Mom Bloggers Are Transforming Everything from Marketing to Families

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 Flores Spanglish Baby

Ana L. Flores, co-founder of the Spanglish Baby blog.

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, owner of the Pink Dryer Lint blog.

Robin Kramer, owner of the Pink Dryer Lint blog.

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 Camahort Page, COO of BlogHer.

Elisa Camahort Page, COO of BlogHer.

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.

Ana: Facebook and Twitter, all the way. Twitter (@spanglishbaby) helped us engage with other Latinos and other bloggers. So did commenting on other blogs.

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.

Protecting Your Blogging Rights, Respecting Those of Others

As laws around blogging change – and as new bloggers explore working with brands or practicing investigative journalism – the need is ever greater to understand the legal implications of everything from copyright to fair use to FTC guidelines.

This excellent panel of attorneys was a session at BlogHer; it was moderated by award-winning writer and contributing editor Lisen Stromberg, “PrismWork.” The attorneys – all bloggers – included Divya Jayachandran, “Heavy Browsing,” Lindsay LaVine, “Ehilarity,” and Liza Barry-Kessler, “Liza Barry-Kessler.” The speakers also put together a guide to resources on blogging legal issues, which you’ll find at the end of this post.

Panelists noted up front that they weren’t providing legal advice; instead the session was designed to help bloggers learn about issues they might encounter.

Buy Your Domain

Purchasing the rights to your blog’s domain name is a small investment per year, the attorneys noted, whereas trying to recover your domain name if someone else snaps it up or you let your rights expire can be “time-consuming, expensive and frustrating,” said LaVine.

If someone has purchased the URL for your blog, LaVine recommended using one of the Who Is registries, available from most domain providers (GoDaddy, Register, Network Solutions, etc.), to find out whom you’ll need to contact. Trying to recover your domain name can be as simple as sending a letter requesting the URL be surrendered to you. If they refuse, you can request an ICANN dispute resolution or file a lawsuit (the expensive, time-consuming options).

It’s easier to pay your money – even several years before you build your site or start blogging – and put renewal reminders on your calendar, than lose your rights to the name you want to build your brand around.

Right of Publicity and Copyright

Right of publicity has to do with using someone else’s name or likeness for business purposes. There have been some famous cases, involving Johnny Carson (over “Here’s Johnny” port-a-potties) and Bette Midler (a sound-alike case over a car commercial), but individuals have right of publicity just as celebrities do. The laws vary by state. The best way to protect yourself, said LaVine, is to ask permission, or post signage at crowded events noting that photos will be taken, before using someone’s likeness in a blog, photo site or publication.

Copyright involves created work, whether text-based, drawings or photographs. “Trademark and copyrights are easy to confuse,” Jayachandran commented. “The trademark is a logo, something that tells you the source of goods or services, while copyright helps you protect something you’ve created.”

Trademarks can be registered (the “circle-Rs” you see after brand names), but you don’t need to. “You have common law rights when you start using a logo or tagline,” said Jayachandran. “The important thing is to use it and use it consistently. It always should be the same logo and the same wordmark (tagline).”

If you find someone using your logo, tagline or other creative work, “you don’t need to be a lawyer or hire one,” said Barry-Kessler. You can contact them yourself. Sometimes the usage is fairly innocent – a fan of the work – and you can agree to leave your work on their site, as long as they provide accurate attribution. Others are using your creative work to make money, “and those are the ones you need to send take-down requests to,” she said. However, if an overseas entity steals your trademarks, U.S. law does not apply, and there’s little you can do outside of hiring an attorney.

Sharing Creative Work

The smartest way to secure your creative content is to post a policy that communicates to your readers how or whether they can use your work. Some readers may not bother with a separate page that provides these details, said Jayachandran, so include your usage rule on individual posts.

If you’re eager to share, noted Barry-Kessler, “Creative Commons is a privately developed way of licensing content that other people can reuse. You can specify different conditions for each item, which gives you a level of control.”

Likewise, if you need an image, you can search a site like Flickr for Creative Commons, explained LaVine. “There are people who want their work out there; just pay attention to and follow the restrictions on usage.”


Recipes, said Barry-Kessler, “are specifically excluded under copyright law. What’s excluded is the list of ingredients and the instructions.”

To prevent your hard work in the test kitchen from being stolen, Barry-Kessler advised, you need to “infuse your content with ‘substantial literary expression’ in order for it to become copyright protectable.”

That’s why, she explained, you’ll find recipes that tell you to “plunk potatoes into bowl” rather than “put” them in the bowl.


Pinning content on Pinterest is another place where copyright comes up. LaVine said she’s reviewed the terms of use, and “Pinterest basically puts the responsibility on the user for uploading content that they have legal rights to. So, my take is use other people’s content at your own risk.” Even businesses that explicitly say you can pin their content may not own the rights to those images, so be careful.

The bottom line for Pinterest and any other content that isn’t yours, said Jayachandran, “is always, always give credit to the originator and share a link that takes people back to the original source of the material. You don’t want to dam anyone’s revenue stream.”

Fair Use

The law doesn’t guarantee originators complete control over their work, said Barry-Kessler. Under the concept of fair use, copyrighted material can be used, provided it meets one of these four standards:

1) What is the purpose and character of secondary usage? 

This standard allows some portion of copyrighted material to be used in an educational context or in parody.

2) What is the nature of the copied work?

In other words, you can’t attach your name to someone else’s original work and claim it as your own. In order to defend your right to use another’s work, you have to transform it from the original intention.

3) What portion of the copyrighted work is used?

Portions of songs, books, TV shows and movies can legally be used in reviews. A few lines from a book amounts to a small portion of the whole; contrarily, a few lines from a short poem could be considered too substantial. Also, sometimes a case may turn on which section of the material is used (see #4).

4) What affect does usage have on the market for the original work?

If you reprint the final chapter of a book and spoil the ending, it could harm the market for the original work and therefore usage would not be defensible.


How can bloggers protect themselves from accusations of libel (written defamation) or slander (spoken defamation)?

Understand the laws that govern this area, especially how it applies in your state, said the panelists.

LaVine noted that defamation is “a public communication that injures the reputation of a person. The definition can vary from state to state, but general embarrassment and hurt feelings aren’t enough to claim defamation. It must be a known falsity or reckless disregard for the truth.”

She said the following are defenses against claims of defamation:

  • The truth – the statement, written or verbal, was factual;
  • Opinion – such as a review or editorial;
  • Unpublicized or private statements – something shared between friends and not broadcast for public consumption;
  • Parody – satire is protected under the First Amendment.

Public figures, such as celebrities and politicians, must prove actual malice in order to obtain a judgment.

The panelists also observed that each state has a different definition of who is considered a journalist. It’s important for bloggers who cover current affairs and want to do exposé journalism to know how the law views their content by visiting the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press website or the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

FTC Guidelines

“It’s important for bloggers to develop trust equity with our readers,” noted Jayachandran, “but we also have a legal obligation to be honest.”

In 2009, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission published guidelines for endorsements and testimonials that govern how bloggers disclose the work they do with brands. The goal is to protect consumers and enable them to make informed decisions concerning the products they read about.

“It’s illegal to disseminate false information,” said Jayachandran. “If you haven’t used a product you’re reviewing, you can’t say you have.”

Bloggers also can’t withhold information, such as the fact that they’re being paid by the company that markets a product they’re reviewing or that they’ve received goods in return for reviews.

All of the panelists recommended prominent disclosure statements on blogs. “You can’t put a link to a disclosure page way down at the bottom of your blog,” said Barry-Kessler. “That’s not enough for the FTC.”

Stromberg advocated including disclosures in the post itself, while Jayachandran suggested a static bar for the disclosure statement. (“I’m not a fan of putting disclosure statements on a separate page, because how often do people go there to read them?” said Jayachandran. “It needs to be clear and conspicuous on your site.”)

The following site can help bloggers draft a disclosure statement:

Jayachandran also noted that disclosures need to be written for affiliate links and included as hashtags (#paidad) on Twitter. “Better safe than sorry,” she said. “Your readers rely on you.”

“On the positive side, it further legitimizes your brand,” said Jayachandran. “It shows you are honest with your readers. Make it positive.”

Barry-Kessler agreed: “It doesn’t have to be legalese. Make it witty and funny and in your own voice.”

You can follow the panelists on Twitter:

Lisen Stromberg @LisenStromberg

Liza Barry-Kessler @LizaWasHere

Lindsay LaVine @ehilarity

(Divya Jayachandran has a private account.)

The panelists offered the following guide to resources on blogging legal issues.

Resources List by Topic

Domain Names:

World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO):

ICANN Dispute Resolution:


Trademark (info and registration):

Copyright/Fair Use:

Copyright (info and registration):

Creative Commons:

Stanford Libraries Copyright/Fair Use:

FTC Guidelines:


Federal Government Guidelines:

Where To Find Help Online:

Cornell Legal Information Institute:

EFF Legal Guide for Bloggers:

Citizen Media Law Project:

First Amendment Project:

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

Free/low cost legal assistance (many offer workshops as well):

Berkeley Center for New Media:

Lawyers for the Creative Arts (Chicago):

Boston Lawyers for the Arts:

New York Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts:

National List of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts:

The Top 6 Inspiring Things I Learned at BlogHer ‘12

Some 5,000 women, men and children attended BlogHer ’12 in New York City this year. This is the line for lunch…and Martha Stewart’s keynote on Friday.

I’m still processing everything I discovered at this year’s BlogHer conference, held Aug. 2 – 4 in Manhattan. I learned tons, met hundreds of amazing, talented, hard-working bloggers, gathered helpful tips and a bit of swag (I left a healthy selection of the better stuff for the chambermaid – now, there’s a hard-working woman!), and felt inspired by the sheer exuberance of the crowds and the willingness of everyone to share what they know.

For those who didn’t get to the conference this year or didn’t go to the same sessions, I wanted to share some of the most inspiring things I heard from panelists during my two days at BlogHer:

6. Blogging isn’t dead – a whole medium doesn’t die, notes Elan Morgan. Media evolve. But, if we don’t gather and talk about blogging, in the way businesses discuss strategy and the future, we lose community.

Soledad O’Brien (at left) moderated the keynote talk, “Women Influencers as Change Agents,” with Malaak Compton-Rock (right) and Christy Turlington-Burns (middle).

5. Children can become junior board members at age 12, according to CNN’s Soledad O’Brien while this may not be appropriate for every board or organization, imagine the eye-opening conversations about the consequences of decisions if board members had to think beyond the next quarter and out to the next generation.

4. Even in a world of Likes, Pins and Plusses, the best way to engage is still face-to-face – because then it’s not about “What can you do for me?,” but “How are you?” Real engagement happens when you’re ready to listen, says Doug French, founder of the Dad 2.0 Summit.

3. Respect your talent and price it accordingly – “I do not write for anyone for free,” states Cecily Kellogg, one of the panelists at the “How to Price and Value Your Services” session. “I support my family. I have to earn a living.” Fellow panel member Monica Barnett adds: “What you give away for free is rarely valued.”

2. If you want to work with brands, you must stay true to yourself – your credibility is based on your honesty and transparency on your blog. Smart brands want to tap into strong voices; they don’t want to change you or put conditions on what you write. Make sure you work with brands that want you to remain consistent with your values and voice.

1. Don’t be afraid to ask – virtually every panelist made this point. The social media world is incredibly open and forthright. What’s the worst that could happen? Someone says No? The next person will say Yes. If you don’t ask, you won’t know. If you don’t know, you can’t learn. If you don’t learn, you stagnate. Join in, ask, discover, and return the favor when you can!

Newbie in BlogHer Land

Barack Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama addressing the BlogHer ’12 conference in New York City on Aug. 2, 2012.

One of the great joys of starting a blog is connecting with all of you, and many of you are bloggers, too.

One of the big reasons attendees come to the BlogHer conference is to meet other bloggers face-to-face. It’s perhaps the best way to learn more, feel more confident about blogging, and discover new strategies.

Right now, as Day One of BlogHer ‘12 gets under way in New York City, I’m reveling in the overwhelm: so many people, so much to look at, so many business cards! It’s so much fun, I’m not letting the information overload get to me; if I miss something, it will probably roll round again. I’m tweeting and updating Facebook, but I also want to keep my head up and my mind open for everything that’s coming my way.

Yesterday, we had the extraordinary opportunity to hear a live satellite address from the White House by U.S. President Barack Obama (see the video here). The president first appeared at BlogHer during the 2008 election, and he’s well aware of the power of social media.

Like many parents, President Obama said, he and Michelle are concerned about what their daughters see and read online, yet he’s heartened that thousands upon thousands of women “are writing about subjects from family to food to women’s health” through the power of blogging platforms.

“It means a lot to Michelle and me,” he said.

This isn’t a partisan blog, so I want to let supporters of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney know that although he wasn’t able to speak at the conference, the BlogHer folks are working hard to present an interview with him on their website in the spirit of omni-partisanship.

So Many Bloggers, So Many Opportunities to Learn

The number one thing that BlogHer bloggers are writing about is their lives. As BlogHer founder Lisa Stone noted, “it’s why there’s such a reader return rate” for blogs.

Of the BlogHer attendees:

  • 69% write 1 or 2 blogs
  • 32% write 3 or more
  • 13% are attending the conference because they want to start a blog
  • >50% are conference newbies

I’m in awe of that 13 percent – what a commitment to themselves as writers!

If you’re thinking about starting a blog or attending a blogging conference, you can keep up with BlogHer ’12, including live blogs, podcasts and videos, at the virtual conference:

A Wallflower Joins the Social Party

A year ago, if you’d told me I’d be writing this post, have my own blog, use Twitter regularly, and have not one, but two Facebook pages, I’d have collapsed in laughter. But, 12 months is a very long time when it comes to social media.

I am, by nature and habit, an introvert. On Myers-Briggs, I’m so far into the “I” corner it’s hard to tell me from the corner. My first job was in radio, where you can hide behind a microphone, never having to face your audience. It’s no accident that my career now is internal communications, the ghostwriter of all those memos and news updates.

Online, I used to be what was known as a lurker. No matter how much I loved “The X-Files” or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and reading fan reactions to those shows on forums like Television Without Pity, I never once joined the conversation. No fanboy theory or argument over canon was ever compelling enough to make me jump in with my own opinion, sign my name, and publish it online. The potential loss of privacy seemed too great to risk. Everyone knows this electronic stuff lives forever. “The Truth Is Out There,” and, years down the line, I didn’t want to be confronted by something from my past I might regret.

What I didn’t recognize back then was that by not joining in, I was missing out on being part of a community.

This was brought home to me when I became an independent consultant. After a while, you miss the collegiality of the business world and the opportunity to brainstorm ideas.

That’s when I decided to start a blog.

I wasn’t hoping to make a dime or get a book contract. I just wanted a place where I could noodle on three decades of experiences in the business, listen to what others had to say about writing and corporate communications, and chat about books. Very quietly. Over here in the corner.

I signed up for an online blogging class to jump-start the endeavor and get advice on platforms and promotion. That swiftly led to another class on social media. To my horror, both classes required that we comment on blogs. Every week. Using our real names. A prerequisite for the social media class was a Twitter account.

Oh, the horror. The horror.

I realized I was either going to have to drop the classes or take my introverted self by the hand and leap. And, so I leaped, and it’s been a powerful learning experience.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love to Blog

I wanted to share some of the resources I’ve discovered since I started blogging because they’ve done more than simply build professional skills, they’ve expanded my outlook (far beyond that corner).

What I found out here in the blogosphere was a welcoming, generous community willing to take the time to guide me around things like best practices, online etiquette and the share-and-share-alike approach to community support.

This crowd is particularly gentle with newbies where other media communities often are cliquish. I hope the social media community never loses that attitude. We all start somewhere. You may be the savviest Facebook user and not really “get” Google+. You may have had great success using social channels for external audiences, but grow frustrated by trying to launch social tools internally – with all the requirements for buy-in, Legal and HR approval, policies, and full-scale training. Every time a channel is introduced or updated, we all become beginners again. How we’re treated as beginners matters – it is integral to the quality, cohesiveness and enjoyment of the community.

There was a point, about five months in, when I felt like the content well had run dry. The more I studied my blog stats, though, the more I was astounded. Not by the number of page views – my blog has a fairly niche audience – but by the regular visits from people who hailed from Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria, and India.

The United States, England, Canada, I’d kind of expected. But, readers whose first language might not be English? Immediately, I realized my writing had to become more global, and it opened up my editorial calendar to new possibilities. As I began including posts about things like Asian literature, I became the student, and it felt thrilling to flip the paradigm of blog owners-being-subject-matter-experts on its head.

As I connected with readers on Twitter, our interactions grew into warm online acquaintances. When an independent professional writer in northern England asked me if I’d proofread her website before it launched – and gave me access to its development area (talk about trust!) – I didn’t think, “My goodness, that’s cheek!” I spent an hour reviewing the site, figuring, “When my website launches, I can ask for a return favor.”

This year, I’m focused on learning and using measurement tools, such as Google Analytics, and I’m determined to get comfortable with and active on the Facebook and Google+ pages I created for the blog. If I run into a roadblock, I’ve learned all I have to do is ask for help.

When you have a “Trust No One” approach to being online, it can be unsettling initially to let go of your privacy, de-lurk and contribute on social media. But, I’ve been overwhelmed by the genuine-ness of the interaction out there. When I had questions, people answered them and pointed me toward additional resources.

If one of your goals is starting a blog in 2012, I hope you’ll find these pros and organizations as helpful as I have:

MediaBistro, Gotham Writers’ Workshop and UCLA Extension offer a wide array of online and live classes, from the technical aspects of blogging (and social media) to writing, editing and promoting your blog.

BlogWorld serves the fantastically diverse blogging community with annual conferences and detailed practical workshops across every niche imaginable, including cause blogging, monetization, content creation, traffic and distribution, platforms and apps, health, fitness, travel, marketing, mobile, mommy, and more.

Darren Rowse and Chis Garrett’s Problogger book was an essential guide at the beginning and still is. You’ll find astute advice on setting up a blog; creating strategy, content and community; promotion; monetization; and easy-to-follow technical solutions. Valuable for anyone – individual, team or corporate bloggers – who wants to develop an engaged, interactive community around specific topics. Ongoing learning can be found on Rowse’s Problogger community, where he regularly advises on content, tech and legal stuff, and community-building.

The Social Media Club, IABC, PRSA, and Ragan have been invaluable professional organizations, offering resources, free webinars, workshops, conferences, networking events, and advice for bloggers and social media practitioners at every level.

The microblogging platform Twitter is both resource and essential promotion tool for bloggers. It’s an incalculably rich network of support, information and encouragement for bloggers new and seasoned. Likewise, the Groups section of LinkedIn connects you to a network of professionals worldwide. It’s especially helpful for sharing your blog or blogs within an industry network or seeking advice on starting or improving a corporate blog.

The spreadsheets section of Google Docs provides plenty of options for bloggers. If you’re serious about blogging, it helps to have a strategy for both editorial and social sharing.

Best of luck and happy blogging!

Why I Was Afraid to Blog

Guess what? We’ve arrived at the first anniversary of this blog.

That’s a statement I never expected to write for any number of reasons. There’s the 15 students who signed up along with me for a spring 2011 blogging class in hopes of launching a blog, sharing thoughts, advice, creative endeavors, and, in some cases, products, and maybe, just maybe, making some money or getting a job or book contract the way Julie Powell did with the Julie & Julia Project. Only six of us actually “attended” the online class and created blogs. At last view, only two of us are still at it.

There may be more than 150 millions blogs – running the gamut from corporate to very personal – but, pro and amateur alike, many fall by the wayside after a season or two. They succumb to a dearth of content, time, resources, reader interest, or due to technical and legal snafus.

Strangely – and even though I’ve watched the blogs of companies and friends collapse for one or more of the above reasons – they weren’t why I didn’t expect to be celebrating a year of blogging.

A Painful Secret

I’ll tell you a secret I rarely share: I was afraid to launch a blog because I live in chronic pain. It’s taken me a year to feel comfortable enough in the blogosphere to let you in on this secret. One reason is that when I use the words “chronic pain,” I’m not referring to something that takes up a portion of my day; I don’t start out fine and then feel aches in the evening after I’ve spent hours at the keyboard; it isn’t about a stiff neck or a sore shoulder. What I mean by “chronic pain” is that I am in excruciating pain on the right side of my body, from the top of my head to the tips of my toes, and have been every second of every minute of every day for the past 12 years.

What began with a mountain-biking accident in Costa Rica, when I hit my head, neck and lower back on a boulder and suffered a mild concussion and multicolored bruising, morphed into an all-encompassing condition that frequently reaches over to the left side of my body, as well.

There’s no specific diagnosis for what happened during and after the accident and no effective treatment. The first (and often only) thing most doctors offer is painkillers, which I reject out of hand since they aren’t a cure. Plus, I can’t imagine trying to think, much less write, through a fog of barbiturates.

Blogging done right requires stamina. It’s not just the writing – there’s editorial planning, research, fact-checking, editing, and, most important, engaging with readers. I expend much of my energy every day dealing with pain that is inescapable, that can’t be isolated because of its enveloping nature. There is no time off and there are many days when pain feels like it’s made a coffin of my body.

I do as much as I can to contain this and keep it from the people around me, but in the often cruel irony of affliction, pain can affect the way I communicate. It’s a bit like that episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the one where she tries to save people by slaying a monster and winds up with an aspect of the demon instead. In my case, the pain builds up so acutely in my neck and jaw that it comes out of my mouth, impatient and snarky. That is something I adamantly never want to happen when I blog or interact with the people who read my blog. And it’s a pledge I intend to observe with you, my readers, who’ve taken this journey with me for the past year in this blog.

My Shiny New Monster Part

These last dozen years have made me acutely aware – especially at the office, in high-stress situations – that everyone has their own personal demons and aches and pains. And, like Buffy’s aspect of the demon, which arrived in the form of mind-reading, not every problem is visible or obvious. Living with chronic pain has helped me to give people a break because you never know what others might be dealing or struggling with on a particular day, and it would be terrible to write off someone who may very well be in the same boat as I am and not be able to help themselves.

I’ve lost enough of my life to chronic pain that I don’t want to lose out on the wonderful things that other people have to share. What’s that line of Katharine Hepburn’s at the end of “The Philadelphia Story”? “The time to make up your mind about people is never.” That’s been a valuable lesson of the past 12 years, living with this secret, and one I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

Travel writing and photography that inspires me each and every week:

Rita Wechter’s “One Day in America” blog

Why Is the Blogger-PR Relationship So Misunderstood?

Why can't bloggers and PR pros get along?

Another day, another one of those posts. Yes, another blogger has taken to the social media ‘verse with furrowed brow over the way PR pros approach bloggers.

On the one hand, this is Amber Naslund, so she offers excellent advice to anyone in corporate communications, PR or marketing who’s managing a crisis:

“You’ll need to figure out how to rally your own resources and the people that do know and trust you today to work extra hard to be your advocates in your moment of need. They’re the ones you should be asking, anyway, if they know you best and can vouch for your reputation, or your people, or the work that your company does.”

That’s because Naslund is a pro and understands the purpose and value of relationship-building over the long term.

What you read far too much of (and which Naslund does indulge a tiny bit in her post) is this:

“You just found me on some social media blogger list and did zero research as to the content I typically discuss on my blog. That’s obvious. You’re just hoping that I’ll use whatever reach and attention I have for your benefit…Why would I stake my reputation and the valuable attention of my readers on coming to your or your CEO’s defense based on a single email you send me in a moment of crisis?”

My goodness, the chest-beating that bloggers engage in! There are more than 150 million blogs* and, by my completely unscientific guess, probably half of the blog owners have dedicated at least one post to complaining about the way PR people work with them.

Sure there are plenty of blogs with the influence and reach of national newspapers. But, even hardened newspaper columnists rarely waste their readers’ time railing against the PR industry. (It’s such an easy target.) You’d think these blog folks were Norman Mailer or something. Of course, Mailer would have donned boxing gloves and offered the hapless PR guy the chance to duke it out in the ring.

Unless, like Naslund, you can use the interaction to offer some genuine insight, it’s time to pack away these posts. Because here’s what journalists know that bloggers don’t seem to suss: It’s never going to stop.

Even as social media platforms and ever-newer devices allow for more focused and customized targeting of audiences, PR is never going to be 1:1 communication. The crux of the problem is built in to the industry. 1:1 communication would be the PR agency’s client communicating directly with a consumer or stakeholder. Once the client hires an agency, it has already lost the opportunity to build a direct relationship, so PR by its very nature operates on a mass level, spreading the word as far and wide as possible to try to reach consumers with the client’s message.

It’s Not the PR Industry’s Fault

Yes, there are many campaigns that could be more targeted and focus on better relationship-building on behalf of the client. Typically, there isn’t a budget for that kind of individualized, time- and resource-consuming work. Typically, it is the job of an administrative assistant, an intern or a freelance contractor to put together the media and social media lists for a campaign. (Those expensive suits who pitched this campaign to the client? The ones who promised they had “ins” with star reporters, magazine profile writers, and TV hosts? Nope, they don’t put the lists together for the campaign, they don’t oversee the media outreach, and they don’t do 99 percent of the pitching. If they do happen to know a reporter well, then that’s the one call they’ll make. Everything else is handled by a freelancer paid by the agency at about 15 – 20 percent of the hourly billable rate the agency charges the client for the work.)

This is what journalists and PR people know. The PR industry isn’t going to change. If you’re a blogger, it’s time to understand the process. Frankly, you should be pleased your blog made the list; it means you’re out there making an impact.

You don’t have to do anything about a pitch letter. You don’t have to participate in a PR campaign, and no one’s going to shoot you if you toss a pitch letter in the recycling bin and get back to the more important work you were doing in the first place. It’s just like that advice mom always gave you: Ignore them, and they’ll go away.

If you’re a blogger with an active, dedicated readership, you’re already doing exactly what social media was invented for: engagement. Keep up the great work and avoid the stuff that gets in your way.

Further reading: Why Is the PR-Blogger Relationship So Fraught?

*According to BlogPulse, there were 152 million blogs on the Internet in 2010.

Building a Blogging Community

“The more passion in the blog writer, the more passion in the readers,” explained Rowse at his BlogWorld talk.

I had the pleasure of hearing “Blogging from the Heart (But Smart),” a talk by Darren Rowse, author, blogger extraordinaire and digital photography guru, at the Los Angeles BlogWorld conference a few weeks ago.

Slated for the early morning session of Day 2, after many attendees enjoyed a tequila-maker-sponsored party the night before, it was clear from the packed auditorium that Rowse’s talk was going to be inspiring.

“Where the heart and the smart come together,” Rowse told the crowd, “ that’s where the magic has happened for me.” While he advocates passion around your subject matter and your blog community, he also recommends treating blogging like a business (if you want it, ultimately, to be a business) and defining what success means for you.

If your blog is all heart, you risk burning out on passion, he said. Think strategically about your audience, content, brand, and blog promotion.

More than a Job: A Passion for Blogging

Rowse has launched a number of blogs, Problogger and Digital Photography School perhaps the best known outside of his native Australia. He has an especially beneficent and welcoming approach to creating blogging communities and sharing his knowledge.

According to his book, Problogger, written with co-author Chris Garrett, Rowse and his wife got married and started a family as his blogging career got under way. He talks about his kids on Twitter and shares proud-dad snapshots and, he said, as kids do, his children occasionally run through a shot of a video blog or play in the background of photos he’s trying to take. The line between personal and professional blurs; candor and openness appeal to readers, engendering a sense of trust.

Through all this, as the subtitle of Problogger suggests, Rowse and Garrett have blogged themselves a comfortable income. Making money from blogging isn’t the only purpose of Problogger or for many people who start blogs, myself included.

The message that resonated most strongly for me (in addition to my love of strategic thinking!) was Rowse’s encouragement to “do good in the world.”

“Be useful,” he urged in his BlogWorld session, “do something heartfelt.”

In the introduction to Problogger, Rowse acknowledges that building a successful blog “takes hard work and discipline…I never want to be accused of giving an unbalanced view of blogging or hyping it up as a get-rich-quick thing.”

What makes the book so practical for those about to blog and writers who’ve already taken the leap is its step-by-step approach to everything from content creation to finding and engaging an audience, search engine optimization, advertising, and selling and buying established blogs. Rowse and Garrett offer examples from their own experiences in blogging’s early days and provide helpful case studies, including a year-by-year analysis of how Rowse grew the Digital Photography School blog.

Am I Blue?

One of the chapters offers a simple-to-follow technical walk-through of setting up a WordPress blog on your own domain. For those who find WordPress needlessly complicated (you may have noticed I use Blogger), this was illuminating. As was the section on choosing your blog’s color.

“As everyone knows, color affects mood,” the section starts. “What do you want the mood of your blog to be?”

Good question, I thought. When I created No Bad Language, I’d spent 10 years at companies saturated in blue. One company even had the word “blue” embedded in its primary product name – you can’t escape “blue” when you work for a jeans giant – the other company used blue (and white), as many health-care entities do, to denote “clinical,” “sterile,” “medical” – all those words we associate with safe products. From corporate websites to intranets to PowerPoint templates: blue.

I found I could hardly look at blue anymore, despite it being my very favorite color my entire life, no contest. And, what’s furthest from blue? Why, red, of course.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Problogger indicates that red suggests “passion” (that’s fine, I’m very passionate about good writing and effective communications), but “anger,” as well (oh, dear, not really part of my blogging purview here or anywhere else). The book continues:

“Blue = conservative, business
Green = nature, go
Grey = formal, staid”

Given a bit of time and distance from blue branding – and a solid education in social media and blogging in the interim – I’m in the process of re-evaluating that choice plus a few others I made early in my blogging process.

All this to say, you may see some changes to the blog as we go through the holidays. I welcome your feedback and expertise, if you’d like to share in the Comments. Do you have favorite colors? Which backgrounds make it easiest to read blogs online? What works for you, and what doesn’t?

Writing that inspired me this week:

“Life’s like a movie. Write your own ending.”
~ Kermit the Frog, “The Muppet Movie”

Why is the PR-Blogger Relationship So Fraught?

Why on Earth do public relations people keep blowing it with bloggers? It happened again last week, causing a massive social media backlash.

To recap: A vice president at BrandLink Communications (let’s shorten that to BLC) presumably received a forwarded email from an employee. The forwarded email was originally sent by The Bloggess, declining a BLC pitch. The decline was sharply worded, and used a few examples of language a lot of us would consider inappropriate in business transactions, but clearly intended as snark. The BLC VP tapped out some vulgar language to describe what he thought of the blogger. He intended to share the email with his employee, but hit Reply All instead, delivering the note to the blogger, too. When the blogger pointed out what he’d done, the VP aggravated the situation by typing a follow-up email that lacked any sense of accountability and piled on further demeaning statements about the blogger.

All this turned into a juicy blog post (includes language NSFW) for The Bloggess and ultimately a social media traffic jam for BLC.

Words about the Whys

This brought to mind some obvious questions:

  • Why does anyone still mistake the Reply All button for Reply in this day and age?
  • Why do PR people get so hot under the collar about declined pitches from bloggers?
  • Why can’t people apologize – quickly, simply, genuinely and without excuses – when they’ve done something wrong or hurt somebody?

The social media ‘verse jumped on all three of those bandwagons last week. This week, these are the questions still pinging my brain:

  • Why is a vice president – or any manager, for that matter – expressing himself to an employee using foul language?
  • Why is this person in PR?

Strangely enough, this incident sent me back to my college textbook, Effective Public Relations. The very first thing authors Scott M. Cutlip and Allen H. Center have to say about the practice is this:

“Public relations is the planned effort to influence opinion through good character and responsible performance, based upon mutually satisfactory two-way communication.”

Reading that solidified everything that troubled me about the BLC-Bloggess episode (and all-too-similar incidents).

What shocked me is that this derived from the thoughts and actions of someone who’s risen to the role of vice president in the PR industry. Yes, it’s worth asking how someone gets to be a manager, much less a VP, if they think using vulgar language is appropriate in the workplace – when they feel so comfortable with it that they commit it to email, where it will live forever.

Many companies scan employee messaging for inappropriate language for the express reason that it creates an unpleasant and sometimes downright hostile work environment. Even if you’re tempted to use swear words at work, IT scanning is reason enough to hold back.

More to the point, if you’re managing people, you’re a role model. And, if you manage staff in the PR field, you’ve got a double role-modeling going on. Employees not only look to you to help them understand the kinds of behavior appropriate in the office, including civility and professionalism, but they’re picking up clues about how to interact with the client and with the media on the client’s behalf. I’m not clear where emailing a junior staffer a derogatory note about a blogger – even one meant as commiseration over not getting a hit – fits in. That email influences opinion among the people who report to you, but it doesn’t demonstrate good character or responsible performance. And the blogger who received it by accident clearly didn’t find the two-way communication mutually satisfactory.

A Passion for PR

PR is a profession for people with passion. We love what we do because we’re inspired by what our clients have achieved, and we want to tell the whole world (or various niche audiences) about it.

Sure, we get excited over media hits, but that shouldn’t necessarily translate to plummeting into despair when pitches fail. Or cursing reporters and bloggers. Is this really where you want your staff focused?

Let the excitement of your efforts carry you forward. Encourage your team to turn their attention to the next media outlet or blogger on the list. Remind them that every “no” gets them that much closer to the person who says “yes.” Better yet, have them talk with the reporter or blogger about why the pitch didn’t land, ask what would work in the future, and how she or he likes to receive information (you’d be surprised, a personal approach can even – sometimes – turn a “no” into a “yes,” but if it doesn’t, you still wind up with a better sense of how to be a hit with this person next time around).

Why Do Bloggers Enjoy the Special Ire of PR Pros?

In his second email – the one that was intentional – the BLC VP was quite clear that a blog was barely a blip on his impressions radar, so why the elevated blood pressure?

Have we drunk the Kool-Aid that suggests blogs in some magical way influence consumers more effectively and thus equal the Holy Grail of “engagement” in ways that mass media can’t?

Are we so desperate to prove we “get” social media? And, if we do understand it, why are we relating so rottenly with bloggers. Any PR person with a dash of social experience on the side could have predicted the social media fallout that resulted from refusing to apologize and suggesting that a blog was irrelevant.

Here’s the thing: bloggers can be influencers just as much as reporters. But, a pitch that gets picked up by a blog is an impression, just like any old media impression. If you want true engagement for your client, you need to help them establish their own relationships, whether B2B or B2C, and set up their own social experiences with the audiences they want to reach.

Why Work in PR?

The heart of the professional-behavior issue for me is this: As a PR person, we’re supposed to be hard-wired to understand that everything we say and send must be on behalf of the client and reflects on the client. It doesn’t matter whether our clients have B2B or B2C audiences, or if they’re internal business leaders and we’re helping them message to employees, board members or other stakeholders.

If we’re not acting on behalf of our clients, we’re in the wrong job. But, let’s say we forget every once in a while. We’re human, after all. Then, why aren’t we acting on behalf of the company? We’ve been in a lengthy period of recession; losing a client over something like this has repercussions for the agency and all the people who work there and would like to continue bringing home a paycheck.

When we lose a sense of joy – about this or any other profession – other things slip, too, in our practice. When that happens, perhaps it’s time for some reflection on what we’re doing and whether we still find passion in it.

The best PR practitioners lead with their hearts, their values and a clear understanding of and passion for the purpose of this work. They are happy to come to work every day and thrilled when they make things happen for their clients. It’s how they remain professional, ethical and effective in their communications amid even the most intense crises and why clients and media people (traditional and new) respect them.

Writing that inspired me this week:

“Public relations defines itself by what it does.”
~ Cutlip and Center, Effective Public Relations

When Melissa and Tara Met UCLA x425

I’ve been taking an excellent UCLA Extension class, “Best Practices in Social Media for the Communications Professional,” taught by Excel PR’s Erik Deutsch. Deutsch arranged the course format to pack in some 11 guest speakers in six weeks, each of whom is applying social media to their day (and evening) jobs as we speak.

The double act of Melissa Robinson, SVP of Consumer Marketing & Digital Communications for Weber Shandwick, and Tara Settembre, by day PR manager for the Walt Disney Company Consumer Products Division and by night the mastermind behind the popular When Tara Met Blog, inspired the following blog post full of tips from these two dynamic social media/PR pros on working with bloggers.

“All day, I’m email-pitching bloggers,” notes Settembre. “At night, I come home and there are 200 emails pitching me.” Her advice, and Robinson’s, comes right from the front lines. Read the full post here.