02 March 2009

The Mom-O-Sphere Goes Corporate and Cultures Clash

I've been watching with interest some of the discussions taking place in the Mom-o-sphere. (hey, it's my job.)

Specifically, I'm interested in a couple of posts from Kristen Chase and Liz Gumbinner - you may have heard of them as the co-founders of Cool Mom Picks. In a very real sense, they represent an important case study in next-gen online entrepreneurship.

In addition to CMP, Kristen and Liz have built strong online platforms (i.e., personal blogs) that have attracted a significant readership - and in doing so, they've gained the attention of marketing and PR firms. No surprise there. Further, beyond the raw numbers of unique visitors and inbound links, the above-average flacks will see the value that Kristen and Liz demonstrate as credible and influential members of an important community. I still remember Liz essentially shutting up an executive from the Conference Board who questioned the validity of social media metrics with a single line - "how do you measure the value of placing a can of Diet Coke in George Clooney's hand?"

(WARNING: I'm gonna get all PR-speak for a second. I'm even gonna use pictures. Don't worry, though - we'll get through this.)

However, I think Kristen and Liz (and dozens of other online moms) are frustrated right now because they thrive in a multi-directional communications environment that depends on transparency and encourages people to participate in multiple community discussions. (You know, SOCIAL media. It's SOCIAL.) The environment they and other online moms have entered - the world where you get paid essentially for what you do and what you write - is still largely transactional and one-way, tends to be more opaque, and emphasizes hitting a very specific demographic and staying there. To me, the old PR/marketing world looks like this:


So a company's message gets shaped and filtered through media to an audience, who simply receives it and acts accordingly. Companies and their PR firms simply expect bloggers to serve as one of those intermediate media outlets in the middle. It's much easier for them, because they've done this forever and really aren't interested in doing it differently because that would cost time and money. But then there's...


Today's reality simply shows that companies are just one player in a larger group discussion. Yes, the traditional media is there and they still wield disproportionate influence on opinion and behavior. But in this world, everybody talks and (hopefully) everybody listens. I could put any number of communities up here and even more arrows, but I hope you get the picture.

(OK, I got that out of my system. It's ridiculous, I know.)

Call it whatever you want - new media rules vs. old media rules, the people who "get it" vs. the people who don't, or even good vs. evil - the bottom line is the two worlds operate on different terms and it's an enormous struggle to find a situation where both companies and bloggers are completely comfortable.

So Liz gets frustrated when she sees other moms who don't necessarily assert their position in the new communications environment, or worse, disclose that they're getting compensated for what they publish. And Kristen gets frustrated when the organizers of a marketing conference choose to introduce her with a "dramatic reading" of one of her sassier posts - positioning her as the "prominent mom" that transactional marketers value - and not with a rundown of her entrepreneurial endeavors or her expertise. That's more than a "personal branding" issue - it's a reflection of conflicting corporate cultures.

And they both get demonstrably upset when PR flacks treat them as they'd treat any other media outlet, only with less attention to detail.

I can say that some of us in the PR/social media world are struggling with the same issues that Kristen and Liz are. As they try to explain the new reality to flacks, we're trying to do the same to some of our clients, and even some of our colleagues.

Moving forward, I see three options:
  • the moms (and everyone else) do everything they can to accomodate the institutional flackitude, since PR firms have the money and the stuff they want;
  • the PR/marketing world moves to accomodate bloggers and other social media mavens; or
  • the two groups meet somewhere in the middle.
This is typically where the "meet in the middle" option presents itself as the moderate and essentially preferable model, but I tend to lean toward the flacks accomodating the bloggers. The larger communications environment continues to evolve toward the social media model. Even mainstream media is starting to adopt social media tools, even if they're not yet completely embracing the concept of multi-directional communication - so we should try to get ahead of it . The cost of publishing high-quality multimedia continues to decline, giving more people a voice and the ability to persuade larger groups of people. Finally, I've found that the more you can accomodate people where they are, on their terms, the more success you have. If someone wants to try to accomodate me, that's great - but I can't and shouldn't expect it.


Susan Getgood said...

David, I agree with you that it should be the companies accommodating the bloggers. For a far simpler reason though.

The bloggers are their customers.

Motherhood Uncensored said...

First, let me compliment you on the graphics.

Second, I'm always amazed that companies attempting to do online media whatever however you want to call it, don't USE the media itself to do their research.

Google "Blogger Outreach" for god sakes and see what comes up. I'm not sure if it's an underestimation of the power of online mom voices or what, but a few simple adjustments and a willingness to learn is all it takes.

Here's hoping that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Or at least maybe he'll considering buying a walking stick and some reading glasses to help him along.

Her Bad Mother said...

*applauding David*

*applauding Susan*

PunditMom said...

I love the graphics, too. I see this same phenomenon when it comes to moms (like me) who write about politics. We get viewed as "moms" first and analysts second. There are a few politicos on Capitol Hill that are starting to get it, as you and a few others do on the marketing side.

The thing the really stumps me is that it just doesn't seem that hard to figure it out, and so many seem stuck, and are possibly unwilling, to adjust the "old" model.

But I guess that just means it will be a quicker road to world domination for the rest of us! ;)

mothergoosemouse said...

I love that second graphic. If we could make it three-dimensional and show the variety of platforms on which these conversations occur, it would really illustrate the complexity of communication and how it has changed from the first graphic.

Susan's point is an excellent one. Companies do not contact bloggers and offer them stuff out of the goodness of their hearts. They want something from us. They're getting something out of the deal. Both parties ought to be satisfied with the transaction.

Dr. Val said...

I wonder what "the middle" looks like operationally?? :)

toddlerplanet said...

The other thing is that missteps here are public. Mombloggers often make so much of our lives public that ... get this ... when we're offended? That gets made public too. And I'm pretty sure very few people were impressed with the company that caused the twitterstorm yesterday.

Here via @punditmom's tweet.

David said...

Susan, as usual, you're spot on. I've often thought your marketing and sales focus is much stronger than mine is, while I've tended to look at issues management and policy discussions - it's interesting to me how the two seem to be integrating even more.

Liza said...

Also here from Punditmom's Tweet -- a very interesting discussion. I'd been following it on Motherhood Uncensored, and the meta analysis with graphics is a helpful addition.

Plus, what a nice surprise to see Susan, whom I knew 10 years ago when the debate was still "what should your kids see on the Internet?"

DaniGirl said...

Interesting discussion. I think what the PR folks need to remember is that the bloggers aren't - for the most part - professionals, and they're (okay, "we're") not like the mainstream media. We don't get paid to sift through press releases and other solicitations, and we're (okay, "I'm") doing this for love, not money.

It's *personal*, and that's both what makes the mom blogs a desirable medium for the advertisers and what makes the bloggers chafe when we feel like we're being disrespected.

David said...

Thanks for some great comments, toddlerplanet and DaniGirl - to me it's sometimes about how willing PR folks are to leave their comfort zone to acknowledge reality. We can create "ethical codes" and all sorts of other happy hoo-ha but it really just boils down to common sense and understanding who we're talking with.

Janet said...

Well put, Susan!

Stefania/CityMama said...

Great post as usual. Thank you for showing us all the way.

Mom101 said...

DaniGirl makes a fantastic point - we're not generally getting paid to navigate all these requests. I think that explains why I'm less patient with it at Mom101 than I am at Cool Mom Picks.

Speaking of fantastic - that little "bookmark this" widgety thing? Totally using that.

Candace said...

Excellent post. And it is a point that has been made also about more "female" and more "male" corporate cultures (placed in quotes to indicate that I do not believe all women or all men have certain work styles).

And ditto to danigirl. Even WHEN it is my business blog, as opposed to my personal blog, I am not getting paid to read PR pitches and to answer them and follow up with PR people and host contests for companies and to re-follow up with PR people if they flake on sending a reader prize.

If someone sends a PR pitch, it takes the initial time to write it and then seconds to mail merge. Maybe a little extra time if you actually sort your list by those who might be interested in it (REALLY? Liquor gram on my BABY PRODUCT REVIEW BLOG? Would I put that under "Breastfeeding" or "Toys: All Ages").

It takes me much longer to read through the pitch, consider answering, discuss with my co-editor, write the answer, and then respond. And then you never know when the PR person is going to then respond with several more inquiries about my traffic (either ask in the first e-mail, or, better yet, look it up before pitching me if it is a big concern) or other questions answered on my page for PR people.

So, PR people are paid to do their job.

We do not accept money for reviews so we only make money through advertisements (we currently don't have an pay per impression ads, so traffic only = revenue indirectly) and affiliate links (which we only use if the product we review is primarily available through retailers or if we had purchased the product ourselves and just liked it enough to share it).

And the nature of online is that big companies often prefer the (free) in context editorial links and often won't buy the cow-ads since they can get the often more valuable to them-milk-editorial content for free.

Yes, I do make money from my review blog. But not as much as I make from my primary job...which is writing curriculum and articles for print media. So, any work I do on my blog takes the place of more lucrative work or time for other things. Therefore, if it stops being fun, there really is no reason to keep doing it.

I think that PR people need to know that we are not all professionals--but some of us are. We are individuals. I know it is infinitely harder to have a conversation with individuals than to pitch a group, but there you go.

jennster said...

YES! just yes!!!

and i agree with kristen, the graphics are fan-fucking-tastic! ha

and susan says it best. truly.