I wasn't sure what to expect this afternoon when I stopped by a conference in Hollywood dubbed Hispanicize 2011, a three-day affair billed as a "public relations and social media conference."
The combination sounded intriguing, if the kind of mix that could go, well, any number of ways. And while it leaned heavily toward marketing, in the end, it was rather fascinating.
This dawned on me as I witnessed a "speed dating" session between bloggers and corporate marketing types, standing in a hotel ballroom surrounded people rapidly exchanging business cards and giving one another three-minute pitches before the moderator called time-out.
"Are you a sponsor?" asked an eager-looking young woman, seeing me unattached. I said no, but she explained anyway that she had a parenting blog - a "mami blog," in Latino blogger parlance - dedicated to organic child-rearing, and she was hoping to find the right kind of corporate sponsor.
Welcome to the business-minded world of Latino bloggers 2.0, or as one social media guru there called it, "the second wave."
"The first wave, they were those who took up blogging...that were into politics, culture, Latino representation, which doesn't sound too sexy for a business," said Louis Pagan, a blogger turned social media consultant and now managing parter of Hispanicize, the consulting group that organized the conference.
There are are still plenty of Latino bloggers who operate labors of love, pursuing blogs - some financially viable, some less so - dedicated to politics, immigration, cultural and social issues. But there's a second wave, as Pagan put it, that is all about business.
While relatively small, the conference had a long list of corporate sponsors: Disney, McDonald's, Walmart, Ford, Sony, Clorox, the baby-products company Kolcraft and others. The majority of the bloggers were home-based indie bloggers who wrote about parenting, food, fashion and so forth, the basics of quotidian life.
"It's very much Joe home blogger, or Josefina home blogger, who happens to have a number of followers" said conference organizer Manny Ruiz, a former journalist turned publicist and CEO of Hispanicize, which is based in New York and Miami.
For the bloggers, many of whom flew in from out of state, it was a way for them to hook up with companies willing to pay them to promote products and to learn, in panels, how to monetize their blogs while creating a following.
Sara Patterson, née Montez, said she'd already been running her mami blog, Momma Findings, as a business, running ads and featured posts and linking to sponsors.
"I'd say it's about half and half here," said Patterson, referring to the mix of full-time business bloggers and part-timers in the crowd. "I'm from Houston, and I know other people from Houston who are here and who have a job, but they want to do this as a side business."
For others, it seemed a harder fit. One enthusiastic young man pitched his blog - a "modern-day Playboy magazine," as he described it - to a couple of female sponsors who only smiled politely. The organic mami blogger, Maybelline Valenti, talked about how difficult it was to attract sponsors for a Spanish-language organic parenting blog.
"I want to pursue this as my business," said Valenti, who presently operates her blog, Naturalmente Mamá, without sponsors. "But I want to keep it real."