Monday, May 18, 2009

Marketing to Mom Bloggers: Influence, Power and Responsibility

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I'm going to try something a little different this week: crowdsourcing a blog post. I've been mulling over a few thoughts on blogger influence, power and responsibility, but this week I'm pressed for time. Also, I'm continually impressed by the thoughtful comments you leave here, so I thought I'd throw out a few questions this week and use your answers (always giving credit and sharing links, natch) and mine to put together next week's post.

As mombloggers, we're offered treated like divas- showered with coupons, product samples, trips and other goodies. Have you ever gotten carried away a bit carried away and crossed the line from blogger to blogwhore*?

Do you think the diva treatment has swelled up some egos and perhaps created a bad name for mombloggers? Explain. (Answer in the sense of the community as a whole. I will not post comments that call out any specific bloggers.)

How has your relationship with swag changed over time?

Whether you have 10 readers or 10,000 followers, describe the responsibility (if any) you feel toward them

I hope this little experiment works.

I'll be spending my day sampling chocolate and other fine confections as well as enjoying lunch with an interesting new group of bloggers and writing about it on Scrambled CAKE. If I return to find a bunch of comments here, it will be the icing on my milk chocolate filled Lindt Truffles. And if there are no comments, well, I'll drown my disappointment in those same truffles. They don't really need icing, anyway.


Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig said...

Regarding responsibility (if any) towards readers (and touching for a minute on going overboard with swag)...

At one point I had become so enamored with the idea of companies sending me product for review that each "yes" I got from a company was a tiny "score." Nevermind if I thought the product was something of quality or something my particular readers would enjoy. I hid behind the justification that my blog certainly couldn't be the ONLY thing my readers would consult on a particular product, and it was up to my readers to decide for themselves through educated research before purchase - I downplayed my own "endorsement" of a product while still being addicted to the "importance" of the company choosing me in the first place. This all changed when - to my absolute surprise - a good local, real-life friend of mine ordered a product based on my blog's recommendation. Fortunately, the transaction turned out positive, but what if it had not? And what if it was one of the products that I myself hadn't "loved," but wanted to have recognition for from a company? Now I think of every reader as if they were someone I had to face in real life every day, and I ask myself: would I still recommend a product on my blog if they purchased it on my word? I guess you could say I'm learning to blog intentionally, and to not hide behind my blog, and most importantly, not to be so taken in by the pseudo importance I feel from companies and focus more on the relationship I have with my readers.

tracy said...

This is a very interesting article and wonder what people will have to say. Being that I've never been sent anything and everything I've given away I've bought or owned its not really as issue for my blog.

but for other giveaways....

A lot of giveaways seem like an easter egg hunt...and not in a good way. Go here, go there, come back...tweet... comment.

I dont know, it feels forced and its not fun. I don't do them. I know most people do and I understand that that is the scope of the promo.

For me, the promos should be about getting the name out in a casual way. Not a structured complicated set of rules...


Jodi said...

This is why I love reading your blog Kim, you are always bringing up great topics!

I have so much to say on this that I'm probably going to write more than what's appropriate for a comment, but you asked!

I can understand why companies are seeking mom bloggers - after all, our generation of stay at home moms doesn't really watch soaps or other tv shows, and reaching us is different from reaching our parents. Mom blogs offer fresh content, compelling tales, and real life stories - a great place to advertise and promote products.

Ultimately, it's the audience that makes the blogger, and as bloggers, we have a responsibility to our audience, whoever that may be, if we want to retain our audience. Some bloggers are writing for themselves, other bloggers are writing for other moms, and yet another group are writing for other bloggers. And, of course, some write for a blended audience.

It's easy to see why blogger trips are so coveted - the two I've been on have been amazing. The thing I worry about is when bloggers start to write for specific company's attention rather than for their audience. Ultimately, I have to believe that eventually all of this attention is going to peak.

Can't wait to read others' opinions!

Mom101 said...

Fantastic - and complex topic. Where to start??

First of all, I think we have to separate parenting bloggers (who write about parenting) from review bloggers (who write about products for parents). Lumping us all in as "mommybloggers" clouds the subject.

Marketing has polluted the personal blogs to a very small degree. Mostly the wonderful writers out there find a way to keep the balance and maintain their integrity. I don't care if you get a free car or a trip to Disney as long as you make me laugh out loud with every story you tell about it. We all know the bloggers who do this well.

Has marketing cast a dark shadow over the whole community? Well, yes, in that it's completely divided us. There are (by many professional accounts) the "integrity mombloggers," and then the ones who will write about anything that comes their way with glowing, gushing inauthentic reviews. There are review bloggers who shamelessly demand products for both themselves and their readers and sometimes a fee to boot. I'd like to say there's enough room for all of us in this sapce, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit I want to separate myself from them.

Looking forward to your post!

On mom-101 I look for experiences, not product. I think my blog-and integrity- is worth more than a Glade candle or even a refrigerator. But beyond that, if it doesn't make a great post I'm not writing about it. I've been to plenty of events that never made the pages of my blog.

Kimberly/Mom in the City said...

My answers:
-Personally, I don't think that I've crossed the line. I turn down more things than I accept. (I think that I have it a little easier, because I have an age- specific niche.)

-Unfortunately I have heard from some bloggers and marketers that there are some bloggers who are all about "the get". More disturbingly, some don't like to associate with others whom they don't think are at their level of influence.

-It's fun getting "swag". Unless it's something that I really love, I usually end up giving it away though to someone who I think will really enjoy it - either my readers, friends or family. (I'm a minimalist/clutter-phobe.)

-Overall, I feel responsible to be honest with and not to waste the time of my readers.

Selfish Mom said...

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, since I encounter it every day. In the beginning, when the free stuff started flowing my way, I got a little carried away. It was hard to say no to anything. But over the past year I've learned to only accept things that speak to me, big or small. If I'm not interested in the product, no matter how good it is, the writing will seem forced.

I think that if you only write about products to get more products your readers will catch on pretty quick. I write about a ton of products that I have absolutely no relationship with - I like them, I like to talk about them.

But ultimately, since the particular blog that I do reviews and giveaways on doesn't make any money, the products and trips are a great perk and payback for all of the work that I put into my blog. I have friends who are very jealous of all of the free stuff I get, but they don't stop to think that they get a paycheck and can choose to buy what they want. My husband got a pay cut this year, and free printers and trips won't pay the rent.

Ultimately I think it's all about honesty and disclosure. Just be honest about connections and all will be fine.

sarah Auerswald said...

Well, I have done a few reviews of products. A couple were forced and I learned that I can only do ones that make sense. I did a review that wasn't really complimentary, and I thought they were going to be upset about it, but they actually found something to like in it, so there you go -- you never know.

But the whole question of swag is very interesting. I have over-indulged a few times and felt stupid afterwards. But the lure of free stuff is high.

What I've been coming up against lately is that PR people think we're the same as journalists: they forward us a press release and expect us to post it up like were a bulletin board. We're not. Our blogs are NOT newspapers and we're not paid staff of that newspaper. To offer a free product in exchange for a post is akin to the writer getting paid a salary, although, I'm not living in a dream world -- I can see the downside to this.

But asking for a post doesn't have to involve a "product payment". What about something else? For example, I was asked to review a little play happening in an alternative space in my neighborhood -- and they're not offering anything, not even a ticket to the show. OK, but what if they send an email blast to their list saying that my blog has a post up about it? That way at least I get seen by that many more people who may not have known about me.

Know where I'm heading here? There does need to be some sort of "compensation" if they want a review, in my opinion, even if it's just link swapping.

SwitchedOnMom said...

Funny, you should post on this. Two things happened this weekend: I received my 100,001st visit to my blog (after about a year an a half) and I got my very first offer to review a product in exchange for receiving a complimentary license for the software. Which was followed by a request yesterday to post a link to a local reader who is selling t-shirts. Hmm...

Because I use the freebie Wordpress, I'm not allowed to have advertising on my blog. And in any case, garnering monetary/in-kind benefits is not something I ever really thought about. It's not why I started my blog.

But here were are. And I can't do it. Accepting this offer to review would feel so fake. Like a betrayal of my readers, lol. Out of the blue I'm going to review some random educational product that neither my kids nor I would use, that has little to do with what I blog about? I mean, do you do this and "wink, wink" your readers? Don't you feel "bought?"

In the course of my blog I have mentioned books, products and curricula that I love. But it's natural. It's a genuine expression of me. It's part of the conversation. The whole "giveaway" "promo" blogging thing, on the other hand, just strikes me as crass and cheesy. Blogging with the express intention of reaping some financial or material reward just turns me off. Sorry. Guess I'm a blog snob. Perhaps a poor and stupid blog snob, but a blog snob nonetheless.

As to the request by a local to link to her blog (which I read secretly), which is all about selling t-shirts, albeit snarky clever ones.... My reaction is "Why should I help you benefit monetarily from my year and a half of effort and reputation? (And I know that sounds so lofty and all...) What's in it for me?

Which perhaps means I haven't yet been offered the right price.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I stop reading blogs that seem only to try to sell me something within the text. When I've received products for review, I always work it into a regular post which to me makes it have more meaning. I don't hide the fact that it's a review,but just maybe how the product was really used and why I like it or don't. I don't do much of that because I feel it discolors integrity.

When I want reviews I read review sites -- and that's not very often especially because my kids are teenagers and there really aren't a lot of teen-centric product review sites. I'm beyond the baby/kid phase -- bottle and snugglies and toys aren't part of my world anymore (sniff sniff). I do read a lot of book review sites - and those I love.

For me it's all about the stories and the way they're told.

Naomi said...

I do a lot of product reviews and while I don't feel beholden to the companies that send me stuff gratis, I definitely feel a building resentment that these reviews are becoming like an unpaid job. I don't extoll the virtues of things I wouldn't pay money for but it saddens me that my blog has turned into a review blog without really meaning to. I think summertime is going to be all about spending time with the kids and trying to refocus my blogging on what REALLY matters. I do enjoy being able to try new products that we wouldn't be able to afford otherwise but it weighs on my mind that I'm disappointed when we don't have packages to open. That's just sad.

Shari said...

I only review products that might be something I would buy. They are never expensive and never outside the realm of previous posts. Readers can tell when you're excited just because someone sent you something.

Of course, the most important thing is to have a solid sense of your blog and its limits. If you know what you want to write about, then you can determine whether or not something fits -- topics, swag, rants, etc.

selfmademom said...

I have such a love/ hate relationship with products and blogging. I used to accept some small stuff and write about it, but on balance, I turn down 99.9% (including cool free trips to Disney) of things that come my way, because I typically can't make the cool free stuff work into my life or blog (or husband's work schedule. :)) My blog isn't about free stuff, never has been and never will be. That being said, I don't give a lick if people wanna pimp out their blog to every t-shirt, hairspray or sunscreen that comes their way. If it makes 'em happy, great. I just may not click on them often, or ever. Blogs are personal, and as such, so should the decision of how people want to use those spaces.

Florinda said...

As far as marketing to mombloggers goes, it seems like my blog and I are barely on the radar - and I've turned down most of the (relatively few) offers I've gotten. Does that mean that maybe I'm really NOT a momblogger? In the context of the ongoing discussion about marketing to mombloggers - product-driven content, dedicated review blogs, disclosure, compensation, etc. - I feel very much on the sidelines.

That feeling of being on the sidelines may color my perceptions, but I do think that some mombloggers may be in it for the attention and the goodies, and not so much to cultivate their own voices and communities. I think they have the right to do that, but it also puts them in a position where their higher profiles could make them the "public face" of momblogging to people on the outside, effectively representing us to the world - and mis-representing many of their fellow mombloggers in the process.

I review books, and the occasional movie, on my blog. My husband buys the movie tickets, and many of the books are from my own shelves. I feel that part of my responsibility to my readers - as well as to myself, as a blogger - is not doing things that aren't "me" on my blog. I'm not interested in letting my content be driven by products or activities that came my way just because I have a blog, and I'm not interested in getting "free" books or products just because they're free. My kids are older, so there's no reason for me to talk about picture books or pre-school products here - and if I'm not interested, I'm not going to be able to make them interesting for my readers either.

Palymama said...

I've been writing my personal blog about life with teenagers for about six months now. I've been getting some solicitations all along but they've increased in the last few months as my readership has jumped tremendously. My attitude from the beginning was to provide a place for parents of teens to gather, talk, share and learn about issues facing us all. I frequently mention products, stores or services as they pertain to teens (because as Amy Sue mentioned there AREN'T many specifically for teens) but I'm not paid or given anything for them. Frankly I don't see the lure of reviewing bottles of barbecue sauce or a new spray cleaning product. That said, if a reputable company approached me to review a product that falls into any of the "natural" areas I would discuss - I would consider it. But, I would make it clear that the review would have to be my honest review, I wouldn't lie or twist the picture to put the "best" spin on the story. That would not be serving my audience OR my integrity moving forward. When I read some blogs with the names of the products stuck into the text and almost always, glowing remarks...all credibility is lost (to me). So, I don't get it. How do those bloggers keep their credibility with their audience?

Laura Vanderkam said...

Hi Kim - you're bringing up the same issue that traditional journalists have been dealing with for years. At many consumer mags, the line between ads and editorial is very flimsy, despite the attempt to keep up appearances. You will almost never read a negative review of a product. That doesn't mean the edit staff will run positive reviews of something they hate, they just won't run the review at all if it would make any of the major advertisers upset.

Felicia (aka Mommy B) said...

HOW have I missed this blog all this time? What great discussion going on here!

As a blogger with a niche blog (I deal with issues, trends and products that impact tween and teenage girls) I'm very conscious about the products and services I promote. As you can probably imagine, with such a limited niche, I'm not at the top of many PR reps mailing list. I tend to seek relevant product out on my own and contact the creators personally to see if they'd like to do an interview or giveaways. I do this as a service to my readers.

On the other hand, I do some new media consulting for a small company and in my contacts to fellow bloggers I'm always very consious to research the blog before asking them if they'd like to partner. If I'm doing a giveaway for a boys item, I'm not going to send it to a mom who has all girls.

And yet, I've been contacted by PR reps to do reviews for products that have absolutely nothing to do with preteen and teenage girl empowerment. Products that would actually make me look like a complete hypocrite were I to promote them.

Is it that some companies are just blanketing the blogosphere with swag and offers until they get a "bite"? THAT not only makes me think less of their product and practices, in that they're taking advantage of the blog power- but it also really makes me wonder about some of the blogs who blanket every post and page with promos.

(Jeez, sorry for writing a book, but this is a great discussion.)

LotsToLearn said...

I can give you perspective from someone who has products available to review, our series of DVDs for ages 2-5 titled Lots To Learn

We receive requests quite often for samples/review opportunities, but to be honest, we've gradually slowed those down, as many reviews were simply regurgitated from existing content.

We've had the most success, and the most sales, from true customers, Moms who have purchased the Lots To Learn DVDs for their kids, and then decided to share their positive experience with other Moms. These reviews have led to tremendous exposure and sales for Lots To Learn.

So lately, when we've received requests, we've been kindly moving away from them. We believe it's peaked, and that the shear number of blogs is becoming a negative factoer in the success as we saw it just a year ago.

Lisa at Lots To Learn Preschool DVDs