an experience. That doesn’t mean that you should create a life you don’t have; simply highlight those awesome parts.

Vary your content. Look at the feeds of bloggers you admire. Chances are they do a good job at mixing up their posts. Some flat-lays, some mirror selfies, some home shots, some professional photos, etc.

Use hashtags, and educate your followers on how to make purchases. (Obviously we’re talkin’ about how to use LIKEtoKNOW.it here, as that’s the name of the course.) I don’t think I’ve ever done this, haha. Perhaps I should let my followers know how they can utilize this tool if they’re interested! And get creative. There are more ways to explain its function than just including an informative caption. Video! GIFs! Informational photos! And if you don’t use LIKEtoKNOW.it, try to drive traffic back to your site.

Make your LIKEtoKNOW.it information easily accessible. Consider putting your link in your Instagram profile, or including the LIKEtoKNOW.it widget on your homepage. You could even dedicate an entire blog page to this!

Some of the best retailers to feature on LIKEtoKNOW.it to maximize earnings: Nordstrom, Shopbop, Zappos, Asos, LOFT, Etsy, Forever 21, Net-A-Porter, Revolve and Urban Outfitters.

Class: Rules of Engagement

Comment back and respond. I need to be better about this. I read every comment, but very often I say to myself, “Awwww! How sweet! I’ll respond to that tonight.” But then never do because I’m too busy snuggling on the couch with Mitch and Noodle. First of all, it’s rude. Secondly, it’s a lost opportunity to engage my favorite people. So set aside time every day to respond. Your readers are the reason you blog, after all.

Create more how-to, engaging posts. This is the content that gets re-pinned, shared on Facebook, and emailed. It takes more time, but you’ll see your blog grow much faster if you’re actually bringing something to the table and helping your readers.

Ask readers to help. This is something I do do, mostly because I’m so clueless about being an adult. ;) For example, I am REALLY BAD at picking out art. So I asked you guys to help me. And it was so, so, so helpful. Just look at the final product! My guess is that it was a little more fun for you guys, too, as you were actually involved in the decorating process. (Thanks, by the way!)

Comment more often. Look at where your commenters are going, and visit those blogs, too. Not only is this enjoyable, but you’re likely to get more readers if you actually read what your readers are reading, and start engaging with those sites, too. But don’t just leave comments like “Cute shoes!” — Think out your comments and show writers some love. <3

Use Disqus. It’s one of the only commenting platforms that’s also a social media outlet. Its “Disqus Daily Digest” feature is great! Disqus is also easy to use, and readers are more likely to start conversations on your blog if you’ve implemented it.

Consider Facebook ads. I’ve used them. They work.

Start Tweeting. I don’t like this tip because I hate Twitter. But, you know. You might enjoy it. ;)

Pay attention to alt text. Don’t know what it is? No worries. I didn’t know until very recently. But learn about it, and start using it to your advantage.

Explore Google Trends when looking for post topics. I’ve yet to dive into this, but it seems like a REALLY good idea. :)

lilly pulitzer sloane

Lilly Pulitzer Maxi Dress (Shop my faves below) / Beau & Ro Bag c/o Jack Rogers / Tory Burch Earrings (Also love these!) / Similar Bracelet 

Questions? Comments?

It goes without saying that this was just my experience. Each conference attendee took the three classes they were most interested in taking, but there were several other classes, too: Analytics + SEO, YouTube, Mobile Photography + Instagram, and Content Marketing in China. Anyone else take one of these and want to share what you learned?! I’d love to hear! (Mostly about Analytics + SEO. Really wish I’d taken that one!)

Questions? Comments? I’d be happy to help shed some light on whatever you’d like to discuss or hear more about. :)

  • Kelly! What an amazing summary of the conference! I love all of your takeaways and highlights, and I am so glad that you decided to go! #pod

  • Great recap!! I’m bookmarking this because I’d already forgotten so much stuff!! It was so fun and like Jenn said #POD!!!!

  • Wow, this was so informative! Thanks for sharing. It’s nice to have so much great information all rounded up in one place.

  • I don’t blog as a business right now, but this was a very insightful post! Thanks for sharing a behind the scenes :) I especially loved reading about what you personally took away from the conference.
    Also, you are looking so, so cute!! You’ve definitely got your pregnancy glow on!

  • The Adored Life

    This is SUCH a good summary, I feel like I was there!

    The Adored Life

  • This is so thorough and super valuable for those of us who weren’t there! I used to have Disqus set up on my blog, but I wasn’t really sure it was best so I went back to the regular comment form – might be time to revisit that area!

    26 and Not Counting

  • Love this post, Kelly! It was so thought out and helpful and I feel like when you talk about getting inspired again and what you’re going to do it gives me that boost also! Thanks for writing it!

  • What a thoughtful summary! Great points and advice for everyone!

    Tori | http://madebynewengland.com/

  • Such a great post Kelly and I really appreciate all the information you shared with your readers. Looks like it was not only fun, but also a very productive trip :-)
    ~Samantha
    http://goldcoastgirlblog.com

  • Such a great post Kelly and I really appreciate all the information you shared with your readers. Looks like it was not only fun, but also a very productive trip :-)
    ~Samantha
    http://goldcoastgirlblog.com

  • Um this is amazing! Bookmarking and can’t wait to dive in this weekend with a big cup of coffee.

  • So much great info Kelly! I wonder how I would’ve felt if I’d gone…

    http://asequinloveaffair.com

  • Kelly – best summary every and #pod 4 eva!

  • SarahLagen

    Kelly, this is an awesome post!! I love how transparent you are with your readers and sharing so much information! I’m saving to page to come back to in the future! :) I hope you and your little babe are doing well! Have a great weekend!

    xo, Sarah

  • Regarding the email address… I sent you an email ages ago to your gmail account (it’s the one that appears when you click on the envelope on your sidebar), but then I realized that you don’t use that email anymore and it should probably be updated. ;)

    I really enjoyed reading this post! Thanks for sharing the highlights! :) I would *love* to read a post on media kits. I’ve been putting off making one because I just don’t know where to start.

    cottoncashmerecathair.com

  • This is so helpful! I’m definitely also guilty of using the same images on all my social accounts and the same poses or most of my outfits. Thank you for taking such great notes! =)

  • Love hearing about everything you did/learned at the conference! Looks like so much fun!

    xoxo,
    Katie
    chicincarolina.blogspot.com

  • Kelly, first of all, so jelly you were invited to attend. Secondly, thank you SO much for this post! I attended the conference vicariously through you thanks to this amazing recap. As always, thanks for the tips and tricks. I’d love to see a media kit tutorial too!

    On the note to use Alt text, I find that when traffic is driven to my site via Google, the reader is normally linked to the specific image. How can I redirect them to the post featuring the image (as opposed to direct link to photo)? Don’t know if you can specifically answer this, but I’ve often wonder if I’m doing something wrong.

    P.S. I’ve been using your Lightroom tips from your previous tutorial. You’ve upped my photo game!

    Heather
    Partial to Pink

  • Cat

    Thank you so much for this post! I have always wanted to go to a blogging conference, the rewardStyle conference at the top of my list. This is the type of information I’ve been needing to help grow my blog, as well as they are good reminders for any blogger!

    Cat
    Class Meets Couture

  • Kaitlyn

    What a great recap, Kelly! As I was reading, I opened multiple new tabs to further investigate things you shared. Looks like it was a great event and you and your bump looked adorable!

    sistersmarie.com

  • I am so glad that you had fun, and there are so many good tips here. Thank you!

  • WOW!!! This was such an incredible post to read and I’m so happy to hear that the conference was THAT good! I’ve attended a couple of conferences myself, but this one sounds next-level amazing. Thanks for sharing those details!

    Jackie

    Something About That

  • Kelly this blog post is incredibly helpful! How long did this take you to write?! I was dying to know some takeaways from the conference but hadn’t found anything until now. Jack pot! Bookmarked for sure!

  • Wow, such a comprehensive recap! Sounds like a great time and I definitely hope to make it to rsCon one of these years. The fashion blogging world can be so overwhelming, on and offline, but I guess we just have to reframe it to make it accessible. Thanks for sharing what you learned!