And, many companies are failing. Miserably. And publicly.
It's no secret that moms are a powerful and active online force. In the past few months, Wal-Mart, Disney and Johnson & Johnson are just a few big companies that have managed to set off fireworks among moms in the blink of an eye.
For example, over a weekend in November, moms on Twitter launched a PR nightmare for J&J's Motrin brand in response to an 'offensive' ad campaign. Word spread like wildfire through the blogosphere, Facebook and YouTube, yet marketers at Motrin didn't get wind of the uproar until they were in the office on Monday. In that time, a mountain of negative press and perception resulted.
So, how can brands manage their perception in the social media age and avoid major mistakes?
Join the conversation: The most common blunder is for a brand to jump on the social media bandwagon and then fail because they attempt to connect in unnatural ways -- in other words, they only push their messages. Social media is about conversation and connection, so no one wants a spammy, one-way relationship. Social tools also offer fantastic ways to garner feedback from consumers -- talk to them, ask questions, and listen. Zappos and Ford are two companies that are connecting with consumers in relevant, effective and multilaterally beneficial ways.
Hire an advocate: Kim Moldofsky, a consultant and blogger, recommends that brands targeting moms hire a "Social Media mom" -- an active, connected blogger who can keep them abreast of trends and hot topics. LeapFrog, Lands' End and Method have empowered mom bloggers and made connections within their online communities in organic, spam-free ways.
Choose advocates wisely and educate them: Disney and Wal-Mart have created groups of bloggers - such as Wal-Mart's 11moms or Disney's MagicMoms who promote the brands via social media. Many have openly aired concern about the apparent lack of diversity when the groups were first created.
So, when putting together a consumer panel, make sure "your advisory panels look like your consumer base," Moldofsky advises. Also, educate the members about issues and hot topics. For example, after the Black Friday incident at a Walmart store where a worker was trampled by the crowds, questions and criticism were directed to many of the 11moms on Twitter and on blogs ... and many of the women were ill-prepared to respond.
Bottom line? Social media is changing the way brands communicate to their audiences. Create a strategy just like any other marketing initiative, but apply the fundamental principles of social media to really connect with your consumers and learn from them.