Ashley McDonald

Co-Founder of BlogHer and Senior Vice President of Global Strategic Alliances at SheKnows Media, Jory Des Jardins helped create the premiere online destination for female bloggers passionate about food, health, family, business, finance, and technology.  With a mission for connecting and compensating talented writers, Jory creates innovative media and brand partnerships with Fortune 500 companies.  In 2013, Jory was named one of Fortune's Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs and BlogHer has consistently been listed as a Forbes Top 100 Website for Women since 2010.  Find out what she’s telling bSmart members for how to create remarkable blog posts, supportive online communities, and how to turn valuable content into commerce.

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BlogHer was born from seeking out the preferences of women bloggers and creating a shared space to promote their conversations.

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Women's Web

What makes a remarkable blog post?

There are so many purposes behind blogs that I can’t say this applies to all of them, but there are some commonalities in really good blog posts.  They are succinct, even if they are not pieces of service journalism.  Some of the best personal blogging I’ve read provides a glimpse into someone’s life.  It evokes much more than it explains.  More informational blogs should get to the point, be broken into bullets or short, concise sections, and allow the reader to link to other resources or explanatory material, should he or she want to explore.

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Some of the best personal blogging I’ve read provides a glimpse into someone’s life.

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What are the characteristics of a successful online community for women?

A successful community is the same across genders - it pulls in the conversations from its members.  It builds on the inputs of its members.  BlogHer was born on the principle of seeking out the preferences of women bloggers and creating a shared space to mine and promote their conversations.  Whether we were building the agenda for a new conference, or growing our online publishing network, we continually sought the input of the community, and even if we could not act on every suggestion, we offered a forum for any topic.  This provided the community a means to connect and educate itself.  We did not have to be the single point of connection.  I think this is necessary for empowering a community; you don’t want to control it, but enable it.

What inspired you to create a community and media company?

We didn’t initially set out to create a business; we set out to grow a community we were passionate about.  My background is in media, so I have a natural interest and knowledge of the business.  I became obsessed with blogging in 2004 and sought others who were also pursuing this hobby.  In 2005 I met my co-founders, Lisa Stone, and Elisa Camahort Page, who at the time were pursuing their own freelance careers in blogging and had recently decided to hold an event for women bloggers; but they hadn’t yet figured out where, when, or how.  We simply gravitated toward our passion for blogging and sought to create a space for a community we knew existed, but hadn’t yet built a formal organizational structure.  The media business came later once we put a stake in the ground with a conference and others in the community expressed they wanted to make money doing what they loved.  Then the media business background kicked in. 

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To empower a community - you don’t want to control it, but enable it.

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What are the particular challenges to creating a media brand?

Our whole existence was premised on social media principles, which largely rejects the notion that you 'own' your brand.  Your readers do.  We are the stewards and enablers of the brand.  We built the foundation, but had to rely largely on the community to carry out the brand mission.  While this may sound like less work, it’s actually very difficult to maintain the balance of being 'of' your community while maintaining editorial standards and ensuring community guidelines are met.  I think that our brand also challenged the traditional top-down media models, and was initially confusing to advertisers and partners who were used to an owned-and-operated content model.  We asserted that you could provide powerful and curated experiences without creating or controlling all of the content ourselves.  But for some that was a scary proposition, putting your ad or your brand on a blog.

In what ways are you most proud of how BlogHer has grown since its start in 2005?

I believe we shattered the misperception that the blogosphere is the Wild West.  There are dangerous places, like anywhere on the web, but the vast majority of publishers want to engage in civil communication.  And there are ways to regulate while still enabling unique voices to be heard.  I think we turned traditional media models on their ear, and enabled women to derive a source of income or exposure doing what they love.

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We didn’t set out to create a business; we set out to grow a community we were passionate about.

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Fem-vertising

How is your role as Senior Vice President of Global Strategic Alliances at SheKnows Media different than your role at BlogHer?

In some ways it hasn’t changed at all.  At BlogHer I wore many hats, but my most recent one was finding new ways to leverage the content and influence of the community and grow new lines of business.  I’m doing that now at SheKnows Media, overseeing and growing new revenue lines and the international business.  But my CEO is no longer my co-founder; I am a step removed from setting the direction of the company.

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We enable women to derive a source of income or exposure doing what they love.

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What is your long-term vision for your role and the future of SheKnows Media?

Online advertising is having a bit of an identity crisis; the onslaught of data-driven technologies has made online media smarter, but we haven’t yet finalized the best business models that align the value publishers are providing with what marketers will pay for it.  That means there is a lot of room for new models, new ways to monetize one’s content and online influence.  I see this open road of possibilities that I’ve only just started exploring.  I hope to uncover new models and use what I’m seeing play out in the digital media space to help SheKnows be ahead of the curve.  I guess you could say I plan to take an entrepreneurial approach to the business.

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There is a lot of room for new models, new ways to monetize one’s content and online influence.

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What is your advice for creating a successful partnership with other media brands?

You have to know what you are bringing to the table, and exactly what you need to get out of it.  Some media business developers see partnerships unrealistically, like they are magic beans that will add growth or revenue with no other consequences.  But every media brand has a unique vision and an end game.  You have to honestly sort out what you need for your business, and whether a partner will provide a sustainable source or service for that goal.  And you must weigh the potential drawbacks - to your audience, to your market share - by being in a partnership.

What is the one piece of advice you wish someone had told you about receiving venture capital?

I got very sound advice from the get-go - I don’t believe I went out for VC money with any illusions.  My learning goes against much of the advice I got about being conservative.  For startups, speed is the name of the game, and you need to spend a lot to get the talent and resources you need to grow and iterate quickly.  While we spent money, I would have spent more and built and iterated more quickly.  I wish someone would have said to me, 'That’s all you’re raising? That’s not enough.'

What advice would you give young journalists for how to be smart in digital media?

Don’t discount the value of user-generated content.  Of course you must ultimately apply reporting rigor to your work, but often these sources can provide much needed insights behind the story.

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Don’t discount the value of user-generated content.

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