Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ready, Set, Show!

Check out my latest posts over at the Roost blog as I share my best tips for decrapifying a house. In a follow-up piece, I share tips from blogger extraordinaire Vanessa Druckman of Chef Druck Musings on keeping the house show-ready when you have kids underfoot.

Thankfully, we are not in that position. I can't keep my house clean for more than about a day at a time. I can't imagine the pressure of always having it ready to show with just a few minute's notice.

At any rate, things are about to get interesting with the house sale, so stay tuned.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Marketing to Mombloggers: When brand advocates become unpaid saleswomen and then call it quits

As a "mommy blogger," I'm on the receiving end of lot of marketing pitches. As a consultant, I sometimes find myself developing the pitches and broader outreach efforts. I understand that clients want numbers, they want measurable results. But there's a line between developing brand fans and "hiring" bloggers for free advertising.

Late last year, I was invited to a party to learn about a piece of at-home fitness equipment that is used in conjunction with a popular family gaming platform. Just as Walt Disney asked his employees to "plus" their ideas, to make them bigger and better, this brand was proud to release its "plussed" version.

The party was wonderful. A Word-of-Mouth (WOM) firm engaged a local blogger as hostess and she invited a fabulous group of women. Attendees learned about and got to try out the product in a fun, low-pressure setting. There were delicious snacks and drinks and we enjoyed ample time to play as well as talk. A good time was had by all, and, in the end, each attendee was given a product to take home and enjoy. They plussed it!

I held off on opening my product until the holidays, but we've been using/playing/working out with it ever since. Just as the WOM firm would hope, I've been chatting the system up online and in real life. I think the "plus" product has a lot of great improvements over the initial release. A true brand advocate, I was also getting ready to post on my search-friendly PR 5 blog (that would be this here blog).

But while that post was sitting in draft, the WOM agency asked me to take a survey. Given my very positive feelings about the event and the product, I dove in. Feedback on the party? No problem. Questions about my knowledge of and experiences with the product? I'm game.

But then they started asking about the social networks in which I'm active. Um, well okay. Then they wanted to know about my fans/followers/readers. Hmmm. It didn't let me bypass those items, so I entered numbers that I felt were extremely high, you know to mess with them and make myself look cool.

Then the survey asked how many people had played the game with me, how many conversations I'd had about the games and the like. I made up numbers there, too. Low ones this time (or maybe I made up low numbers about my social connections and high ones here because it sounded fun to say I'd talked with over 9000 people about this game).

I understand how word of mouth works. I understand they invited me to the party and gave me a free unit in the hopes that I would love it and tell my friends. And I willingly did that.

At least I did that until the WOM agency made it all too clear that I was merely their tool.

In the space of a few minutes I went from being an genuinely enthusiastic brand advocate to an unpaid salesperson.

And then I quit.

I'm still using the product that shall not be named, but there will be no blog post, no more tweeting, and I'm zipping my lips.

I've gotten different reactions from friends who also took the survey. Some wanted to sound positive so they will be invited to future events. Others answered the questions but felt a bit awkward about it (were they worthy?). And still others wondered why the agency didn't collect social network information on their own, possibly even prior to the event. (Obvious answer, because they'd have to pay someone to do it.)

I think there's a line between being a brand fan and a cheap marketing tool. Do you? How do you draw that line as a blogger? What might a brand do that makes you feel valued, or on the flip side, what might a brand do that kills your buzz?

Edited 1/26/10 to add: Spurred by this blog and the rich discussion in the comments Jennifer James put up a post today that's a must-see. Click to read "Why PR professional shouldn't ask mom bloggers for stats."

And while you're clicking, taking a peek at my old post, "Moms, show us your stats"

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I resolve not to make resolutions in 2010

This month, my friends on the Yahoo Motherboard are talking resolutions: do we make them, do we keep them? That kind of thing. Ggenerally speaking, I'm not big on resolutions and this year is no exception.

Looking ahead, I see a stressful year on the personal front. I can easily see my resolve crumbling as the year goes on. That said, I'm committed to exercising, as much for sanity as for fitness, but that commitment feels different from a resolution, not so much an I promise or I will try to, but I must.

I guess if I want to ensure success, I could create a list of resolutions that are easy to follow:

  • I will show up 5 minutes late to family functions.
  • I will keep my car, my bedroom and my house full of clutter.
  • I will misplace my keys at least six times and my phone four.
  • I will yell at my boys, but I will hug them more.
I could come up with more challenging resolutions and follow the helpful suggestions from this Yahoo Shine article. But really, I'm just going to hang low and see what the year brings.

My involvement in the Yahoo!Motherboard is voluntary and unpaid. It sounds like there are exciting things ahead for this group, including the chance for other mombloggers to join in. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Raising Gifted Children: I'm Not Griping Today

True, I'm not griping today. I do have a few rants on how gifted children are left behind and how our public school system falls short meeting the needs of academically talented students, but I'm going to keep them to myself. For today, at least.

I was surprised to learn from Switched on Mom that some school districts, hers for instance, do not release results from NWEA MAP tests. My boys have taken that test at two different schools. (Frustratingly, the scores are not portable and the student needs to start from scratch after moving to a new district.) We have always received some type of report noting my children's scores and how they compare to district as well as national averages.

A few months ago, the boys' school held a Testing 101 night at which administrators talked about the different types of standardized tests administered to students. Were this a rant, I'd go into detail about the school psychologist's admission that yes, mostly these tests ares used to weed out kids who might prevent the school from meeting annual progress goals under No Child Left Behind and making sure those kids have services to get up to speed.

The MAP tests, however, are used in part to gain entry into the enrichment program. But noting that my boys seem to make most oftheirh progress over the summer (seriously, forget that lexile stuff; you'd be amazed at what reading the entire Garfield comic book series can do to boost reading scores), I was hear to learn more about the specific learning goals that come with the score.

At the testing night, the principal explained parents were welcome to email her to see that extra information regarding their child's customized learning goals.

I received a sapling's worth of paper on my boys' goals. I brought one boy's goal set to a parent conference to review with the teacher, which admittedly was much too large a task for our allotted time. She promised she'd get back to me with answers on how her curriculum relates to my son's goals, and bless her, she did. Every single line. Each item.

Now it's my turn to review all the info and try to understand her color-coded notes.

This was clearly a task that took a bit of time. I am very grateful for her efforts.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Marketing to Moms, Marketing with Moms. The Year in Preview

The closest thing to a year-end review I posted was about @Military_Mom, Craig Dobkin and miracles, which I think offered some might fine food for thought for the year ahead, but not much reflection on the one left behind. Okay, so I didn't quite make the 2009 review, but it's still January, so I can offer my marketing to mommybloggers 2010 preview in a timely manner.

Maria Bailey kicked off the year with a forward-thinking piece at MediaPost: EngageMoms. (I've written some timeless pieces there, too.) Maria addressed some of the issues my friend Alma over at Marketing Mommy asked in her recent post.

Alma is an organized woman. She's already thinking about a talk she's giving in May, one on marketers and mombloggers. She's trying to prepare even as she ponders the ridiculousness of prepping now because within fourth months, the scene in this rapidly evolving space will have changed.

Still, she's asking great questions and I'm sharing my answers.

What does the future of marketing to and with mom bloggers hold? As Maria noted, there will be an increasing focus on the "with" aspect. This means that rather PR agencies connecting with key bloggers or online communities to pitch a campaign, they will partner with (and pay) those bloggers or community leaders to create winning campaigns from the beginning. In Q4, I was involved in a couple focus groups along these lines. They were exciting and unique in their approach, but perhaps not for long.

Will there be a retreat from blogger retreats? Yes. I think the ROI of these events is questionable not only in terms of dollars, but long-term blogger relationships. If a brand wants to spend several thousands dollars on a blogger, I sense many bloggers would prefer that in the form of cash for advertising, consulting, spokesperson opportunities or fees for other professional services.

Could contests and giveaways go away? I don't think they will go away because they help reviews gain traction. Plus, I like to win stuff from my bloggy friends and I'd be sad to see that end.

That said, I've heard of more bloggers who are keeping their contests focused on their readers, their communities, rather than posting them on contest sites to bring in the eager masses who inflate stats (look PR person, I'm so popular, 300 readers entered my contest to win a piece of ABC gum!). This seems like a return to authenticity. (But do PR people want authenticity or 300 people entering a giveaway for their product? Alma, the ball's back in your court.)

Will the stream of poorly-targeted "Dear Blogger" spam-pitches ever abate? No, it's quick and cheap. It's a numbers game that apparently is cost-effective enough for some PR hacks to feel the ends justify the means.

Case in point, the most commonly searched topics on my blog are related to gifted or academically advanced children, so when I received a generic pitch for a remedial reading program, I wrote the sender about the disconnect and he replied, er rationalized:
I’m sorry for the inconvenience. I wish that the custom targeting database that I use allowed me to get to that level of detail. The new CisionPoint system is very very good, but even that doesn't let us distinguish that fine detail. The blogs are the newest add on to what has been an excellent media database system for those of us in the public relations industry.

I think the new challenge will be for bloggers to realize that they are now media targets and as such will likely receive inquiries that are outside the narrow scope of their publishing.

I work with lots of clients of all types. It’s impossible for me to keep up with the specialty interest of media especially, when there are over 2,000 education specialty editors and writers in the US and Canada.
So I replied back, in part:
If you want mombloggers, the best known and most influential of them, to pimp your products, you’re going to have to try a little harder to build relationships in the community and not just blast us as you might the NYTimes.
To which he replied back:
Given that the response we had this morning from bloggers and media nationwide was phenomenally positive, I tend to believe that we did a pretty good job “pimping” to share Dr. ------'s life long and hard earned achievements.

Given your expression of interest and attitude, I've taken the liberty of removing you from any further news releases we send on behalf of other creative dedicated and brilliant clients we choose to work with in our effort to help society.

I do wish you the best of luck in “pimping” what you do as well.
Exchanges like that make me wish I was The Bloggess. She takes bad PR by the horns.

At any rate, yes, Alma, there will be spam.

Can we look forward to an era when marketers and mom bloggers can work together in a way that both fosters connections among a community of moms and helps marketers deliver solutions that moms want to buy? Yes, see above. Not the "pimping" comment, but much higher up in the post.

Will more marketers hire moms to bringing their authentic voice to brand sites? Yes, but those marketers cannot rely on the mom bloggers, even popular ones to be solely, or even mainly, responsible for driving traffic to the brand sites. Of course there will likely be some link exchanges and "Hey, read me over here!" kind of things, but the marketing team behind the brand has to do its part to drive traffic in order for the site to succeed. (Hat tip to Meagan Francis on this one.)

Will the moms who jumped on the blogging bandwagon for free stuff abandon their sites when the freebie train leaves town, or will they focus their blogs on their passions and build an audience of fellow toddlers, crafters, Crock-Potters or working moms? Who knows? The freebie train won't be leaving town for a year or so. My guess is that some women will realize that the value of their online relationships is far greater than the sum of all the products they've received and start writing from the heart.

I believe a woman sharing her voice, her story, her passion, her life online is a very powerful thing. (Ahem, please read.) (Oh, and read this, too it's by Liz Gumbinner, so you know it's good).

I also believe that marketers and bloggers can play nicely together. It's a just a matter of forging genuine connections based on shared passions or values* ** rather than a brand reaching out to the newest Power Pack Mom or a blogger nosing around for the latest freebie.

What do you see in when you look into the crystal ball of momblogging?

*gratuitous client plug
**channeling Susan Getgood

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This is not my story

For the most part, this is not my story. Indulge me for the next few paragraphs while I provide some background before you get to the good stuff.

Several months ago, my friend Kim Tracy Prince did something amazing. It's all Katie Couric's fault. As for my little adventure. Well, it's Kim TP's fault. I also blame Underwriters Labs. See, they sent me a cute, educational animated fire safety video that had voice overs in about a dozen different languages. Once my boys and I viewed it, I brought it over to a local English Language Learners (ELL) Parent Support Center that is funded by a consortium of nearby public schools.

When I stopped by the center to drop off the video, I chatted with the director. She let me know the door was open, quite literally, if I wanted to work with any parents there. I told her I didn't think that would happen, but I'd contact her if I had any ideas.

Of course, I soon had an idea.

But how to justify the time? The effort?

Another idea: you may know I'm currently studying to be a bat mitzvah. Yes, I'm 30 years late for this rite of passage into Jewish adulthood. What can I say?

As part of the process, I wanted to participate in a mitzvah (loosely translated "good deed," but truly a commandment) project. Idea justified! Fast forward a few weeks.

Last week, I met with a brave group of moms who are willing to embark on a crazy project with me. Of course it involves a blog. And they're cool with that, even if they weren't sure what a blog was. Yes, we are going to blog, vlog and Whrrl all the while building English skills and learning more about our community.

I'm not sure how much of my rapid fire talk they understood (really, I tried to slow down, but I was excited). I tried to explain the power of blogging, the power unleashed when a woman shares her voice, her life, her story online.

Last week, by the end of our first meeting the blog had a name, a url and a template (coincidentally, they chose the one I started out with five years ago). And each woman had a goal for this wacky project as well.

That was last Tuesday. Tuesday morning.

By day's end, an earthquake had devastated Haiti.

One of the moms in the group is from Haiti*.

We have our second meeting this morning. I know the name of the Haitian mom, but I don't have permission to share her story, so I will refer to her as the Haitian Mom. I don't know if she's going to show up today.

I hope she does.

I don't know if she will feel comfortable sharing her story in person or online.

That is her choice.

Regardless of her choice, I hope the group members support her and that she will accept our support.

I hope if she does share her story with the Internets, this mysterious group of people that I told the women will come read their blog, the Internets will offer their love and support as well.

I'm not sure what is going to happen at our group this morning.

I thought it would be weeks before the women posted on the blog, so if the Haitian mom does not feel like sharing, some time may pass before I share the url. But if we have news or stories to share I'll post the link and ask you to stop by the blog.

Please stop back later for an update.

Update: The mom from Haiti did not feel ready to share her thoughts online. Understandably so. It's been a very difficult week for her. She did talk with the group a bit and we let her know we are ready to support her as she sees fit as we move ahead.

If you are looking for a way to help the people of Haiti, here are a few suggestions from my friend, Devra Renner. (Interesting Katrina tie-in.)

Another friend, Cindy Fey, wrote about Partners in Health and poverty in Haiti back in October, 2008, for Blog Action Day. It's a haunting read with useful links.

And the wonderful Leticia Barr has a link-laden post with tips for talking to your kids about the recent earthquake and tragedies that have followed.

*Other moms hail from Korea, Iraq, Pakistan and Hong Kong.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I'm not going to be of THOSE bloggers

You know one of those bloggers who pops in only to say how busy she is? Well, I won't be one of those. After this post.

I'm working on a few projects. One is so brilliant that last night when I asked DH why I couldn't access the new website I'm working on, I realized it was because I had transposed words in my mind and purchased the wrong domain name. Luckily, the correct one was still available and DH had only wasted a little bit of time (cough) getting the first site going for me.

So this is a good time to mention the brief proposal I hurriedly sent off today only to find the typos in it hours later. Nothing says "hire me!" like typos, right?

Typos aside, work-wise things are going well and I'm making an effort to exercise daily. That all means less precious blogging time.

In other news, I'm working on a project, a volunteer project, that I'm very excited to share, but not quite yet. It's a project I'm heading up. I'm planning it and organizing it, but it's not mine. I'm a facilitator- a guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage, which seems to be my best role. The project belongs to the women who will be more intimately involved with it. Their lives, their stories. Coming soon to a computer near you. I'll be shouting from the rooftops for this one!

Also the site with the nearly botched url? I'll be shouting from the rooftops on that one, too.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lego then, Lego now

This is the kind of thing a very organized blogger would have posted, say, in November, before her readers squandered their hard-earned money on trendy toys that won't last into the new year. Behold the lasting power of Legos!

Over winter break we busted out some of DH's old Legos. Not only did my mother-in-law save them (to be clear, they were passed off to us as soon as we had a house of our own), but for the most part, the old kits were intact. God willing I have grandchildren, they may one day enjoy the giant bin of Legos bricks and bodies that my children enjoy. Let creativity reign, I say.

At any rate, take a look at a circa 1975 Lego helicopter and the one my son got for Chanukah 2009.

They've come a long way, baby.

What are your favorite timeless toys? Are you saving any of your children's toys for your theoretical grandchildren?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Illinois Association of Gifted Children Annual Conference

Heads-up! Registration time is running out. The Illinois Association for Gifted Children (IAGC) is holding their annual conference in Chicago, February 7-9.

Sunday, the 7th, they have a special parent session featuring Judy Galbraith of Free Spirit Publications. She'll be talking about "Growing up Gifted." One of her sessions features real! live! gifted teens--students from IMSA, the best thing our state does for gifted students.

IMSA, the Illinois Math and Science Academy, is a highly selective, residential high school for gifted students. I'm sure the students will provide a certain depth to the program, but knowing that IMSA serves such a tiny portion of our state's gifted students, they are students who, I hope, are getting what they need out of public school. I wonder if their perspective will be skewed.

One momfriend on Twitter questioned what she might learn from this conference that she doesn't already know. I think the value provided by most conferences is the real-life connections that are fostered.

So let me know if you are going to the conference and for what portion--I'd love to connect. That said, weather permitting, I'm returning home from the Blissdom blogger conference on the 6th, and am ambivalent about spending yet another afternoon away from home for IAGC. I'm thinking of attending the evening parent talk. Let me know your plans.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Long on thoughts, short on time

I've written at least three Marketing to Momblogger posts this year, but none has made the magical leap from my brain through my fingers and on to this blog just yet. I'm working on a couple of projects that I'm excited to share, but they need a little shaping first.

Today, I'm off to lunch and dinner with my client Steaz and some of my favorite Chicago mamas. Lunch will be held at the Whole Foods in Lincoln Park which has an amazing food court. As an event of hostess, I'm probably just supposed to be dainty--nibble and pick and make sure nothing gets stuck between my teeth, right? But OMG have you seen the food court there? Wish me luck, er, restraint.

Powered by Whrrl

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Stop Discriminating Against Us!

DH and I don't always see eye-to-eye, but I wonder if he's on to something here. Are we being discriminated against because of our status?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Raising Gifted Kids: Decoding Teacher Talk

As longtime readers may know, it took years for me to realize that when teachers told me my son was "doing fine," that merely meant he wasn't making trouble.

Making a ruckus, teasing, acting out, constantly getting out of his seat--none of those things are fine because they disrupt the class. Fine meant my boy did not stand out. Fine meant he played a role in maintaining status quo, it did not equate to educational growth.

A teacher's agenda for your gifted child does not necessarily match your own, especially if that means extra work for the teacher. Of course this is not a blanket statement about all teachers, and whatever your child's special needs, when a teacher does go that extra mile to help him or her, no doubt your gratitude is beyond words (also beyond a Starbucks gift card, but both are a nice touch). And we all know the pressure is on the teachers to help each student achieve a minimum level of proficiency a la No Child Left Behind, not to help each child reach his potential. (That is a blanket statement; it's our guiding national policy.)

I digress. My point is that it sometimes feels like teachers are talking in code when it comes to the education our high ability kids.

So "fine" means not a behavior problem in class, not making extra work.

"Challenges himself" can be interpreted in a similar vein. A child that challenges himself doesn't need a teacher to take that extra step or do additional work to take him to that next level. How convenient. And, of course, the idea that a gifted child is always seeking out new challenges is a stereotype, especially given that by 3rd or 4th grade and many highly gifted kids have merely tuned out, but that's fodder for another post.

What teacher talk have you decoded when advocating for your gifted child?

Read more musings of parenting gifted children.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Friends Don't Let Friends Do Business Together

Sure, it's nice to support a friend with a business, but what if their business involves six-figure deals that are fraught with anxiety and have the potential to take a bad turn at any moment?

Would you feel better off going through it with a friend or would prefer to have someone you could easily fire or sue? Read my thoughts on hiring a friend to sell our house over at