Mommy Blogger Backlash

Is the momosphere ready to implode?

A relationship that was once based on a simple understanding -- companies supplied products to mom bloggers to review, moms reviewed products for fun and to attract an audience -- may suddenly be in semi-crisis.

There are several contributing factors -- legislation, compensation and, well, "vacation" -- all of which are in play at this very moment:

Holding the Line

While many organizations view mom bloggers as individuals expressing opinions, there is one influential group that does not: The Federal Trade Commission. This summer, the FTC plans to determine whether bloggers, including mom bloggers and the companies that work with them, should be held to the same advertising standard that bans deceptive or unfair business practices.

That is, the agency may choose to go after bloggers for any false claims or failure to disclose receipt of a free product or of payment. While some moms are unperturbed by this pending regulation, others are taking action -- checking with attorneys or posting disclaimers on their sites. Still others are considering beating a retreat - getting out of the blog review business for good.

Gimme Money ...

Two or three years ago -- when many of today's bloggers were just coming into their own -- a few brave companies thought there actually might be something to communicating with moms directly via social media rather than through third-party, traditional media. At the time, a lot of moms really loved the idea of being sent products to review, and the recognition and appreciation for their blogging skills and influence that relationship implied. And, let's face it, all those freebies were pretty cool, too.

However, in recent times, the value of some of those giveaways has morphed dramatically upward. What was once a $20 toy is now an appliance, an automobile on loan, or an all-expenses-paid trip to Disneyworld. Meaning, some bloggers will turn up their noses at anything less. Others, meanwhile, will now only comment on companies if paid to do so.

...Or at least, Gimme a Break!

That's if they still want to blog about companies at all.

As of last week, a number of mom bloggers are protesting that they've had enough. Of what? Apparently, of a good thing -- too many freebies! They are feeling put upon by the surge of marketers sending them products and asking them to write about them.

So -- they're going on strike. The plan is that the week of Aug. 10, certain mom bloggers are taking a "vacation" from marketing -- what they're calling a "PR Blackout" -- refusing to post anything that could possibly promote a brand, or to even talk to a publicist that entire week.

One wonders what would happen if the marketing world instituted an extended "Blogger Blackout" in return -- no samples, no giveaways, no coupons, no trips. And readers would then keep going to those blogs because ... ?

On the surface, this blogger pushback is all about these busy moms giving themselves a well-deserved break from all of us evil marketers who insist on giving them things. Or it could be that, totally unrelated to PR "demands," some moms are getting tired of the whole gotta-get-a-post-out-there-every-day grind -- and beginning to feel that what used to be a wonderful mode of self-expression may have become too much like a job. According to some blogger comments, certain moms may also feel that it's always the same few other moms who get recognition for their work -- by media and companies alike -- so why bother putting in the effort?

So -- where does that leave mommy bloggers and marketers alike? Between bloggers who are changing their attitudes and marketers who may not appreciate the FTC ruling, paying bloggers or having their phone calls refused because of a bloggy strike -- well, time will tell.

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Tags: blogging, moms
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13 comments about "Mommy Blogger Backlash ".
  1. David Schoenberger , July 22, 2009 at 12:57 p.m.

    You've done an outstanding job articulating each respective party's perspective, Stephanie - well done! It's hard to be a marketer, a mom who blogs, a regulator, or (especially) a PR executive who is hired to bring everyone together. Whenever a new ecosystem is created, it takes some time for the synergies to emerge. Hopefully soon we'll ALL be able to look back on these early days with a big smile.

  2. Paul Jin from Plummelo , July 22, 2009 at 1:08 p.m.

    I think the push-back is a good thing for social marketing on both sides of the blog. What's happening is a form of sponsorship, like the stickers on NASCAR vehicles. And that's not the nature of personal blogs.

    A blogger's credibility, and therefore readership, is not worth the risk. And marketer's ad dollars are probably better spent focussed on getting attention via other marketing channels.

    It reminds me of the credibility and value Consumer Reports has because they are not given products to review.

  3. Rebekah Cooksey from Moms Out Loud , July 22, 2009 at 1:19 p.m.

    Stephanie - great job describing the issue.

    I am a Mom, a website publisher, a blogger - and I hope the FTC does indeed enforce transparency on paid blogging vs. "passion" blogging. When I write, I note if I'm paid to do so or not. If we keep going down the road of "under the table" sponsorship it will dilute the power of what is an extremely effective medium - word of mouth among moms.

    I absolutely believe, by the way, that Moms who write about products should be paid for their time - and in more than just free product. If a marketer is using a Mom as a way to get a message out, the Mom should be compensated for it. No other media is free, why should blogging be?

    Moms are smart. Moms who are truly blogging for a business and Moms who are truly blogging for pleasure, I believe, will embrace transparency so readers can tell who's who.

  4. Robert Wheatley from Emergent Communications, Inc. , July 22, 2009 at 1:32 p.m.

    Excellent article! The FTC matter is no small thing, and brands must be aware of these challenges and how they need to prepare for the new Guidelines, expected in the early Fall. We recently published an article on the subject, including advice from the nation's premier law firm specializing in marketing communication. You can read it here: http://www.wheatleytimmons.com/pages/ftc_guideline_changes_could_cloud_horizon_for_social_media_marketing/108.php

  5. Jennifer Maltby from Communispace , July 22, 2009 at 1:35 p.m.

    What a fascinating and well written perspective! As a new blogger (and fairly new mom) I was recently thinking about the very same issues you so astutely describe. The question I am left with is: why are marketers inundating "mommy bloggers" with all this stuff anyway? Isn't their strategy simply a ploy to encourage other moms to purchase their product or service? And if so, wouldn't they be better served actually spending their time and money trying to really understand this complex and ever-changing target? Just my two cents.

  6. Rebeca Schiller from Alvah's Books , July 22, 2009 at 1:37 p.m.

    I can understand how some bloggers might feel that what was an enjoyable past time has turned into work. I often feel that way with all the books I have slated to read and then review (and my reviews range anywhere between 500 to 800 words, so this is work). I feel as if I'm back in grad school with too many deadlines to meet. However, I made a commitment and they will all get reviewed. No blackouts for me, unless I drop dead. That's the blogger side of me.

    On the other hand, the PR consultant side is put off by this arrogant call for a blackout. Folks, it's a two-way street. We're both helping each other out. My clients' products along with my services provide CONTENT for these bloggers, and they spread the word to their readers.

    Personally, I think this blackout will damage relationships with publicists. So if at the end of the blackout, these bloggers wonder why they're not getting anymore pitches, maybe its because they looked a gift horse in the mouth....

    Just my two cents...

  7. Stephanie Azzarone from CHILD'S PLAY COMMUNICATIONS , July 22, 2009 at 1:52 p.m.

    What terrific comments from all of you! Rebeca, thanks for presenting both points of view. Jennifer, good to hear the mom/blogger perspective. Robert, thanks for the helpful link. Rebekah, my compliments for stating up front whether you're blogging for pay or not. And yes, key point, "under the table" sponsorship will dilute the power of word of mouth among moms. Paul, thanks for also bringing up the credibility issue. And David -- thank you for the comments, and the silver lining!

  8. Susan Mcveigh from GANZ , July 22, 2009 at 2:53 p.m.

    Commenting strictly as a fan of the medium, I'm wondering about the opinion of blog followers. Aren't they/we the reason bloggers (moms or not) launched their sites in the first place? The desire to share one's take on the world, laugh and learn together. I love reading blogs, but if a blogger is only about the reviews, I drop them quickly. I want originality, a point of view, something authentic--I'm not spending my free time online helping bloggers and/or companies promote new products.

  9. Maryanne Conlin from RedRopes Digital/4GreenPs , July 22, 2009 at 3:01 p.m.

    Great article Stephanie,

    I agree that this is "early days" and we'll see how the relationship between bloggers and marketers pans out. I do think the blackout is a bit ridiculous. You know, we probably need a "opt out" list that bloggers can sign if they prefer not to get pitches- fine.

    On the other hand, I think the bigger issue is our marketing strategy for bloggers which is treating them like paid journalists. I beleive that a blogger outreach is actually more like a sampling campaign. we sample consumers hoping they will both purchase product and recommend product to their freinds. in this day of the internet...we all have a lot more friends!

    The FTC is right to request that bloggers indicate when they are being paid and the vast majority of bloggers now have a review policy on their site or indicate in their post their relationship with the company. So - not a huge deal.

    Moms who write for fun certainly have the right to review or not review product. Many, many bloggers though are looking for ways to make money by blogging and that's where the issue of pay in product or in dollars comes up. It's a matter of "opportunity cost". A blogger writing a review for free may feel frustrated because she is not being paid when she could be doing work that pays...but then what better job for a mom than writing whatever she wants, whenever she wants, about whatever she wants?

    And that's the point. Blogging is if it's not paid is either a HOBBY or a PR tool for the blogger if she/he is building a name for him/herself in conjunction with a business. (book, media site, etc.)

    My opinion is marketers need to consider the business model. A very few blogs and blog networks are making money AND paying bloggers a journalist's rate. ( important point that rate issue)Those are businesses with long term viability. Otherwise, bloggers are hobbyists and should be treated the way we would treat any consumer.

    Just my thoughts.

  10. Rebekah Cooksey from Moms Out Loud , July 22, 2009 at 4:37 p.m.

    Sorry, I need to add one comment at the risk of alienating my blogger friends....I agree the black out period is over the top, especially coming on the heels of BlogHer, where some of the bloggers may have gotten their trips comp'd.

  11. Rebeca Schiller from Alvah's Books , July 22, 2009 at 5:16 p.m.

    Rebekah,

    You hit the nail on its head. Do you know how many bloggers have written to me asking for sponsorships?

    On another note, I was recently was approached by one blogger who wrote to me and said that she would write about the products--no need to send samples--if we paid a small fee. Welcome to world of Blogger advertorials!

  12. Stephanie Azzarone from CHILD'S PLAY COMMUNICATIONS , July 24, 2009 at 8 a.m.

    Maryanne, great points all. I especially liked the opt-out list suggestion. To your comment about whether to treat bloggers like journalists, I think publicists started out that way, but are finding that it is often a very different relationship.

  13. Nicole Brady from SahmReviews.com , August 5, 2009 at 2:28 p.m.

    Stephanie -

    In the interest of disclosure to anyone reading, you already know me. I am a "Team Mom" blogger who works with Childs Play Communications. With that said, this is all my opinion and in no way should be construed as schmoozing to PR firms or badmouthing my fellow bloggers...

    I understand where these women are coming from in establishing a PR Blackout. They're overwhelmed by the demands of their blogs as well as their personal lives. Most of us don't get paid to write reviews on our blogs so what's the incentive to bust our humps? Well personally, it's about being selective. I receive requests from PR folks all the time. But my time is limited and I'm only now starting to add contributing writers to my blog to help pick up the slack. So what do I do? I turn them down if I don't think I can provide a quality review. They may be offering a product that my family would love, but if I don't have the time or energy to give them due justice in the words on my post, then it's unfair to both the company and for my readers. Subpar is just not acceptable.

    So here comes the PR blackout and I'm saying to myself "I've been blacking out products all along when I just can't handle it." Vacations, deaths in the family, personal issues, whatever... I've decided that life sometimes gets in the way of blogging. If more bloggers would be up front with their PR people then there would never come a time when a PR Blackout would be necessary.

    Personally, I think that PR firms should take a stance against bloggers who have opted to participate in the blackout. If you have a high-dollar review opportunity coming up, send them an email about it on the first day of the blackout with a note that they have only a few days to respond. If they wait until the blackout is over then beg for that valuable item or even respond immediately with "yeah, but not until next week", then you'll know that it's all about the value of the item and not about their need for a vacation. That tells a lot about their credibility and it's only a matter of time before their readers see through them also. Better yet, just send requests to other bloggers who have established a more professional position.

    As for compensation, I agree that we need some compensation for our troubles... consider purchasing a banner add or button at a time when you aren't waiting for a review to be posted!