NEPA BlogCon 2016 participants

Bringing worlds together via blogging

Blogging experts from around the country came to PSWS to share their insights, expertise and secrets of blogging success with the local blogging community for NEPA BlogCon 2016.
By: Kelly Frey
From Google to Disney to a local animal sanctuary, NEPA BlogCon had it all

Professional, hobby and wanna-be bloggers descended on the Penn State Worthington Scranton campus for NEPA BlogCon 2016 to hear from presenters from a variety of places -- from tech giant Google, to a local animal sanctuary that helped raise awareness and funding thanks to a successful blog.

Now in its fifth year, NEPA BlogCon 2016 featured nine presenters from around the United States who have succeeded in creating strong blog followings and wanted to share their insights, advice and secrets of success to Northeast Pennsylvania.

NEPA BlogCon is a volunteer-based organizational group who believes in the power of blogging to inspire, and make things happen. The team of volunteers is led by three women:  Karla Porter, Mandy Boyle and Michelle Davies.

Proceeds raised from NEPA BlogCon support the Squirrel Girls Tech Camp, an all-girls technology camp where girls learn the beginning stages of programming, coding, working with e-commerce, and team-building skills.

“The Squirrel Girls Tech Camp takes what can be done using the internet to inspire young girls on what they can do besides Facebook. The girls learn about many new professions that are not just for men,” said Mandy Boyle, marketing and public relations manager for NEPA BlogCon.

Karla Porter, who is the main “squirrel girl” running the scene at NEPA BlogCon said that this is the first time the event has been held in Lackawanna County. Every year, she tries to change the location of the event so it can continue bringing in new people.

During a pre-event interview, Porter answered the question on everyone’s mind:  “What does the squirrel represent?”

“The squirrel is a symbol for the event being held in the fall, a time when squirrels are often seen in the area. Squirrels are so common in NEPA that they make a great branding to represent the area as well,” Porter explained.

She hopes that people attending the event will come to recognize that NEPA BlogCon is more than just an annual event. It is a yearlong presence where people can seek out help for their blogs and participate in more blog-related activities, some of which include blog types, help for writer’s block, and maintaining audience engagement.

Michelle Davies, the tech manager for NEPA BlogCon, mentioned that people come from all across the country for the event. One of the volunteers with her that day came all the way from Texas to help with the event.

As BlogCon continues to grow, it highligths how blogging is now more accessible than ever. This year, BlogCon also showcased the growing areas of Vlogging and Podcasts.

More than 100 people attended this year’s event at Penn State Worthington Scranton, and as the day wore on, the event began trending in the Dunmore and Philadelphia areas on Twitter, as attendees used social media to share their experiences with their online and social media followers.

During the session, emcee Gerard Durling kept the group energized and ready for the next speaker, keeping things fresh and exciting as he announced each presenter in turn. He also took the time to have every person attending BlogCon broadcast the event live from their electronic devices.

Presenters were:

April Holgate works as a Community Outreach Specialist at PA Health Access Network. In her spare time, she reviews products on Amazon using her blog. She is one of the top reviewers on Amazon and spoke on how the bloggers at NEPA BlogCon can make their blog into a profitable source of income. April shared advice on how to message sellers on Amazon or other sale sites, and write them a message on how ‘you’ as a blogger would like to review their product, and perhaps introduce ‘your’ followers to the product. She taught the group about the changes in Amazon Reviews, where people are no longer allowed to write reviews based on incentives. She said as a result of this change, more sellers are looking to bloggers to write reviews for their products. This means it is a great time to start blogging reviews. 

John Dawe MNA CNP, CFRE is a seasoned professional with more than 15 years of communication, marketing, and digital brand management experience. As marketing/development consultant to the  Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre, he has created web-based campaigns resulting in a more than consistent return on his investment of more than 500 percent.

He emphasized the importance of branding your blog so that it will be recognized by followers, while also building engagement with followers so that your blog will retain its following. The information was a great build-up to the following presentations, igniting the social media fire.

Shortly after Dawe spoke, NEPA BlogCon started trending on Twitter in the Dunmore area.

“Why Bloggers Should Consider Podcasts” was the title of Jennifer Crawford’s presentation. The co-founder of DC Podfest and a Social Media Rescue said that all bloggers who make their blogs public are looking to create a strong following. Those interested in a stronger following may want to consider doing podcasts.

The average attention span of a human seems to be decreasing with information overload increasing every day, she said. Podcasts create a great opportunity by allowing people to listen to the podcast while doing other things. Crawford contends that an average person will listen to four hours of audio a day, but may only look at a website for seven seconds.

“More attention means more engagement, which shows the added potential of podcasts,” she said. Podcasts are becoming a growing trend because they are considered a trusted source of information and one of the few places where advertisements can be minimal or not present at all. If ads are present, Jennifer says that listeners are noted for not minding because they trust the person behind the podcast.

When asked how she records and publishes her Podcasts, Crawford suggested that everyone go to Audacity to get started. There, people can learn how to increase influence on their listeners and create an engaging podcast.

You can listen to Crawford’s podcast and learn about her upcoming event at:

Sally Black established one of the first home-based travel agencies with Vacationkids in 2001. Her success has led to national TV interviews on CNN, ABC and NBC. Black has been quoted by the New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. She also writes for the Huffington Post.

In 2015, she was a presenter at CruiseWorld and the NY Times Travel show as a family travel expert. At NEPA BlogCon, she spoke about the value of group vacations, a specialty of hers. She mentioned that by adding a few travel-based sponsors and blogging about trips, many companies are willing to offer discounts or commissions to writers when they travel.

Not only did Black promote this as a wonderful opportunity, she also shared ways for individuals to also take advantage of this and how to make a profit from this work.

Black is an inspiration to many at the event for her blog posts on She still maintains a blog that is the first entry seen on Google under a search for “How Much Does a Disney Trip Cost?” This means that she writes a blog more popular than what Disney Sale Representatives can write.

When asked how she accomplished this, she said “I answered the question that I was asked the most from parents. I listened to what my people wanted.” The blog post built an example itinerary for people to follow and broke the process down to each individual.

During her time at NEPA BlogCon 2016 she helped answer another question on the group’s mind:  “How can I become a Travel Agent?”  Black cautioned that while this line of work can sound glamorous, it also has many challenges. “The most important part of being a travel agent is having connections and being ready for Plan B,” she said.

Those interested in exploring a career as a travel agent can read her article on the Huffington Post, “How to Be a Travel Agent.”

Find more information and follow Sally Black at, and by reading her new book “Fearless Family Vacations.”

Indra Lahiri, Ph.D., founded the Indraloka Animal Sanctuary in 2005 and co-organized the Global Coalition of Farm Sanctuaries in 2014. Her award-winning blog, which chronicles sacred moments with rescued animals, is followed by tens of thousands of readers on every continent. As the keynote speaker for NEPA BlogCon, and winner of the Best Business Blog BOTY Award, Indra spoke on the power of writing.

Typically, she shares stories of her many wonderful rescued animals, but during BlogCon she spoke on the power that her emotional blogs have provided to followers. Indra mentioned that vulnerability can be scary in writing, but has a powerful impact on the reader. Through sharing her vulnerability by blogging, her animals started to receive a greater increase in support. As she continued to share her individual stories of each loving animal, followers began donating and sponsoring her sanctuary. Now, with her thousands of followers, the blog stands as one of the greatest supporters to the sanctuary.

She is a great testament to the blogging world as her blog started just five years ago. Her honesty in her story telling brings stories to life within the reader.

During her speech, she shared a beautiful story of one of her visitors who came to the sanctuary. The visitor met an abused cow while at the sanctuary and both of them had something in common. They had both lost their young. The visitor wrote a letter to Indra speaking of a moment where the visitor hugged the cow and the two cried together.

The story showed that people who are protesters to Indra’s work “don’t know what they are missing.” Indra said “You’re going to live through tough times” and people who share their vulnerability are able to relate with others easier.

Indraloka Farm Sanctuary stands strong on 30 acres of land in Mehoopany, PA. There, Indra houses over 200 rescued farm animals and with the help of volunteers and nine employees, these animals live out the rest of their natural lives. The animals are under the care of 10 specialized veterinarians and one of her biggest helpers at the sanctuary is her photographer, videographer, and creative director Johnny Braz.

Braz, who attended the event, said that the sanctuary is doing so well after 12 years that they are looking for ways to expand.

Now as she seeks more support from the local area, Indra invites all to visit her sanctuary in Mehoopany and suggested those in attendance visit on November 6, when the sanctuary celebrates Thanksliving.

The Thanksliving event celebrates turkeys, with turkeys at the sanctuary given a feast feast. As the day goes on, all the other animals join in with the enjoyment of eating many Thanksgiving favorites that are fit for the animals to eat including pumpkins, cranberries and squash.

Tim Gillette was easily the most dynamic speaker of the day. He is the Creator of the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Keys to Business Success – Using Music, Motorcycles and Mentorship to teach Entrepreneurs to become Leaders in their industry.” He maintains 15 active blogs and specializes in vlogging. Gillette shared his story of how he became a public speaker and encouraged attendees to try filming videos themselves.

He spoke on the power of live streaming and how it can help increase brand recognition for a company. The benefit of live streaming is the ability to engage with the audience in the moment.

To watch Gillette’s videos and learn more about his story visit

Valerie Deneen is a digital publisher, social media consultant and professional crafter. Valerie appears regularly on television to demonstrate kid-friendly crafts and activities. She regularly produces original video content using only her iPhone and has amassed nearly 1 million views on YouTube.

Deneen advised attendees on how to overcome the common pitfall of making major excuses for yourself to not make a video. She demonstrated the many ways to film a video without even showing your face. She also provided ways to make videos that do not take a lot of time and require very little money. One of her greatest assets has been her 12-year-old daughter who helped her film 12 videos for her webpage, one for each month.

Deneen usually sends out her videos to be edited and focuses her energy on creating a higher level of sound quality. She suggests that people who are new at video can film in front of a naturally well-lit area, and then re-record the video in a closet to create a strong sound quality. Then, send the video to an outsource editor for overlapping and creating a high quality video.

She also mentioned that people who wish to improve their public speaking skills should visit and become a member at Toastmasters International.

Valerie’s videos can be found at

Christina M. Carrell, is a freelance copywriter, blogger, and social media marketer. Her work has been featured on The Huffington Post,, The Mighty, and JerseyBites. She earned her BA in English at Marywood University and her MA in English at Rutgers University and worked as the communications coordinator for the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA). She spoke on the challenging concept of ‘Using Audience Awareness to Increase Engagement’.

When Carrell first started writing her blog, she was not successful and only had a handful of followers that mostly consisted of friends and family. She was still attending Marywood University at the time and asked one of her professor why her well-written blog was not a big hit. He replied back with, “If a post is great, is it great for every audience?”

She focused on how to make a blog post relatable to the reader. She said the best way to improve your writing to fit the reader is to conduct an audience analysis:  Once you know who your readers are, or who you want them to be, focus on one of them because it is better to connect with an individual since “We can’t help them all.”

Carrell maintains an active blog on being a mother suffering with chronic pain. People interested in reading more can visit her blog at

Britney Kolodziej is an online creative who provides brand strategy and design to entrepreneurs and small businesses across the country. She is the Owner/CEO at JAM Marketing Group in Scranton, PA and a graduate of Penn State University. She focused on the importance of visual content in blogging.

Today’s readers struggle to focus on words alone, she explained. By adding visuals, a reader gets more enjoyment from the content and is more inclined to keep reading.

Amanda Fox-Rouch is a young business owner striving to make a difference in the world of online marketing. As the sole proprietor of her new start-up Kaha Marketing, she has had opportunities to create and manage websites for a wide variety of small businesses – from aquarium storefronts to attorneys’ offices, medical practices and national flooring distributors. She told theBlogCon attendees how they could boost their businesses with a blog.

Despite experience the beginning hardships typical for new small businesses, hers has continued to successfully grow. Located in East Stroudsburg, PA, Fox-Rouch has an upbeat friendly business page that inspires business people to pursue a strong marketing strategy using social media. Her blogging shares many business tips including what to do when you get a bad review. She spoke on the idea of adding the blog directly to the business website, and shared many creative ways to boost a company’s engagement by maintaining an active presence on Facebook.

Tim Buckley is a partner development executive for Google focusing on building partnerships with North America's top digital publishers. His primary focus is helping publishers deploy an effective programmatic advertising strategy. As the final speaker of the day, people were anxiously awaiting the words of advice from Buckley. He focused his conversation with the group on creating engagement while increasing monetization. Tim’s upbringing led him to starting a career right on Wall Street. He used his vast knowledge to teach people new strategies for creating income on a blog.
He shared insights on product placement and sponsorship, along with other strategies. In his spare time, Buckley manages a website called Winded Sail. To learn more about Tim and his offerings visit his linked in page and website at:

Each year, the event also hosts the BOTY Awards, the Blog of the Year. This year, 13 awards were handed out for various blogs including Best Business Blog, and Best Political Blog. All blog winners with their blog sites can be found at

In addition to being hosted by Penn State Worthington Scranton, BlogCon 2016 was sponsored by Net Credit Union and the non-profit Tech Builder.

For more information on the event visit