It’s been a couple of years since the “mommy blogger” phenomenon really took off, though it still leaves me wondering where it took off to. According to Forbes, in 2011 there were over 3.9 Million mommy bloggers floating like jetsam on the digital ocean. More recent information is unavailable (or it’s simply late and my Google-Fu is weak), but if I know anything about mommies, bloggers, and the condition of human vanity in the 21st century, that number has probably grown significantly in the last few years.
Still, the question remains – do mommy bloggers matter? Are they really anywhere near as important to cater to as many marketers (especially in the toy and CPG space) assume they are? I’m going to go ahead and say no. In fact, if I have to elaborate, I’m going to say “hell, no”. In fact, the mommy blogger phenomenon has not only been grossly overstated (both in size and importance), it has actually killed off itself. Oh the irony – a blogging movement dedicated to creating new life, has inadvertently caused its own death. In this post, I will proceed to give some very reasonable arguments for why you can essentially ignore the entirety of the mommy-blog-o-sphere, supported by facts (and some assumptions), and will conclude by being sacrificed at the altar of truth by a legion of screaming narcissists. Sounds fun, right? Let’s go!
A Heartfelt Disclaimer
First, let me just clarify: I have nothing against mothers. I have a mother, and she’s pretty groovy. Nor do I have the avowed anti-breeder hatred for children that has become so en vogue these days. I actually have a child, and enjoy being that obnoxious over-sharing parent on occasion.
Take it a step further – I actually have no problems with people who want to keep a blog and catalog their motherhood (or fatherhood, as the daddy-blog phenomenon is quickly gaining steam). By all means, post all the youtube videos of little Timmy eating lead paint and running headfirst into a wall you want. Accompany them with as many trite, repetitive, unoriginal anecdotes and narratives you want. Hell, feel free to even jump on the social medias and proclaim your love of changing diapers to the world.
No, what I have a problem with is the shady, underhanded, and ROI-destroying practice of pretending that running a mommy blog is somehow akin to real journalism, and should be treated with PR reps and goodie bags. The phenomenon that one author at a so-called “digital magazine” gushes over as “Many of these mom bloggers are savvy businesses women with strategies and marketing plans.”
Weighed Down With History
But we’re not here to discuss the mommy bloggers’ business plans. Instead, we’re looking at the relationship between [parent]-bloggers and brands. See, many large companies are still floundering hopelessly in the world of social media (although they’re getting better). We just can’t quite seem to leave behind the anchors of a past advertising age, and in this particular case the anchor is the paid spokesperson. You might know them better as “key influencers”.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of key influencers. It makes sense that if you throw millions of people together, eventually they’ll break apart into little fiefdoms ruled by the strongest, smartest, cleverest, funniest, or whatever the desirable quality of any given group is. Finding these people, engaging them, and turning them to your side is a perfectly acceptable way to get your brand recognized on social. The problems begin when you develop an entire segment of “influencers” whose only purpose in life has been to become an influencer in order to reap the PR rewards. The Kim Kardashians of the internet – famous only for being famous.
This phenomenon is most clearly seen in two words that should make every honest marketer, journalist, and consumer want to vomit, and that appear in the Twitter bios of almost all mommy bloggers: “PR Friendly”. For those who haven’t made a living mooching off of companies and misleading readers, that translates roughly to “give me free stuff, and I’ll be whatever kind of person you want me to be.” Or, to cut back on the flowery analogies, there is a growing trend among [parent]-bloggers to operate solely for the sake of a) increasing their own page views to make money off of advertising, and b) to receive free promotional items, samples, review units, and other “swag” from brands. This is not only counter to most standards of journalistic ethics (and most standards of PR ethics, though you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who cares about those), it is also harmful to brands and, even worse, to consumers.
PR In The Age Of Self-Publishing
The standard PR relationship between brand and journalist is pretty straightforward – brand gives journalist item (praying for a good review), journalist uses item and writes an honest review, consumers read review. This relationship works because journalists are under a massive spotlight – from their immediate editor to the publications ethics committee, to the editor-in-chief, to competitors, to the public, and the government. There are a lot of eyes going over what may be termed “traditional journalism”, which keeps it honest, and largely prevents problems like payola and pay-to-play. In fact, when a traditional publication is found to be in breach of review ethics, it creates big news. Everyone notices.
This system of checks and balances generally keeps things on the straight and narrow, and everyone’s interests are more or less lined up. A reviewer at a magazine has a strong incentive to give an honest review of a product, because a poor review will harm his credibility and reduce readership. Brands have a strong incentive to play ball, because passing up publicity with a legitimate publisher, even if they wrote something bad about you last year, causes obvious harm to the company. Meanwhile, consumers read these reviews and go on to purchase products, because the previously mentioned checks and balances lend a strong air of authority and credibility to the whole process.
The process for mommy-bloggers (and to a lesser extent, other niche bloggers), is slightly different. These bloggers often have audiences that reach 5,000-10,000 unique readers a month on the high end. The level of scrutiny is incredibly low. Moreover, there is no strict chain of command or organizational body to hold writers accountable to any standard of ethics whatsoever. So the process goes as follows – Brand approaches PR agency specializing in mommy-blogs, PR agency vets the blogs for those that will produce a positive review in exchange for products and sometimes cash, accepted bloggers give glowing reviews to items (whether they actually liked them or not, and whether they actually even used them or not) while ignoring any actual problems with the items, INSTANT POSITIVE REVIEW!
Because there are 3.9 million+ mommy bloggers, brands can be incredibly picky about who they send review units to. Meanwhile on the other side of the equation, because mommy bloggers have so much competition, they know they need to pimp that product out as hard as possible, lest they get passed over for the next review or the next giveaway (more on that a little later). This creates a vicious cycle of reviewers terrified to offend PR reps, and brands that get to pick and chose reviewers who will give them the best coverage.
Giving It All Away
Now lets talk about the giveaways. As previously mentioned, the goal of any mommy-blogger is to get enough visitors to make an ad-supported blog a viable proposition. Since most mommy-blogs are functionally identical, and since most people can barely stand listening to their friends and relatives drone on and on about the mundane goings on of various spawn, and since most mommy-bloggers are not writers (except by the loosest definition of the term)…well, long story short, it’ difficult to attract a following that cares. The trick to getting around this is giveaways. I don’t have hard numbers, but my suspicion is that the source of most mommy-bloggers’ traffic is people looking to get free stuff (which speaks to a major demographic problem, more later).
To attract the most traffic, a mommy blogger needs to have more giveaways and better giveaways than the next mommy blogger. In order to secure giveaways, bloggers will often perform a favor for a major brand – either positive coverage, a glowing review of a product, or perhaps having visitors mention the brand in a giveaway entry tweet. Long story short, the bloggers are entirely at the mercy of PR companies – you play by their rules, or you stop getting giveaway swag and lose your income stream. Can you say conflict of interests?
Demography, Demography, Demography
Lets start diving into the heart of why the mommy-blogger phenomenon is useless to brands. The first issue is one of demography – quite frankly, the readership of mommy blogs sucks. By all accounts, they fall squarely into the “Walmart Demographic” – low income, low loyalty to brands, poor product feature comprehension, low propensity for early adoption, small to non-existent disposable budget, and a tendency to stick to traditional, low-margin products. Granted, there is variance, and there are some mommy-bloggers that cater specifically to a much more enticing audience, but those are few, far-between, and (generally) are far more focused on a specific aspect of life other than motherhood.
The audience for the majority of mommy blogs is not there to read informative reviews that will help them to make smart, interesting purchases. They are there to score some free stuff from giveaways. Stuff that more than likely would not fit into their budget normally. Stuff that, had they seen it at a store, they would have likely ignored altogether or (perhaps) drooled over for a minute or two before passing on. In other words, window shoppers. Why would you want to attract window shoppers, unless you were playing the long game and hoping the law of large numbers meant one or two of those people turned into customers. In which case you need to have a sit down and seriously rethink your ability to formulate a marketing strategy.
This is especially damning when you realize that there are a large number of much more attractive options that generally fit the same category – the niche product/hobby/activity blogger ecosystem. Why would you shill your brand new camera, or phone, or laptop to a mommy blogger hoping that one out of a million of her followers will buy it, when you can instead hit up some specific technology bloggers and social media personalities who have an audience that is much more in tune with your product and is much more likely to convert? I understand the idea of diversifying your audience and entering new markets, but it’s patently stupid to try to sell an $800 smartphone to an audience made up of people who have $200 a month of disposable income to split between a family of five.
The most damning piece of evidence, though, comes from some in-house research we’ve been doing here at Stunt&Gimmick’s. We’re not yet sure whether we can fully release the research yet or not, or whether we’ll ever make it public (obviously, the brands involved want to not offend the mommy community). What we can do is talk about it broadly and in vague terms.
Essentially, mommy bloggers contribute almost nothing to the bottom line. We have overseen product launches by a couple of companies over the last year – probably about 10 products total. These have been fairly diverse, from technology to CPG to toys, and have hit a broad group of mommy bloggers, including some of the biggest names in the industry. The campaigns have resulted in tens of thousands of Tweets and Facebook messages, countless likes and follows, and a large number of positive reviews. What they have not resulted in is long-term engagement or sales. In fact, we could take all the money that was spent on these campaigns, buy a couple of each product for ourselves, and pocket the rest. The results would be essentially the same.
My suspicion is that this is the norm rather than an outlier. There are lots of studies, usually based on very limited surveys, that tout the merits of using social media and the mommy blogger network for marketing. Articles like this and like this tout the effectiveness of mom-to-mom recommendations, and claim they produce much higher probabilities of purchasing. Others, like this breathless piece from HeraldNet talk about how giving product samples to mommy-bloggers resulted in “thousands of mentions online”, and vaguely imply that this particular strategy has resulted in booming sales.
My concern with the studies is that they are almost exclusively published either by PR companies specifically dealing in mommy-blogs, mommy-blogger advocacy/trade organizations, and self-proclaimed mommy-blog gurus. The same people who would stand to gain the most if you decided to take your entire print budget and throw it into an expensive “mommy-blogger’ consultant. Meanwhile, large PR companies (usually a never-ending font of white-papers and studies) seem very reluctant to show any kind of real bottom-line impact. In fact, in about two days worth of Googling, I couldn’t find a single economic impact assessment for using mommy-bloggers for publicity. The closest I got was a news article intimating that because LeapFrog tapped the mommy-blog market, their leap pad had a great Christmas a year or two ago. Nowhere in that, by the way, did they talk about other advertisement, controls, or any kind of isolation or experimental procedure. Nothing more than two out-of-context and quite likely coincidental factoids: LeapFrog sold a lot of Leap Pads, and they shipped 500 units out for review by mommy bloggers.
When you DO get some hard numbers, they usually come in the guise of top-line stats like “Number of tweets” or “Retweets” or “Brand mentions” or “Reviews” or “Exposure”. These can all be useful items, but are hardly all that important. Perhaps in the launch of a new product by an unknown brand, exposure might be the key to having great sales. Meanwhile, there is absolutely no reason why Verizon Wireless needs to raise their exposure. Large brands have already saturated the market. I very much doubt they get any kind of serious boost from having “VZW Ambassadors” on Twitter talking about how great the new Whatever is for mothers on the go.
Let me restate my original point from this section: over 10 or so product launches with many different brands using well-known and well-read mommy-blog networks, we’ve seen almost no economic impact. For many of them, we never even saw a single visit to the site from several top-50 [parent]-blogs that featured the products. The ROI from all of these mommy-centric campaigns has been firmly in the negatives.
I would love to be wrong. I would love for someone to read this and say, “Well, hey, this isn’t right at all. Here’s some sales data from my last mommy-blog campaign that shows a great return.” I want someone to say this because using mommy-bloggers for social marketing is so easy it feels like cheating. You send them a package with a note, they give you a glowing review and a thousand retweets, you wash your hands, and pop out of the office by 2pm for an early night of drinking. You don’t even have to really engage with them or butter them up like you do “real” journalists.
I don’t think I’m wrong though. I think that marketers suffer from group-think to a level that is virtually unheard-of in other fields. I think that much of what we do as an industry is based on watching what everyone else does and copying it as closely as possible. And since we’re all so tight-lipped about our professional secrets, no one knows that the whole thing is based on idiocy. Everyone simply assumes that no one else would do it if it didn’t work, so clearly it must work. I think the “mommy-blogger as PR outlet” strategy fits into that mold perfectly. Again, if you disagree, and if you have some numbers (even if you aren’t willing to share the exact details) that show that tapping into the mom-o-sphere results in real, trackable, attributable sales, please tell me about it in the comments.
Meanwhile, we need to start focusing on other strategies and tactics that will actually produce results for our clients. As I mentioned earlier, focusing on activity-based bloggers and social media influencers produces high conversions and high sales. Similarly, focusing on developing awesome customer service and turning a lot of not-very-influential people into brand advocates is a great suggestion. It’s a lot harder, and requires more work, but it’s also cheaper and builds a real following instead of relying on what is essentially a paid spokesperson and their freebie-hunting entourage.
Meanwhile, for the mommy-bloggers out there: just stop. Stop blatantly accepting gifts for good press. Stop pretending to be real journalists. Stop trying to make your hobby into a business. Stop being unethical and filling the internet with crap. At the end of the day, your very own greed is going to be the death of you. I already have a feeling based on what I’ve seen that most of your readers don’t trust your reviews. Stop and give them a reason to actually, before you run into a credibility problem that takes down not only the mom-o-sphere but the entire blogging community. Your readers aren’t stupid, and neither is the rest of the internet – recognizing pay-to-play and gifts-for-good-reviews isn’t difficult, and you aren’t very good at hiding it (not like network television. They’re pros at charging guests thousands to appear on a show without anyone knowing, but that’s another blog post.) Stop, and think to yourselves – if I had an Editor-In-Chief, and said EIC was Walter Cronkite, what would he say to me if I wrote this drooling review of a new toy that I want to hang on to?
I have been banging this monkey for years. Bloggers are bloggers worst enemies. They need to treat themselves as businesses instead of hobbyists looking for swag in exchange for content.
Write REAL content that people want to read. Then advertisers will want to reach your audience, just writing about stuff you get for free only makes other bloggers read your stuff so they can figure out how to get stuff for free and it’s a vicious circle.
There are very few influencers in this world, the sad thing is the blogger with 300 followers on Twitter who is determined to get a trip / a sample / an experience is usually the loudest voice in the marketers ear.
Your first clue that your blogger isn’t worth reading? The words “PR Friendly.”
More here: http://www.cyberbuzz.com/2011/11/22/pr-friendly-blogs-are-the-new-infomercial/
If you are going to present yourself as some sort of expert you might as well do a decent job of it.
I could pick at the silly comment about the daddy-blog phenomenon is quickly gaining steam and mention that quite a few of us have been out here blogging for around a decade now. It is not new or a phenomenon, but that is not the point.
You don’t provide much in the way of data for us to chew on either. Ok, you quote a couple of stories and talk about demographics with insight like “By all accounts, they fall squarely into the “Walmart Demographic”” and expect us to take you seriously.
What have you provided other than opinion.
You are entitled to think that big brands don’t need any more exposure and I’ll say they absolutely do. If they stop advertising/promoting themselves some other company will fill the gap.
But really, why aren’t we talking hard numbers. Why don’t we delve into pageviews, unique users and time spent on site. Why don’t we talk about purchasing power, influencers and decision makers.
Your mythology about in house research is questionable too and awfully convenient. I have in house research that says 87% of the readers who have participated in any giveaway or review go on to buy a product in that category, sometimes even the same product.
Which is more meaningful.
Well, I am off now to conduct more of my own secret research to go alongside my own self serving post.
Hi Jack, and thanks for the thoughtful response. Let’s look at your comment piece by piece, because it’ll be easier that way.
I had a website in 1996. Is it wrong to say that the personal website phenomenon started around the late ’90’s or early aughts? Many people had email addresses in the 80’s. Is it wrong to say that the email phenomenon got going at the turn of the century? The problem with your argument is that a decade ago, no one cared the least little bit about personal blogs. I had a Xanga in 2001, and a LiveJournal before then, but no one talks about blogging becoming a thing until the mid 2000’s. This is because until an activity enters the mainstream, it isn’t really significant. Daddy-bloggers have existed for as long as mommy-bloggers, but they haven’t been taken seriously by the larger culture until much more recently. Significance is the word of the day, here.
Well, first and foremost, I don’t actually expect you to take me seriously. You aren’t the intended audience of my post, and I’m not really speaking to you (except maybe in the last paragraph). As such, I don’t actually care how you take me, anymore than I care how most readers that don’t work in a marketing capacity for brands or agencies take me. It’s just not that important to me. On to your bigger point, it’s awfully hard to find real demo info for mommy blogs. Most don’t publish it, even in press kits (nor do most seem to know how to use Quantcast). One more difference between them and traditional media. Here are some excerpts from Alexa for some of the top Google results for “mommy blog top 10”:
What do these sites have in common? (note: one of them should be familiar to you! Look, you’re famous!) They all skew heavily to people with no college education, many of them (yours excluded) skew late young adult-hood, and all tend to be read by people from home. This all speaks very heavily towards SAHMs (which already tend to skew less affluent) with no college degrees in the household and a preponderance of children in households with one or both parents under 30. All of these are very familiar to anyone who has studied a psychographics/demographics report, and fit a very specific group of people. You can get mad about it, you can argue about the injustice of the system, but you can’t argue about the numbers.
To a point, sure, but not nearly as much as you seem to think. When was the last time you saw a Coach ad? More importantly, it’s not about how much they advertise, as where.
I’m not talking hard numbers because, as mentioned, I’m bound by a very air-tight non-disclosure that we sign for all clients, as well as a sense of professional ethics. But why would we delve into pageviews, unique users, or time spent on site? Those numbers are absolutely meaningless without a business context unless you are in the business of having people look at your website. An even bigger WTF to your last sentence. Why are you spouting buzzwords at me? What does purchasing power have to do with actual purchases made? What about influencers? They influence (allegedly), which can mean any number of things and most of them are absolutely useless to anyone whose number #1 goal isn’t “I want to get lots of the twitters!”. What about decision makers?
I don’t think “mythology” means what you think it means. Even in a loose interpretation, the word you’re looking for is “myths”, not “mythology” which has a very specific meaning and connotation. As mentioned, I am bound by several non-disclosures, and have to get written permission before posting specific results. But, since you’re not bound by any agreements and don’t have to live up to a code of professional ethics, I’m sure you would be happy to share YOUR numbers, right? An 87% conversion rate? How are you not the wealthiest man in the world? Here are colleagues of mine charging $100k+ to get brands’ website to convert at 6% instead of 5%, and you’re getting 87%? WOW!
Thanks again! We value you as a reader!
All I can say, Alex, is THANK YOU for bringing down motherhood. Oh, and no, I am not even a mommy blogger. I am a mom of 2, earning decent pay, probably not as much as you, but hey, you’re WAY up there right? And moms are way down in the lowest levels? THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR INSIGHTFUL article. Well done. You want a pat on the back for this? I hope your mom gets to read this. She’d be so proud of you for targeting moms.
I’m curious why you immediately jumped to the conclusion that this was an attack on motherhood, when in point of fact it was an attack on a subset of bloggers (who just happened to pick motherhood as their writing niche of choice) conducting themselves unethically, followed by a point about the viability of PR outreach to these bloggers as a marketing strategy?
Thanks for reading!
The person who admits to writing $150 term papers (and doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with that!) shouldn’t really be espousing ethics.
I was young and needed money. Obviously, I no longer write term papers for others. If we are to be judged by the ethical decisions made by our 20 year old selves, we’re all in a lot of trouble.
I actually think this is an excellent posts, and one of those rare posts that goes deep into a phenomenon and breaks it down when it’s often overlooked. I read a lot of marketing and SEO blogs and they rarely mention mommy bloggers, when really those things are everywhere. I bet the reason is that mommy bloggers don’t usually hire anyone to help them make their site better.
I think rather than this being a trash on mom bloggers, it’s a wake up call for those who want to be good. Stop copying every other mom site. Most of them are terribly designed with a huge cheesy header graphic, tons of ads and widgets on the sidebar, and the same old discount or promotional posts. Write longer, better content, or do more case studies, or get into higher quality videos, or just do anything that will set you apart and earn you real revenue.
Anyway, I thought the post was very entertaining. I used to work on a site that dealt heavily with this niche ( we were a coupon code website) and I can attest that we would pay mom bloggers to write guest posts for us and they were by and large not very good. Could have been our fault, but whatever. Good in-depth advice.
Thanks for the comment and the insight, John!
I rather feel like the general marketing community has been vastly overstating both the power and the organization of the mommy-blog niche, and has been hesitant to say anything for fear of a massive backlash. I’m hoping that with us opening the flood gates, other marketing/advertising/pr companies will see that it’s not nearly as terrible as all that and will chime in with their own experiences.
Thanks for reading!
Excellent post and some excellent replies that highlight the specific and more general state of marketing today becoming very follow the crowd and self justifying.
The whole digital arena has introduced a great expectation that we can monitor and report on everything, fine tune wash and repeat; it’s a great story. However as this post eludes to, do we really live and die by this or is it simply marketing hype in itself ?
Also, some interesting specific replies; look at page views, time on site, tweets, likes, engagement influencer statistics…. blah blah blah… these are all metrics and measures that every business from SME to Enterprise are beginning to realise can be twisted to mean anything to everyone…. but as any business man or women will say… “show me the money!”.. demonstrate the ROI if it’s so easy to measure.
I’m rambling now… Great post and great thought provoker.
My VERY limited experience of ‘mommy bloggers’ is they spend 99% of their time tweeting for ‘free stuff’ to ‘promote’ and ‘review’ and the other 1% emailing blogs asking them to sponsor them to go to mummy blogger events.
It’s so weak when an agency has a client that sells children/baby products and immediately thinks yay this is easy let’s mass contact every mummy blogger in the world regardless of what theyre writing about, who’s reading and if it will even work.
Great post, I thought I was just a big grump 🙂
My fiance Is a mommy blogger. She has never asked for anything and purely writes for the love of writting. I didn’t know mommy blogging went as far where it could get you free stuff. She just wants to give people her insight on parenting with out pushing or saying that she is write and others are wrong. She is quickly becoming popular on a mommy blog site and im very proud of her. Sorry that I cant write as well as her. I have just been researching blogging to support her in every way I can to help her spread he writing.
I dunno if im allowed to share her blog here. If not you can delete this post, but here it is. Hope you enjoy someone just trying to spread the love of there child rather than someone fishing for free stuff.