Last week I had the pleasure (and truly, it was a pleasure) of attending the Mom 2.0 Summit in Houston, a gathering of marketers, new media-types, and blogging moms. The main reason I wanted to attend the conference was because it was less bloggy and more "marketer-y." Don't get me wrong, I love attending the conferences that focus on blogging, but for the past several years, I've worked hard at transitioning my career from being a professional blogger/blog editor to being an online media consultant who focuses on the marketing side of things (this still includes hiring bloggers, blogger outreach, and social media strategizing). I will always be a blogger, but marketing is what I did before I had kids and it's where my true passion lies.
I went to Mom2 to connect and network. I went to meet other women who do what I do. I am glad I wasn't the only person in the room who raised their hand twice when asked, "Are there any bloggers here?" then "Are there any marketers here?" And I was struck by how many of my peers (like my roomie and partner-in-crime) were in the same situation.
When we first decided that I would stay home with our older daughter, I knew that going from playdate to playground wouldn't be enough to keep me from going bananas. I knew that eventually, as soon as I figured out how to care for, adjust to, and nurture my baby, I would need to figure out how to care for and nurture myself. In 2001-2002, newly pregnant and seeking out experiences of like-minded and like-stated women, I stumbled upon the blog phenomenon. Sometime in 2003, I decided that I wanted to be part of the experiment. There was no such thing as ads on blogs or sponsored posts or vlogging back then. When I started, I had to teach myself HTML in order to be able to post links and photos. But always in the back of my mind I knew that my blog was going to be my bridge to my new work life. I didn't want it to ever be work--after all it was for me mostly--but thought it could lead to something that was. I knew after being at home and setting my own schedule that I could never work in an office (at least full-time) ever again.
So how would I make this work?
I had to put my thinking cap on and carve out a niche for myself. I began by sharing my experiences as a mom in a very urban setting. Being a city parent is different than being a suburban parent at least for me. Everything is harder from getting the grocery shopping done to picking a kindergarten. Suburban parents, at least the ones I was reading, didn't have to pack a stroller on the bus, check their playgrounds for used needles and condoms, always found parking within an easy walk to the supermarket, never had to hike up and down San Francisco hills with a baby in a sling, a slower-than-a-snail-walking preschooler in tow and a bag of groceries in each had, had Targets and garden shops and dry cleaners and hardware stores a stone's throw away, sometimes even (swoon), all in the same mega-mall. (Actually, the dry cleaners San Francisco has in spades. One on every block.)
Slowly, surely, I began sharing my stories. And then the editor of a parenting blog with millions of readers a month asked me if I wanted a job and the rest is history. I slogged away at that job, posting between 3 and 5 times a day (yes, a day) getting paid around $5 per 300 word post before I completely flamed out. By this time it was 2004, ads were all over blogs, and even then I knew that I would never be able to support my family by blogging. At least not from the writing part anyway, and not even with my ads that I eventually added to my blog as a charter member of the BlogHer Ad Network. For me, the money wasn't going to be rolling in from blogging. CityMama was never going to allow me to quit my day job, as it were, and I didn't want it that way. It didn't start out as a commercial enterprise and I wasn't going to turn it into one. Blogging was and is the means to an end for me. It allowed me to stay home and enjoy the best parts of motherhood while also providing a catalyst for my own personal growth.
Why do I share all of this? I think it's because for the past few years—at least since BlogHer '07 when I was asked to share how much I made from blogging in front of a room full of strangers—there has been a frenzy surrounding blogs and monetization and moms are getting short shrift. (Please click the previous link if you want to hear my thoughts on that.) It pains me to see mothers getting the brunt of all the bad feelings in the blogosphere because they are using all the social media tools at their disposal to promote their blogs or their businesses.
Mothers are some of the most tech-savvy people on the internet (there are stats to prove this), as a mother it makes sense to me that mothers would connect on Twitter or share 12 seconds movies. Maybe some of the haters will understand when and if they are ever cooped up at home all day with an infant and that laptop is the only window to the world. (If they make that choice that is, and if they don't, boy do I respect that choice as only a parent can.) It also pains me to see mothers getting discouraged because the blog they started three months ago or even a year ago isn't allowing them to quit their day job. Or isn't padding the family budget with extra money. Or at least not the money they thought was out there.
Recently I was interviewed by a reporter for an article on Asians who mommyblog and she asked, "Who do you think is going to be the next Asian Dooce?" I told her that if anyone had the talent and the potential to hit it big-time it was the hardest-working, most prolific parent blogger in the universe: Kristen Chase, followed closely by MetroDad if he ever had the time or inclination to make blogging a full-time "thing." But I had to add that really, Dooce is such a unique conflagration of all the right things (if getting fired can be called right) happening at the right time, plus there are her various talents not the least of which is writing, that I really didn't think any parent blogger would ever achieve that level of notoriety and fortune ever again. Especially now that Twitter has killed blogging. Justkiddingnotreally. (Prove me wrong, someone, will you?) Heather Armstrong has also worked incredibly hard to get where she is so I don't mean to diminish her success at all. I hope you all get my drift the way it was intended to be drifted.
So where does that leave the rest of us? I still stand by the advice I gave two years ago (advice echoed by the fabulous Christina of A Mommy Story in her brilliant post today):
Keep up that writing and someone will read it, love it, and tell all their friends, "Hey you've got to read this great blog!" and you never know who those friends might be. One of them might be someone who hires bloggers.
An article by Daniel Lyons in this week's Newsweek explains that the difference between Hulu and YouTube is that Hulu is profitable while YouTube isn't. The take-away: "better content wins." Legal access to it doesn't hurt. Translating that metaphor to the blog world isn't hard.
But if that is not enough. If writing your ass off and being proud of every word you put out into the blogosphere even if no one besides Google is reading still isn't enough, here are some take-away tidbits from Mom 2.0 for you to consider:
Make sure your about page tells marketers and PR people how they should approach you. Are you open to being pitched or not? Say so in a place where it's easy for people who want to get to know you to find it.
Assuming you want marketers to contact you, make sure your about page clearly states your interests. Are you a photographer? Are you eco-conscious? Do you wear the same shirt every day? Help PR people know which clients they can connect with you. I have written a lot about bad pitches and frankly, I am over it. I'd rather use my powers for good, as it were. As I transition in my work life to being one of those people who might reach out to you one day, I too want to do it in a way that isn't going to piss you off. In 2007, I heard a lot of stuff from PR flacks at conferences that angered me. In 2009, however, I am hearing (overwhemingly) how much they want to get it right. Let's help 'em out.
Know your stats. People get too hung up on stats, and bigger is not better in my opinion. After 5 plus years of blogging, I have yet to be someone who carefully monitors my stats. I have never given a rip about the numbers, but my clients do. They want to know how many eyeballs will see your review or their ad. I care more about the small group of dedicated readers who know, trust, and love you than inflated numbers because it's all giveaways all the time on your blog. Not caring about your stats is A-OK, but know how to get to them if someone asks. Then proudly say, "I know for sure that 75 people read me every month." Sing it, sister.
Don't be afraid to contact the companies you want to work with. (And have your stats at the ready.) One of my current clients hasn't turned away anyone yet who wants to review their product. Quite the opposite, those requests are treated like solid gold. They understand the influence that moms have and how important word of mouth is to us. If the product is a quality product and the company "gets it," a review sample will be winging its way to you faster than you can say, "Hey, that really worked out well!"
Remember that PR people often represent more than one client. Not really into reviewing that hemorrhoid cream? Ask your PR rep what other clients his firm represents. Chances are she or he might be able to connect with products or services that are more in-line with what your (and your readers') interests.
And I would add to all of this:
View blogging as a means to an end, not the end. Ask yourself, "Where is it that you hope blogging will lead you?" Whether it's just a place to park your thoughts or a place to showcase your hand-made toys or a catalyst for social and political change, follow your passion wherever it leads. From personal happiness to fame and fortune, and everything in between, it's all good.
Go to the conferences and conventions if you are at all able. If you want to make the connections, get out there and network. These are the places to meet the people who can help you and who you can help so try as hard as you can to get to the the conferences. And if not, because I know these are hard times, try to get to your local Tweet-ups or blogger gatherings or look for a social media club in your area. (Cecily has a great story about that, go ask her.)
And lastly, on a personal note: to thine own self be true. If any of the above doesn't feel right, don't do it. If you have hesitations about accepting or reviewing a product because it either doesn't fit your lifestyle or your values or you don't think your readers would trust your glowingly positive review of it, decline it. If you are a slow food blogger who suddenly starts extolling the virtues of fast food and high-fructose corn syrup, your readers are going to know something is up and you'll feel like an asshole. For every product you decline to review, no matter how tempting it is, something better will come along, I promise. Something that makes sense, something you can feel good about, and something that that marketer will feel good about sending to you because they know you've worked hard to build that trusted following.
So that's my take on the current state of affairs as a blogger, marketer, and mother. I'd love to know what you think.