How Brands Killed the “Mom Bloggers”

Not the moms, but at least their influence.

Ok, strong words. But, seriously, let’s take an honest look at what has happened to the “Mom Blogger” industry over the past couple of years. First, let’s clarify who a “mom blogger” is. The categories and assumptions are complex. If you look at Babble’s list of the Top 100 mom bloggers, you actually see the Journalists, not the typical mom bloggers who write product reviews. These are the strong influencers because they write about a variety of topics and often invite controversy – people read their blogs to be entertained or enlightened. Clients of mine often ask how to get their products reviewed on High-Traffic blogs “like A-ListMom (http://www.alistmom.com/) and Dooce.” The two are very different, but somehow they both come up as measures of success for product placement – maybe because people READ them.

The reality is that most mom blogs are not Journalists or High-Traffic blogs. Instead, they fall into one of these categories or a combination of two or more:

Personal blogs – family photos, updates on happenings for friends and family to access

Review blogs – product reviews from spaghetti sauce to coffee makers to cars

Sweeps blogs – sometimes in conjunction with Reviews, these focus on giveaways

Coupon/frugal blogs – shared information and links about deals and coupons

Content blogs – similar to journalists, these blogs have well-written content and a specific focus

The success of some of the early “mom bloggers” (in terms of culture, traffic/reach and income), spurred millions of other moms into blogging. Some just wanted a place to share and connect with other moms about the trials of motherhood. Others wanted the swag – the free products in exchange for reviews. A few others wanted the opportunity to turn a blog into a career. It works for some for awhile, but now – with literally millions of blogs out there – the power of the individual blogger has diminished, while the overall value of the community has increased. In 2010 and 2011, companies big and small decided they needed to tap into the mom blogger marketing machine. It was seen as affordable and easy; you send out some products and get great “exposure” and improved SEO.

But that’s where the problem began. Suddenly there was a frenzy of blogger networks, and hundreds of bloggers vying for the free products to be reviewed. The companies and PR agencies needed to select the best, so they did what was easiest – they required traffic stats to judge the blogs. After all, marketing classes taught us measurability was important, right? Suddenly, bloggers needed to have 30,000 “uniques” per month to qualify for this or that opportunity. For moms who became bloggers in the past couple of year, those are tough numbers to achieve. But, moms are resourceful. They formed ways to increase their traffic – giveaway trains, blog hops, link shares, automated click programs, and a variety of “I follow you, you follow me” strategies. Then came the coupon craze. A bunch of moms discovered they could share their passion for deals and increase traffic to their blog by posting coupons.

I liken this evolution to the concept of standardized test in public schools. If we incentivize teachers to get their students to score high on tests, teachers focus on teaching the test, not the subject matter. Similarly, if we tell a blogger her value is based on her traffic or “uniques”, she may start focusing on that rather than the original purpose for starting her blog – sharing advice, creating community, posting honest reviews, etc. That’s how corporations (through selecting blogs based on rank) are killing mom bloggers.

Today there are a variety of genres of “mom blogs”, but they are commonly categorized as one. That was a good thing when companies believed that tapping into mom blogs for marketing was a good idea. But, more and more, I hear companies say they no longer want to do it because, “Mom blogs don’t work.” OUCH! ALL mom blogs? Throughout 2011 I did my own tracking of promotions with mom bloggers. I provided the bloggers coded links so I could track traffic, checked searches after promotions, calculated hits to campaign pages, and gathered feedback from the companies who had sought out the bloggers. I made a few discoveries:

1) In general, a blog post does not lead to any immediate sales of a product. That shouldn’t be a problem except that some marketers expect an instant spike in sales. But, let’s look at it from a consumer perspective. She follows a blog intermittently and sees a review of a vacuum cleaner. It’s honest and well-written and even a little entertaining. But, she has a vacuum cleaner. She’s not going to run out and buy a new one tomorrow. But, several months for now, she may be in the market for one, searches for reviews of certain brands, and stumbles on that post. That’s when it influences her – at the point of decision making. Blog posts live on well past the marketing campaign. Good reviews with original content will show up in search results.

2) Brands and companies don’t measure results of their campaigns accurately. If they did, they’d see that a post about a new $129 coffee machine on a Coupon/frugal blog does not generate traffic to the product site, even if the blog has 100,000 uniques per month. This is called reaching your target market. Someone looking to double coupons on canned goods is generally NOT (with a few exceptions) in the market for a fancy coffee maker. However, if a company needs to spread the word about a coupon, deal or promotion, these bloggers can do it.

3) Small companies do go visit the bloggers’ sites – after they arrange the review. What they discover is that they selected a blogger based on traffic numbers, not on market demographics. They complain the blogs are ugly, generic, or poorly written. I blame this on the point about studying for standardized tests. Bloggers are after quantity, not quality because that’s what they are judged on. Companies need to view the blogs before sending the items for review to see if it is a fit.

4) Those Journalist and High-Traffic blogs look very different than the ones who appear on all the PR-friendly lists. Bloggers seeking product for review should spend a little time analyzing what makes those big blogs successful (hint: less clutter, decent graphics, real content). You don’t have to “be like them” in order to learn from them. Companies need to realize those “big” blogs are bombarded with review opportunities. Don’t expect them to drop everything, write a post, and promote your $10 product for free.

5) Facebook rules and formulas for presenting content in feeds have impacted the effectiveness of bloggers. It’s become easy to unsubscribe, unfollow and generally tune-out. With the constant stream of giveaways, the posts become background noise. True influencers are rising above it. Notice who they are.

6) Most bloggers are followed by mainly only other bloggers. I’ll get backlash from this, but I proved it last September when I organized over 100 reviews and giveaways on over 100 blogs. It was the same people participating in all the giveaways. The audience of 10 bloggers = the audience of the blogger with the largest reach. In other words, 500x1100x1000x1000x500x1000x800x1000x200x1000 = 1100 (the reach of the biggest blog).

None of this is necessarily bad news. However, it suggests that both bloggers and companies need to make some changes.

Bloggers, decide who you are and what you goals for your blog are. In business, they say “dress for the position you want”. In other words, if you want to be a Journalist blog, make your blog look like theirs – dump the buttons and banners and opt for strategic advertising. If you want to be a High-Traffic review blog, set your site format to be like one. Make it searchable by category. If you enjoy couponing and frugal advice, be the best at it – don’t distract yourself with product reviews that don’t fit your market. Readers will know you received the product in exchange for a review, so they won’t be interested in reading it. Use your high traffic for sponsored posts and paid advertising. On the other hand, do you like sharing honest reviews and tips on new products you have discovered? Then stick with that. Write quality reviews, double check your grammar and spelling, and use your own pictures of the products in use (unless instructed to use stock photos). Make your site attractive like a pretty picture frame for the review. Small companies love to point to pretty reviews of their products. That will increase your traffic and get you more review opportunities.

Companies seeking bloggers, look past the traffic numbers. Read the blogs. What do they post? How sincere are the reviews? Are the other posts just cut and paste content from product pages? Does the blogger put more time into collecting badges, links and memberships than focusing on content? Some of the highest traffic “mom blogs” suffer from all those inadequacies. On the other hand, note the ones that appeal to you. If you’d read it, would your customers? That’s what counts.