Mommy blogging, financial interests and who’s really controlling content

There appears to be an interesting backlash of sort towards mothers who blog and profit from it without disclosure. This story that just appeared on All Things Considered and linked online presents some interesting facts about the scope of blogging by mothers, and trends away from the innocent postings of kids and ideas toward a marketing interest. According to Omar Gallaga, technology correspondent for the Austin (TX) American-Statesman, 12,000 blogs are written by mothers, with one group identifying a top 50 of blogs by mothers. There is even a convention and organization for mothers who blog – BlogHer – that has been going for 5 years (who knew?).

The main piece of Gallaga’s story for NPR centered on ethical violations by mothers who blog ‘for’ certain products, or are rewarded and incentivized by marketers then pass along positive feedback about products without full disclosure of the relationship between the author and the product company.

In way this story connects to the larger picture of BlogHer. This is another example of a community site/organization that invites participants in to enable possibilities for the individual (a platform to blog, create, express) and to join with others (be part of a community of others who have similar interests). And yet, there is a financial motive for the organizers. They are taking money¬† from advertisers as sponsors of the BlogHer site. And the backgrounds of the three women who started BlogHer are women with business backgrounds. As in BIG business. Their story is a similar trajectory of those women and mothers who started communicating online because they were looking for connections they didn’t have elsewhere in their lives,then landed on the potential to make some money off the experience. Or, they recognized the potential market of mothers who might want to communicate and connect with others, and possibly make some money from their online experience. Either way, there is a profit motive that underscores the purpose and placement of this online work.

If there is social or educational or personal value to these sites or individual action, is there a problem? Perhaps it’s not much different that soda companies placing vending machines on a college campus. Their money supports the education but doesn’t influence what is said or taught. If the sites reveal corporate ads and Mommy bloggers come clean when they are voicing opinion on a product they’ve been given, maybe that’s enough. And their words can be monitored for bias.

The other issue is that the presence of parents’ blogging sites has been fostered by business not by education or social service. In part this is true because these agencies have less money and are trying to keep a web presence just to do what they do, let alone provide a platform for their constituents to connect and be creative. But might there also be a fear of just what the parents will say? My colleagues and I spend so much time worrying that everything is accurate and up to date, that the library is stocked with good material, that we haven’t cared to give the readers a place to discuss or share their own thoughts about parenting. Or maybe we haven’t wanted to give them a place for those discussions.

Why? Why the control? Given not only the explosion of interest in online expression by parents, but also places like BlogHer that give parents a place to express and connect, isn’t that control over information – information that is representative of a culture that is changing, albeit slowly – a bit old fashioned? Clay Shirky writes of social media giving people the change to convene without the control. Wiki thought is to let the people determine the content. Be self-corrective, but jointly and collaboratively determine the content. If anything, doesn’t social media give us for the first time a living collective platform in which professionals and parents can voice what it is like to parent, how to parent, and how to do it effectively, sanely and with good cheer?

Interest in parenting as an element of social media use

Anderson Analytics has a social network typing tool. Essentially it’s a few questions that type users and then place them on a graphic of how social networks are being used relative to concerns with using them. As noted in the post on Mashable, the report intended to track behaviors, lifestyle interests, spending habits and income levels of the users. If you take the survey you can find your own social media user ‘type’ (me, I’m a ‘fun seeker’ but am assured I’m on my way to being a social media maven. I’m told that I’m part of a pool that averages 29 years).

But what caught my eye on the survey was the list of interests that respondents are asked to identify the frequency with which they seek information online, that included national news, sports and dating, was parenting. Is parenting a category of information used to place people into types, or is it additional information gleaned from the survey that is used in their marketing reports? Probably the latter because there’s no indication in the description of users about interests from that list of 9.

Parents use social media but their responses to the questions on the survey that would type them as users probably have more to do with how much the use of SNS for business purposes (e.g., marketing themselves, networking) and/or for social purposes, and their time and interest in use of technology – as it does for everyone else. Where the parenting piece probably enters is the use of SNS to make contact with other parents they already know (social) or meet others to exchange information about parenting and/or be social (these are not the same thing and can exist separately).

Limiting or encouraging conversation?

I attended an advisory board meeting for the Search Institute’s redesign of it’s MVParent website. Lots of great discussion about the site as is, planned revisions to content and format, and groupthink on where it can and should go. The Search Institute has excellent research on positive youth development – including the 20 developmental assets – and in addition to their regular site has developed a site to inform parents. But they want to do more than that, and are exploring ways to engage readers, and to encourage community organizers to use the site for social change. That’s in the long run; for now they are focusing on getting out the site with the revamped content and will go from there.

In our discussion there was a bit of a division regarding putting limits on conversation. On one hand we want to encourage users to engage in discussion on sites, on issues of importance to them. The share ideas, opinions and information. To get information. To form social connections with others online. To be part of a community of practice. Yet there were some who raised concerns about liability for the dissemination of inaccuracies, inflammatory remarks, information that might be misinterpreted and lead to potential lawsuits against Search. While I understand the legal concerns, at the same time I am curious about the impact of placing limits on conversation.

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iPhone apps that parents can use

This recent posting on Mashable describes 7 new applications for the iPhone that are actually helpful (as opposed to fun, trivial, minimally effective like many apps)- most of which are useful to parents. Most of them relate to emergency assistance – first aid, video techniques for CPR, tracking personal health information (which might also be used to track a child’s health information), OB information on patients for remote physicians. There is also first aid for pets, but pets are family, so it works.

The bottom line of parenting is survival and well-being of family members. Anything that helps them do that better, faster, more efficiently and wherever they are is a good thing.

What other apps do you know of that are helpful for parents? Very likely the game features have gotten parents and their kids through long car rides and waits in the dentist office. Standard apps like weather, movie times, maps and a restaurant finder can help with the day to day and managing life away from home. Translators, dictionaries, books to read on the iPod have educational value, as do the ability to listen to music and the wealth of podcasts. Apps like tracking stocks and noting purchases work for family money management.

So, parents can use iPod apps for entertainment, educational enrichment, daily life management, emergency assistance, record keeping, instant information, social connections and messaging via apps like facebook and gmail. Mobile family life management and information.

What do parents want?

Business has, for evidently some time now, discovered parents as a commercial market to reach online. Read this marketing research for CafeMom. (CafeMom being another social network and information site for mothers. More emphasis on text, pictures, and social connections; less on videos.) A quick glance across the web, reading reports like the one above, or research from less market-driven, more demographically oriented organizations like the Pew Internet and American Life project reveal that parents are increasingly using internet and social media for information, social support, interactions with others, creativity and personal expression, communication and publishing.

Trying to keep up are nonprofits and educational institutions that offer sites for parents. The interest isn’t commercial; it’s educational. They want parents to be more knowledgeable, feel more confident about their parenting skills, have a sense of resources to turn to – particularly reputable resources¬† – and possibly even behave in more competent ways. But often the limited resources result in site that are not competitive in terms of features, or graphics. What they have going for them is really good information. In fact, a lot of time and effort is spent ensuring that what is conveyed online is accurate, research-based, and reputable.

But when parents go online, what do they want?

  • Do they want a one stop parenting site that allows them to connect with other parents, get information that answers their parenting questions, enables them to upload pictures of their cute kids, shop and play games?
  • Do they want a parent as person site that provides parenting information but also provides information, resources and connections about other parts of their lives like work and health?
  • Do they want a really good source of information without extras like opportunities to upload pictures or have a social profile.

It probably varies with the individual parent, and the amount of time that they have to give to their time online, the sources of information they use to answer their parenting questions, and what they want to do online besides get information – and where they want to do that.

Is an answer in how much a parent identifies him or herself as a parent while they are parenting? For instance, if parent-identified parent might go to a site like CafeMom to talk about parenting and about lots of other things. A parent who doesn’t necessarily see his or herself that way might go to Facebook or a general interest site like iVillage.

That might be presuming time spent on single sites. How site-loyal are parenting users? Do they have one or two that they go to with any frequency, a whole lot of bookmarks, or just do a general search when they need information?

Marketing surveyors like CafeMom and Pew conclude that it’s ‘different strokes for different folks’ . So should the well-meaning nonprofits go for the one size fits all tact, pack their sites with many features to grab as many users as possible, or aim for a market segment they most want to reach?

MomTV and other thoughts on mother-only sites

At the suggestion of Stephanie (see last post) I checked out MomTV. Like Momversation, the site features videos as a platform for learning and sharing. More than that site though, MomTV encourages users to post their own videos (I didn’t check but hopefully there are instructions on how to do this. I might wonder if the average internet user knows how to create and upload and possibly edit a video). There are also blogs, for those who prefer to read others’ views. But viewing videos is the major emphasis here (hence the appropriate name). The site state that it’s a subsidiary of Newbaby.com, also video-centric. But that site seems more diversified in presenting information in a variety of formats. MomTV evidently is an effort to expand beyond the toddler years.

MomTV features ‘channels’; sort of a way to categorize and find postings on topics of interest. There is a search engine, which seems to be sorely needed. The site feels cluttered; almost like lot of parents (mothers) talking on many issues at the same time. So a feature that helps users find what they are looking for (listen to the opinion they seek) is important. Like Momversation there isn’t an expert or authorities, though there are featured bloggers and videoposters.

A few thoughts:

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“Momversation”: the new women’s magazine

Step aside, Ladies Home Journal. Welcome to web 2.0. There’s an interesting site called Momversation that deserves attention for the way that it utilizes social media as tool to engage and educate mothers, and as way to niche market. Features include:

  • fairly high production value videos (“episodes”) of site specific mothers discussing certain parenting topics. I just watched one on diversity in schools. It featured 3 of the mothers discussing diversity and it’s importance to them as parents, and how they achieve it for their children. The video is followed by a thread of comments from readers, some single comments, others in dialogue.
  • forums on a whole lot of issues, parenting related, but also on relationships and other major topics. The actual number of replies varies greatly, as with any forum thread. In some cases no responses, in other cases (e.g., breastfeeding in public) many.
  • a blog with discussion topics of the day. Some of the topics include copied text from an identified source. Recent topics include dealing with money (tips included), tweets about what mothers are procrastinating about, and why being a mother isn’t so hard. This must be the educational section, rather than opinion or discussion because the comments to the posts are very minimal.

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