Mom blogs are as diverse as the mothers who write them and the parents who read them. With 3.9 million moms blogging in the United States alone, women have been some of the savviest early adopters of the platform. And they’ve taken to social media channels, like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, to further engage audiences and promote their blogs.
A sure sign of success, mom blogs have been courted by Madison Avenue (even though, “moms don’t put themselves into little demographic boxes the way that marketers do,” notes Elisa Camahort Page, COO at BlogHer. “They come from all walks of life.”) and they’ve even endured a short-lived backlash.
I wanted to explore the diversity of mom blogging and the experience of mom bloggers, so I talked with Camahort Page and two bloggers with very different approaches:
Ana L. Flores co-founded Spanglish Baby with her friend Roxana A. Soto after recognizing there were few online resources for parents who were passionate about raising bilingual and bicultural children. Since its launch in early 2009, Spanglish Baby, with its contributing experts, teachers and bloggers, has become a go-to online community for bilingual families (and not just the English- and Spanish-speaking ones). The blog has given birth to Flores’ and Soto’s first book, Bilingual is Better: Two Latina Moms on How the Bilingual Parenting Revolution is Changing the Face of America, which came out last fall.
Robin Kramer created her blog, the thoughtful, funny, touching Pink Dryer Lint, in 2010. With three daughters (and loads of laundry), she accumulates plenty of the stuff that gives her blog its title. By day, she teaches college public speaking and writing classes at Penn State University. She’s a first-time author, too. Then I Became a Mother was published in October by Byrne Publishing.
Elisa Camahort Page was especially helpful in framing the discussion of mom blogs. Camahort Page co-founded BlogHer in 2005, and it has grown into the largest community of women who blog, with 50 million unique visitors per month. BlogHer puts on the world’s largest conference for women in social media and hosts the BlogHer Publishing Network – 3,000+ blogs authored by women on every topic from politics to parenting.
Vickie: How would you describe the “State of the Mom-Blogosphere”?
Elisa: I think there is not one blogosphere, there are many. That’s the beauty of the blogosphere. For example, many of the moms who blog do so in relative obscurity, sharing their daily trials and joys, forming a tight-knit community with moms at similar stages, and more efficiently communicating with far-flung families.
However, it is also the beauty of the blogosphere that if you’re interested in professionalizing and leveraging the time you spend on your blog to contribute to your household income, there is an avenue to do that too. We’ve certainly seen that explode over the last five years. Whether monetizing their blogs or not, though, self-expression and forming community are still huge drivers for moms online, along with seeking and sharing advice and recommendations that will make their lives easier.
Flores’ blog is one of several part-time jobs. Kramer’s provided her with “an opportunity to establish a loyal readership and a platform from which I could launch my first book.” Kramer has decided for now “to not participate in product reviews or advertising. I don’t feel as if it aligns with my blog’s mission. It might be rare among mom bloggers.” Flores says she’s “slowly but surely started opening my eyes to the fact that blogging is actually a career path and has become what I do with my life.”
Vickie: Did the two of you always want to be writers?
Ana: Roxana, my partner on the site, is a writer; she trained as a journalist. I never considered myself to be a writer. I worked for 15 years in TV production, always focused on the Hispanic market. But I think, the more you blog, the more you hone your craft and gain confidence. I hear that a lot from bloggers – they didn’t consider themselves writers before they started their blogs.
Robin: I’ve written for as long as I can remember, and I have a shelf that holds all of the journals that I’ve filled over the years. Blogging has been an extension of this love for writing.
Vickie: What did you want to do with your blog when you started out?
Robin: I launched Pink Dryer Lint when my youngest of three daughters was only a month old. Essentially, my goal was to reach out to other women who also were in the trenches of the early years of motherhood. It’s easy for moms to feel isolated. That isolation can breed an unspoken shame that we’re the only one who struggles with the day-to-day demands of parenthood.
Even though my initial readership was small, women started writing to me and thanking me for the humor, transparency and encouragement that my posts offered. My goal always has been to write for my readers. By that, I mean that although I write about the particulars of my life with my kids, I do so in a way that invites my readers to see their own lives. Good writing is relatable.
Ana: I took a leave of absence from work after I had my daughter, and that’s when I discovered blogging. I was searching the Internet and wasn’t finding any information that spoke to me as a Latina mom: Where can I find bilingual books? What are the lyrics to nursery rhymes and songs – we call them nanas – my mom sang to me in El Salvador? Should I be speaking to my daughter in Spanish? What came up were blogs. There was a whole community of women out there, and I got inspired by them and realized I could actually do this.
We decided that Spanglish Baby needed to be in English because we wanted to reach the widest audience. Our readers are mostly second- and third-generation – they weren’t taught Spanish, but they understand it, and now that they’re raising children, they feel the culture is part of their identity. Plus, raising a bilingual (or trilingual) child applies to any language combination. We always say: We write in culture.
Vickie: There’s an astounding amount of diversity among mom bloggers – from attachment parenting moms to moms of color, moms raising children with illnesses, older moms, etc. Do you think this diversity is reflected across the entire blogosphere or is it specific to mom blogging?
Elisa: The blogosphere in general displays more diversity than the entire online universe, at least according to Pew. So it’s not specific to moms. If you remember that “self-expression” is a number one motivation to blog, it’s not hard to understand why groups that may not see themselves accurately represented in mainstream media or pop culture would gravitate to a medium where they can speak for themselves.
Vickie: When you began, did you develop plans for editorial, advertising and how your readers would interact with the blog?
Robin: Originally, I didn’t know whether I’d have many readers, much less any plans for how I would handle requests for advertising or product reviews. As my readership grew, however, I had to assess the purpose of my blog. I wrote the mission statement, and I use it as my litmus test to guide the content that I post.
My contact page expressly states that I don’t currently participate in reviews or advertising, yet I still receive requests daily asking me to promote products.
Ana: We spent six months planning Spanglish Baby in the middle of the recession. I decided not to go back to work; it was really bad timing. I had no money. All I had was time. I read Problogger. We set a date, which was Feb. 9, 2009, and we launched with all of the categories – The Culture of Food, Books & Libros, Cultural Travel, etc. – populated with two posts each, so people could see we were serious. And we had two experts on board already. We wanted people to see we were professional content creators even though it was a new medium for us.
I created our first media kit five months in, with a lot of research and statistics, like how many kids under the age of 5 are Hispanic.
Vickie: What have been the biggest areas of interest for your readers?
Robin: Regardless of the specific content of a post, readers respond to transparency and humor. Motherhood is challenging, but it’s also ripe with humor. When I write, I can be honest about the struggles while also drawing out the hilarity. There’s a lot of universal comedy in parenting. I want readers to laugh with understanding, realize they’re not alone, and leave Pink Dryer Lint feeling better than when they came.
Ana: We work with a panel of experts, which enables readers to send in questions. They get answered once a week, and they’re archived on the site. There’s so much information there. There are so many variables to families raising bilingual kids. Our readers appreciate finding an expert who’s gone through the same thing they’re going through.
Vickie: In light of the fact that “everything is out there forever” on the Internet, do you think privacy will become a big issue for mom bloggers and their families?
Elisa: Privacy and security are already issues for moms online, and it comes in several flavors. For example, many moms who blog begin evolving their blog content away from straight stories about parenting as their kids get older, because the kids become more aware of the blog, and the moms begin to feel these are their kids’ stories to tell, not just their own.
We see location-based apps being far less adopted by women because the creepy factor outweighs the benefits (thus far) offered by these apps. And let’s not ignore the fact that a lot of folks, not just moms, don’t really understand how they can control privacy settings on Facebook…and that’s not entirely by accident on Facebook’s part!
Ana: Our kids really enjoy being part of Spanglish Baby. We both use our kids’ names and pictures, but we also use common sense. Everything we share is in context to the topics we’re covering. We’ve never shared a story that would embarrass them. The moment that they tell us, Don’t blog about that, mom, we won’t.
Robin: My children are still young, but I’m highly aware that their stories will not always be mine to tell. I don’t think of my children as “content,” and I’m sensitive to not post anything that would be embarrassing or revealing.
Vickie: Which social media tools did you find the most helpful in promoting your blog when you started out? And how do you approach new platforms, like Pinterest?
Robin: Facebook was – and continues to be – the most helpful social media tool to promote Pink Dryer Lint. I also use Twitter (@PinkDryerLint) and Pinterest (robinkramer), especially in terms of pinning applicable posts to collaborative Pinterest Boards.
Admittedly, blogging is not a job for me, so I wasn’t focused on mastering new platforms when I began blogging. Still, I certainly have seen the benefits of creating a presence for my blog on sites such as Pinterest as a way to reach a broader audience.
I think it’s important to know your readers. For example, our readers are not flocking to Google+. I was one of the early adopters of Pinterest with a personal account, and I use Instagram for myself. My nature is to get an account as soon as I hear about it. But, I don’t have time to invest in social media tools the way I did when we started. It’s a huge investment of time, so I keep going back to Facebook and Twitter.
Vickie: Mom blogging has gone from “start-up” to professional in a half-decade. How do you see mom blogs evolving in the next five years?
Elisa: Yes, some mom bloggers have indeed professionalized. Some have not. And many get the best of both worlds. One of the reasons a lot of the moms in our BlogHer network enjoy working with us is that they get to focus on the writing and let us focus on the monetization. As long as they follow our pretty simple and aboveboard editorial guidelines, they’re free to tell the stories that matter most to them and their community.
The future is probably about expanding their ability to do so beyond their blog and its browser-based audience, but fortify how they can equally monetize their influence across social tools and when accessed on mobile devices. Right now, your blog is the one place you can control the content and control the monetization. But why does it have to be that way?
Vickie: What are the implications of the blogging platform enabling such a wide diversity of mom bloggers to engage with a much larger audience than they ever have been able to before?
Elisa: One of the hugest implications of blogging platforms, for all women, is that they give women a voice and a presence that had previously been a struggle to attain, and they give the rest of us a window into the daily lives of all people, not just big macro-events.
I wish my grandmother had blogged, escaping the Nazis in the 1940s. I wish my mom had blogged as part of the second-wave feminist movement in the ‘70s. Don’t you wish you had that window into the world of the women in your life?
But the implications aren’t just for politics or history or society, there are huge implications for companies, too. Women no longer can only be marketed to. We have a voice, and we can use it to speak to brands. We can use it to share the real skinny on how products work or don’t work. We always had the power of the purse, but that power is so much more direct, impactful and scalable.
Finally, there are huge implications for the economy. I once heard Steve Westly (early eBay executive) speak about how proud he was that eBay had created a new livelihood for so many people. I feel the same way about being at the forefront of helping writers get paid for their work. BlogHer has paid out $17MM over the last three years to the women in our community. This has helped women get through the roughest economic era in most of our lifetimes. There is power in finding a new, flexible way to contribute to your household income.
Flores echoed Camahort Page’s comments when we discussed how Spanglish Baby works with brands, particularly around products that cater to bilingual families.
Ana: We were at the epicenter of this perfect storm of need for bilingual resources and the blogging explosion. So, I began consulting for companies, helping them work with Latina bloggers and helping bloggers understand relationships with brands. It motivated me to create Latina Bloggers Connect.
It’s great to see. We have a content partnership with Discovery, which has programs for children, and they’re translating some of our posts into Spanish on Discovery Familia. Disney enables a Spanish option on everything, including DVDs. Initially, PBS sent us books in English. We gently and politely reminded them that our audience is bilingual, and they went out and found the books in Spanish.
I’ve seen how empowering blogging is for any woman who starts a blog on her own and how empowering the medium is to inspire. I think that’s why mom blogging has become so powerful right now because, for moms at home, they feel productive, stay connected and bring income into their households.
Vickie: What has been the most rewarding aspect of launching a mom blog?
Robin: Pink Dryer Lint allows me to merge my greatest passions. I love to write. I love to encourage other women. I love being a mother. Blogging lets me blend these interests, and it supplied the impetus for me to publish my first book. That’s rewarding.
Plus, one day, if my daughters ever are interested in their childhoods, they’ll have plenty of material to sift through.
Ana: Crafting my own life. I’m starting to realize we are advocates, creating a movement. It’s empowering in a spiritual sense, reaffirming in me what I’m capable of doing, enabling me to set aside a lot of my fears.