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Blogging Moms Wooed by Food Firms – My rambly two cents on the LA Times Article

11.15.2009

in Uncategorized

Today the Los Angeles Times ran a front page story called Blogging Moms Wooed by Food Firms. I’m quoted in it, as are a number of other bloggers who may or may not be happy about it.

Although man I love Elisa Camahort-Page‘s pornography analogy. That alone makes it worth the read.

I spent nearly an hour speaking with the reporter about it, and frankly, it was a lovely conversation. I liked her a lot and I think she has a good handle on the issue of blogs and brands. Mine was one of the last interviews, and she was clearly shocked at that point by the stories she had heard from other bloggers about freebies, junkets, and what she described as something like indiscriminate effusiveness by a few (not all) bloggers about any and every product being presented at a corporate event. She also said something about exclamation points and all caps. As in OMG CRUNCH BARS ONLY HAVE 209 CALORIES! AM EATING 30 NOW! #nestlefamily

(Disclosure: Nestle Crunch was one of my first advertising clients. I too have eaten 30 in one sitting. Solidarity!)

The first thing the reporter mentioned was a quote she had jotted down that struck her as interesting: Because of all the attention from marketers, one source said, “there has never been a better time to be a mom with a computer.”

“That,” I said, “makes me cringe.”

It made me cringe because there are a lot of great reasons to be a mom with a computer – and offers for free canned vegetables in exchange for positive posts on a blog, as far as I’m concerned, is not one of them.

The most radical thing about moms who blog is the way we’ve been able to form communities. Connect on deeply profound levels. Stave off isolation. We share our truths, however good, bad, controversial or painful. We’ve taken on politics. We’ve taken on societal ills. We’ve simply made one another feel good on a daily basis.

We’ve raised money for friends in need. We’ve started wonderful businesses. We’ve supported our families. We have literally saved one another’s lives.

And sometimes, we even get ourselves published.

This crazy new democratic self-publishing tool, this thing called blog, it is awesome in a million freaking ways. So hell yeah, it’s a good time to be a mom with a computer.

But.

In the article, it seems my use of the term “cringe” was combined with a description of the motivation for starting Blog with Integrity. And while I recognize some things will get lost in translation when a reporter has to cull down my rambly 600 word description into one crisp sentence (no small task, sorry reporters), I would hope that anyone who knows me or Susan or Kristen or Julie or where we seem to be going with the campaign recognizes that isn’t exactly the case.

If anything made us cringe this past spring, it was the media coverage of mom bloggers. The misperception that all mom bloggers seem to exist to do is reprint press releases about products in exchange for a freebie or two. That the marketing mom bloggers (Review bloggers? Ad bloggers? Gimme bloggers?) are consistently in the media as the only mom bloggers.

And now, once again. On the front page of the LA Times.

I do cringe at deception. I cringe at bloggers who are so flattered by the attention of marketers that they are willing to do their bidding for free. I cringe reading glowing reviews of products that I know first hand are second rate. It happens. Let’s not pretend it doesn’t.

But there are plenty of times it doesn’t. Christine Young (who defends her position here) may have a closet full of stuff she won’t feature, but isn’t that preferable to giving the thumbs up to anything and everything that shows up in the mail? Her readers seem to think so.

I’m often torn when I’m asked to comment on these stories. I don’t want to accept a nice comfy position on the front lines of the mommy wars. I’ve recently turned down two different talk show offers, in which producers seemed to want to create a forum for mothers to fight about hot-button issues. I love thoughtful debate and discussion, but I don’t want to be the woman on stage attacking another mother’s values because it makes a good sound byte.

On the other hand, I do talk to reporters. Because I want another side of the story out there. In this case, it may have been the very last line, but it was there – we are not all whores.

I also said that sometimes bloggers are just naive when dealing with brands.

It’s true.

They are.
 
I will count myself among them.

Maybe not right now, not as much. But there have been some things I have done that I’d change. There are a couple of times I used a branded hashtag on Twitter and regretted hitting publish. There are some events I attended where I found myself thinking, what the heck am I doing here?

I went because they offered. And it made me feel good to be on a list.

Isn’t that how it works for so many of us?

It’s tough navigating this tricky brand-blogger dance. Because it’s completely new. It simply hasn’t existed before. And we have no idea where it will be next month or next year. We’re not journalists but we’re not regular old consumers either. We are some weird new hybrid.

Just call us Pod People. Or geeks. That’s what Nate does.

Now I’d like to put some of the onus on the marketers and PR folks here for a change:

You come to parenting bloggers because we’re authentic. We’re genuine. Our online relationships are real and our influence is palpable. We don’t have gatekeepers and we don’t have filters and maybe it makes your brand look pretty cool to share our space.

But if you continue creating an environment in which our credibility is consistently on the line; if you choose to engage with less ethical bloggers; if you send your products to anyone willing to write up a half-assed piece of crap review on it, complete with all the © and ™and ® symbols on your press release; if don’t think through your junkets well enough that even thoughtful, credible guests are labeled as sell-outs, you mess it all up. YOU MESS IT ALL UP. You will destroy what was built here long before you came along and offered us free KY Jelly products.

And then, what good are we to you? What good are we to each other?

72 shards of brilliance… read them below or add one

Maria Melee November 15, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Good stuff, Liz. I've said it before, when it comes to what others perceive as a “fringe” community, journalists are rarely going to get it.

Moms with computers are hardly a minority, but the whole process of reading and writing blogs is still foreign enough that it's interesting to scrutinize what we do.

And folks would generally rather read something vaguely scandalous and negative than something positive.

The other day, for shits and giggles, a handful of us started tweeting #feelgoodheadlines about or experiences blogging. Luckily, as writers/artists/photographers/crafters/cooks/etc. we're usually pretty good about expressing ourselves. And hopefully we'll keep expressing the truths we know to those who care to listen.

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Maggie, dammit November 15, 2009 at 2:14 pm

This is veering from the topic at hand slightly, but I often wonder if bloggers will ever get a fair shake from journalists (and a balanced, accurate portrayal in the press.) There's so much resentment, self-acknowledged or not, by people who spent years in school training for a job many bloggers seem to have “stolen” at a time when those jobs are disappearing anyway. My blogging gets laughed at by my fellow journalist friends all the time–I think it makes them feel better. Jerks. ;)

Anyway, yes. Well said.

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Julie {Angry Julie Monday} November 15, 2009 at 2:18 pm

Beautifully written. I keep getting told to define my niche. Do I really want to categorize my self with “reviewer, giveawayer, baker, decorator”. I find that too often these titles do label us in the blogging community and this whole PR mess going on. I started my blog as a place for “me” after I had lost myself 1.5 years after having my son. I am really getting tired of being judged based on theses reputations that parenting bloggers are starting to get. It just makes me feel a little dirty, and that makes me want to walk away from that computer.

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Adventures In Babywearing November 15, 2009 at 2:21 pm

I agree so much. I am thankful for some opportunities I've had in the past, I'm regretful of some others, and I DEFINITELY found myself wishing I could click my heels and be home at a couple events.

I learned from that, and I'm taking the temp of what's going around right now and honestly don't want to be involved. I no longer find myself wishing I'd said yes to an event.

Now I see the hashtags and think Thank God I'm not there.

But the relationships I have online with who I want to have a relationship with right now are stronger than ever. I love the blogging community. I get warm fuzzies just thinking about it.

There are serious writers among us, women that amaze me, that I admire, people I call friends, people that I want to be like.

I hate what outsiders have come in and did to the water.

But the people drowning in the nastiness don't know what they're missing. There's so much more.

Steph

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Maggie, dammit November 15, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Back because I just read the piece, and I think it's a really good article. It just needs to be about a thousand words longer. :)

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Angie Ledbetter November 15, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Blogging moms (aka moms with computers) are the new support system/coffee clatch neighborhood moms of the 50s. Yay!

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Julie November 15, 2009 at 2:24 pm

I'm really interested in hearing more about this statement: “If anything made us cringe this past spring, it was the media coverage of mom bloggers.” As a very early mom blogger (founder of DotMoms) and the editor of a Web site about journalism (poynter.org), I'd love for you to elaborate on what you think journalists should and should not do. I've started #100things on Twitter to capture this list. Please add your ideas, so journalists and others can benefit from them.

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Mom101 November 15, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Maggie, agree – it's pretty balanced and pretty accurate. I'd have given her another zillion words, personally.

But I do think journalists are appalled at blogger standards of ethics overall because they look at journalists as journalists. We're not. Maybe columnists. But we're not reporters.

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Miss_Lori November 15, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Hard to add to your post, as you really covered it all! For me the best part about being a Mom with a computer is the opportunity to create communities, one hashtag at a time. Especially since in real life communities are a logistic improbability for many of us. No center for gathering. I tweet so I can gather.

SMILE On!

ML
http://www.MissLori.TV

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Mom101 November 15, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Oh my gosh Miss Lori, you are a celebrity around these parts. Wait til I tell my kids you were here – you must made their day.

Thanks for the nice comment.

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Jessica Lee Binder November 15, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Liz, really well written. I'm not a mom blogger, I'm a food blogger, but I think everything you've said rings true for food bloggers, mom or not.

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Megan November 15, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Here, here. I am in complete agreement with everything you say and am glad that people like you are out there making themselves heard in a productive capacity. Thank you!

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cryitout! November 15, 2009 at 3:43 pm

Your lead-in graph and quote came off very nicely, I thought — you sounded great and added just the perfect amount of opposition. (Although, yes, Elisa gets credit for quote of the year.)

What I always find lacking in these articles is a voice from a regular blog reader. They always talk to bloggers who whore themselves out to whichever Sheinhardt Wigs Company drops them an email or sends them a pack of potato chips and those that don't — but what impact does any of this have on the parent at home who peruses a few sites in his precious spare time? Am I ever moved to buy a Taco Bell burrito or Nestle chocolate bar because some stranger clearly is being paid by a company to tell me it's delicious? No, of course not. Just like I don't run to the store after watching an ad on TV.

Lost in the shuffle of this debate is that this has been going on for years now. People are more aware. I don't flip from TV channel to TV channel in search of the best ads, and I no longer even bother stopping by blogs I know pimp products, even a tiny bit, and even if they're up front about being paid or getting freebies. Who wants to be sold all the time?

Anyway, great job. I always enjoy your analysis of this debate.

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Séverine November 15, 2009 at 3:53 pm

wow, yes, I just started blogging as a sort of venting system after giving birth to my second…. Only to discover all this. It seemed to me to be a community and therefore a support system of sorts. I guess, as always, a minority of people must ruin it for the rest.

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Mom101 November 15, 2009 at 3:54 pm

cry it out, that's such a great point. It would be nice if they talked to readers.

I suppose readers vote with their traffic – the product giveaway blogs have readers and the personal blogs have readers. I'll go back to my original point that to call us all mommy blogs continues to do us all a disservice.

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Anonymous November 15, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Your words, your thoughtful examination of sometimes sensitive issues, your willingness to speak the truth…these are the reasons that I have faithfully read your blog for nearly 4 years.

Integrity matters.

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QuatroMama November 15, 2009 at 4:43 pm

There's so much to learn from you, Liz. Thank you for making us think, and for challenging me personally in my writing and commitments.

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ParentopiaDevra November 15, 2009 at 5:13 pm

Sing it sister! I do hope this journalist, or another, decides to write a follow-up piece on bloggers who collaborate with companies in ways which aren't focussed on wining and dining.It is definitely possible to participate in ad campaigns and still maintain your integrity as a blogger, business and overall human being.

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Amanda November 15, 2009 at 5:42 pm

I happily exist on the fringe of all this, receiving neither pitches nor massive traffic, but I still have opinions. I have tsk-tsked upon seeing certain writers stumble along the slippery slope of reviews and the pursuit of something that changes their writing for someone else's gain.

I attribute some of these things to growing pains— readers establishing their thresholds for marketing, writers carving the model for their purpose, and the community in how it assesses the rights and wrongs.

I hope that we hold on to the quality of writing, the ability to evoke something, whether it's an emotion a reader couldn't articulate or that laughter we all so desperately need.

The thing I am reminded of whenever I come here, is how unerring your writing in is in being your voice, no matter the content. It also triggers a smile as I remember the way I felt when I saw you in person— like your writing, but warmer, more sparkly.

Great job.

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natalie November 15, 2009 at 5:58 pm

…..

What Amanda said!

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Ashley November 15, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Thank you, Liz. Thought-provoking, as always. My site exists in an odd position to all of this — not really a blog, more of an online “magazine” — but we still have to be ever-aware of this line that exists.

I may be an editor and not a blogger, but I think this conversation is relevant to all of us. I'll keep coming back for more of your analysis.

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Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) November 15, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Great writing, Liz. Per usual.

I recently gave negative reviews to 2 different DVDs I reviewed – the DVDs included graphic animal sex and carnage. But truthfully, I gave the negative reviews because they were were boring, the soundtrack was cheesy and it had really poor cinematography! However, I then read a post on very high-traffic review site where the blogger was not only positive, but downright glowing with lots! of! exclamation! marks! And it ended with sappy verbiage of how she would enjoy the DVDs for a long! time! with her 5 year old child.

The entire experience left me cold, because the review blogger either did not watch the DVDs or lied (trust me – the DVDs were really graphic and of very poor quality. I was downright embarrassed for the PR rep.)

I am not sure how much I want to be involved with reviewing products until folks start being more frocking HONEST. I hate to have my own voice cheapened amongst a sea of freebie whores. Because yes, not all of us are whores, but it can be difficult to pick us out amongst a crowd of them. Right?

Right.

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OHmommy November 15, 2009 at 6:18 pm

The blogs that I read and enjoy are ones that I can truly hear the author's voice.

Some of these bloggers have taken trips and “reported” back and I value the time they took to write about it. Personally, I only review something if I really want to share something great with my readers, half the time w/o even being compensated. I hope my readers value the time I take to write about something that I generally liked.

With that said. I had no idea that Tony Hawks had a new wii game out until bloggers went out to LA to test it out for a long weekend. It looked cool. I asked them directly about the product. And will be purchasing it for my son. I have also, trusted the opinions, of other fellow bloggers in response to printing companies online, clothing and shoes and so on.

I am online way more often than sitting in front of my TV watching commercials and can't remember the last time I spent money on a magazine.

I was at Nestle. Haven't reviewed any products. But really enjoyed my time there, met some wonderful new bloggers part of our community. We aren't all the same. We all have different audiences and purposes.

And you know what? I think that's okay.

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Meagan Francis November 15, 2009 at 6:18 pm

“And then, what good are we to you? What good are we to each other?”

THIS is the point. THIS.

Great post Liz, and a great reason why we should all care what happens in the blog world. Not because anyone is the blog police, but because the perception of mom bloggers as sellouts does affect everyone.

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Grace and Tiffany November 15, 2009 at 6:30 pm

BINGO, “cryitout” – what about the readers? And, from my perspective, what about the consumers? Isn't that a primary mission here in these review blogs? To present enlightening information for consumers?

To that end, I left the following on Christine Young's blog:

With all due respect and admiration for your success, I actually do wish you would comment on the products you pan and thus, refrain from discussing. Why? Because I’m invested in blogger product reviews as a service to the consumer. I am so deeply invested in this notion that I recently launched a blog (linked in my signature) dedicated to finding product review bloggers, mommy blogger or not, and their candid evaluations which include both pros and cons of a product. Last week I published my criteria for choosing links with an emphasis on this issue:

“…we realize there are many review bloggers…who, if have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all…I think that to “say nothing at all” about whatever malfunctioning piece of junk you just bought and blew up as soon as you plugged it in is, well, not helpful. It is my strongly held belief that even the most genteel of bloggers can speak of their reservations about a product without compromising their otherwise polite demeanor.

To that end, consider your product review blog to be a generous public service. If you bought something you think is awesome and you’re certain others may feel the same, sharing that positive assessment is a great help to any shopper. What may be an even greater aid to the public is to tell them to save their hard-earned wages and avoid purchasing…(a) piece of junk.”

I don’t understand why this cannot be done. A negative review does not have to be cruel and snarky. There is a fair and civilized middle ground in crafting an evaluation of a product that misses the mark.

I hope you will consider this perspective in the constructive spirit I extend.”

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Loralee Choate November 15, 2009 at 6:31 pm

After a lot of years and a lot of thought, I've finally started accepting some reviews.

I hesitated for years because I wasn't sure I wanted to enter the game.

But I have a 5 month old and honestly, I read a LOT of review blogs looking for different products for my kids and I have found a lot of them very helpful (compensated or not)

So, I was much more open to the idea. I haven't started publishing them yet. I've been fairly picky and I have been compensated. And honestly…we REALLY need whatever money I can scrape together from this little hobby of mine.

I don't feel bad for doing that as I know that money does not buy favor from me. (Although, I am WAY easier to please as a consumer then many.)

I use CAPS! EXCLAMATION POINTS! SQUEE!!!! as well, but that is just, um…me and my style.

I received a product that is going to get a lukewarm review. It's nice and all but sort of useless. There will be no glow, no squee.

But.

I agreed to review the product and I will.

I'm sure I'll make mistakes and who know? Maybe I'll hate doing it and quit. But for now I think it's the right decision for me and this is a good post to remind me to mind my p's and q's and that there is a fine line between earning money and writing an honest review and being icky, grabby and whorish.

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David November 15, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Thanks for the writeup- as a brand we find ourselves deluged with requests to do reviews. Our decision to choose a reviewer is not necessarily traffic driven (although it is a part of it) but how well the reviewer does in accurately and fairly assessing products. We don't need a review that wholly copies text from our web site, but look for one who provides readers with a fair and accurate assessment- the good & the bad. For us the reviewer has to be acting with integrity because that's what we are looking for, a relationship with their readers based on trust and accuracy.

I do see a great community in the mom blogging network and wonder why that is so little focused on by the media.

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Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) November 15, 2009 at 6:44 pm

This is my 2nd comment on this, however, this is from the perspective of someone who actually owns a business and is currently in the process of approaching bloggers for reviews.

To complete the entire “process” to be able to do a full review of our site, we are giving the blogger a coupon code so they do not have to pay for the product themselves. Which I would deem to be fair.

However, I DO want honest reviews – a glowing, pithy post about how !great! our product is absolutely does NOT help us tweak our beta product into an alpha one.

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Daisy November 15, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Mothertalk no longer allows me to do book reviews because I was (gasp) honest about a poorly written novel. I've written strong positive reviews of books and products that warranted the praise, but this is ridiculous. Integrity is lacking on some review sites.
(word verification: datortls – the sound of a blogger laughing)

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Morningside Mom November 15, 2009 at 7:02 pm

It sure is a great time to be a mom with a computer. But if our community believes that's the case simply because we get free stuff? Uh oh. The whole (still very new) concept that mothers can be both strong professional writers and important community influencers is getting off to a really icky start.

It HAS been an amazing time to be a mother who writes. The expression, the community, the networking, yeah, what you said – its all good and I snuggle deep into it everyday and breathe in the wonder of it all.

But the stuff? Um well that's been a surprising, unexpected, almost awkward side bar to all of it. However its a side bar I need to embrace and deal with in a professional way that grooves with the original point of my blog.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Its the wild wild west for all of us. Bloggers, reviews, payment in stuff or money, our influence – all of it – is still being established, expectations and lines in the sand are still being drawn. Lets rally together in a positive professional way to determine how we are used with marketers and thus perceived by both marketers, our readers and the writing community at large.

Oh yeah and PR folks? Again. What she said. Find the right bloggers – don't feed the flame and ruin this delicate balance all together.

Caroline

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Mom101 November 15, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Daisy, is that true??

The mothertalk website says Moms research, review, and give honest feedback about products.

If this is not the case then I'd be appalled. And the FTC would be interested.

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Lisa @ Corporate Babysitter November 15, 2009 at 7:11 pm

The traffic levels and focus of my blog has kept me safely away from marketers but still, I am a mom and a blogger. Thanks for pointing out the bias in the term “mommy blogger” as presented in mainstream media.

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amy turn sharp of doobleh-vay November 15, 2009 at 7:21 pm

that article was just waiting to be fleshed out and so much more- but man- you are always on the right page and talking about things that matter so much to what we do. It's a huge learning curve for all sides I think and the more we talk about it with all – the more we will learn. Right?
Kudos to you- and thank you for thinking of me and LA. It made my sappy hearted lil day. I am going to be in NYC in a few weeks- can we have coffee or hard liquor? xoxoxo

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Julie @ The Mom Slant November 15, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Your second to last paragraph? I'm bellowing YES! out loud.

Because while I stand by our statement at Blog With Integrity that there's no right or wrong way to blog, including sponsored posts and reviews and giveaways, they can serve to dilute the very influence that a blogger once had and that PR and brands covet. It's the law of diminishing returns.

Kind of like eating 30 Nestle Crunch bars in one sitting. (Which, um, I've done too.)

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VDog November 15, 2009 at 7:36 pm

I find myself saying, “it's all so new” so much that I'm sick of saying it!

It's hard to believe how much the blogosphere has changed in the nearly 3 years I've been reading/writing/involved in it.

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Amber November 15, 2009 at 8:00 pm

I feel a change is in the water. 6 or 9 months ago, for example, I saw less disclosure than I'm seeing now. I didn't understand how it worked. Now, the bloggers themselves are being more upfront, for a variety of reasons. And stories like this are one of them.

It's a tricky balance, and a bit of a catch 22. When all that reporters have to say is, “Look at those opportunistic product shills!” they paint an unfair picture. But, on the other hand, when the traditional media and bloggers themselves call out the people who sort of ARE being opportunistic, it makes everyone better and increases transparency.

I don't know what the answer is. Presenting a one-sided and accusatory picture isn't it. But I will concede that stories like this absolutely might have a role to play, in the bigger picture.

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Loralee Choate November 15, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Daisy,

Woah. Really?

So this statement by them:

“Q. What if I don’t like the book? Do I have to write a positive review?

A. If you really hate the book and can’t bring yourself to write a fair review, it’s okay to back out. But please let us know as far in advance as possible so we can find a substitute reviewer. With that said, our goal isn’t to solicit 100% positive reviews or to get people to rave about a book — it’s to start a discussion in the blogosphere. Sometimes a critical voice can be a great conversation starter, and it only makes our community more credible. All we ask is that reviews be honest, balanced, and fair. For example, it’s okay to intensely dislike a novel’s plot, characters, or premise. It is not okay to personally attack the author.”

…is false?????

That is a huge thing, if so.

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Unplanned Cooking November 15, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Great article. I am just stumbling into this blogging/marketing world, and am amazed by it — and just starting to understand it. I enjoyed your article as much as I did the LA Times one. What I initially liked about blogs is how authentic they were, and I wonder if their appeal will wane if they become commercial.

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melissa November 15, 2009 at 9:26 pm

i get pitched by sex toy companies. never food or nice family oriented places. BUT. i took on a couple of companies to do toy reviews for. not just eden fantasies, btw…
anyway. i was given something that i absolutely hated. and i wrote about it. the owner. he LOVED how honest i was and wanted to work more with me. i declined because…well, that's neither here nor there.

i started out as a mommy blogger. i tried reviewing. i hate it. so in the end, i am still a mommy with a computer.

like another one of your commentors, i am on the fringe. i don't get a ton of traffic. i don't really get pitched. except for said sex toy companies.

and the more i read. and hear. the more content i am to be just me and my mommy blog with my own voice.

wonderful article.

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Anonymous November 15, 2009 at 10:35 pm

As a reader, not a blogger, I just want you to tell me if you are writing about some freebie, or something you really love anyway. Really, if you are given something and tell us, readers can understand where you're coming from.
I see/hear product brand mention everywhere and am training myself to ignore all of it. Reviews from sales sites – ignore it. from company sites – ignore them too.

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Anonymous November 15, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Liz,

I love it! Thanks for again being so consistent in your messaging — I couldn't agree with you more. In fact, I try to never miss stories where you are quoted and you again represented all moms who blog with valor that makes me feel proud.

As an L.A. Times subscriber living in So California I was particularly struck (and perhaps a bit red in the face, too) by traditional media's latest not-so-great portrayal of mommy bloggers.

You've recd so MANY heartfelt and deeply thoughout comments here already — so I won't repeat what everyone else has already said.

But, what I will say is that I am truly amazed as well as strengthened by the way us mommy bloggers always seem to circle the wagons with lightning speed to defend our noble cause — all while taking care of our own kids and DHs.

As I wrote on my own blog http://MommyBlogExpert.blogspot.com,early this morning, right after I found out about this latest L.A. Times story: the time is now for Mommy Bloggers to stand up for what is right.

Mommy Bloggers, though our missions and personalities may differ, need to continue to support each other so that we may finally receive the recognition and respect I think many of us already have shown that we deserve by our actions and words.

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Aimee @ Ain't Yo Mama's Blog November 15, 2009 at 10:53 pm

“The most radical thing about moms who blog is the way we've been able to form communities. Connect on deeply profound levels. Stave off isolation. We share our truths, however good, bad, controversial or painful. We've taken on politics. We've taken on societal ills. We've simply made one another feel good on a daily basis.”

That right there is why I recently joined the ranks of other “mommy” bloggers – not to receive 20 pounds of Nestle Crunch or blog about Taco Bell. Your last comment in the LA Times article was the only thing I could relate to, and I appreciate being able to read more of your thoughts on your blog.

-Aimee

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Mr Lady November 15, 2009 at 11:25 pm

There is nothing I could add that wouldn't begin with, “when I started blogging in the stone ages before anyone gave anyone anything…” and that is obnoxious, and I know it, so I won't even go there.

I get offered a LOT of stuff these days. I take 0.001% of it.

I think a lot of bloggers have a hard time saying no to PR companies, because they're afraid to burn some imaginary bridge. I find that people appreciate an honest, “You know, this just isn't for me, but I know X blogger and he/she might be more suited.” And if I don't know someone, I just say no thank you.

And that was really hard to learn how to do. I also have a box full of stuff I'll never blog about.

I want to get my knickers in a know because we ALL get lumped into one big pile, repeatedly, whether it be shills for big business or money grabbing amateurs or vigilantes or whatever the buzz-word this week is, but the truth is that our very old medium is at the same time very, very new and we just have to get through the newness of the whole thing, new to the world at large, and when the dust settles, I know it will sort itself out. Because I have faith in the value of this world, this medium, this whatever it is. Even the parts of it that aren't for me.

Also, I love run-on sentences. For the record.

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Redneck Mommy November 16, 2009 at 12:09 am

I miss the early days of blogging when there was no shilling, no carpetbagging, no reviews. Just simple words shared within a community.

I miss the days when mommy blogging wasn't a dirty word.

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Mommy Niri November 16, 2009 at 12:41 am

I certainly love your tongue in cheek post, saying it like you think it is but with respect to others who might feel differently. It seems the need to defend is appearing more and more these days.

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Amelia Sprout November 16, 2009 at 1:09 am

This, is the reason why I really adore you, and Kristen Chase, and Julie Marsh, and a lot of other bloggers. You're honest in a way that they just aren't when they do product placement in an episode of Biggest Loser (made me stop watching it).

I consider myself really lucky to be figuring out who I am as a blogger, and finding my voice, at a time when all of this great discussion is going on. I'm so lucky that I have the benefit of all that you have learned.

Thanks, for talking about it. For sharing so much. That is the best part of mom blogging if you ask me.

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Julia November 16, 2009 at 1:26 am

Another excellent post! Yes and again YES! Thank you for turning the table over to the PR and marketing “pros”…Liz, I don’t want to use your forum to self-promote. And so let me leave it at this: brands who want to “go there” best find the best escort to the dance!

The evolution here has been a remarkable one to watch and participate in (as I do- from the sidelines, certainly not in the blogger nucleus where you reside!). It has been good, great and sometimes (Nestle for sure) quite ghastly. I consider your constant insight and wisdom to be the perfect guide for this crazy ride. Thanks for the candor – you have certainly helped me to navigate Forty Weeks through this brave new world!

Keep up the amazing work Liz! Cheers!

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Amanda Petite Mommy November 16, 2009 at 2:28 am

I agree with a lot of what you are saying. Dealing with Marketing/PR is tricky and it's still so new. I've learned a lot in the past year. It's no fun being associated with something you aren't just because you are a Mom who also owns a website.

But, honestly, will there ever be a time when everyone comes together for the greater good or will the freebies and money win?

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Mom101 November 16, 2009 at 2:37 am

That's a really fantastic question Amanda. My guess is two-fold:
1) The community will further fragment, find their own readerships, and the rift (and distinctions) between writers and reviewers will grow.

2) The mass freebies will dry up as marketers start thinking a little more about their return on investment.

Maybe both.

But I'd love to her other theories.

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Auntie Fred November 16, 2009 at 3:59 am

Liz,
Reading the LA Times this morning prior to reading your blog, and lo and behold there you were. You go girl!!! Proud of you again….much love.

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Nicole Feliciano November 16, 2009 at 4:53 am

Oh Liz, well done. Sometimes I just scratch my head at the way PR companies approach us. We only have one reputation and I for one am not willing to sell mine out for a free box of frozen food or a crappy stroller.

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Lady M November 16, 2009 at 6:37 am

I'm late to the party, so everyone has said a hundred times what I would have – great post, Liz, and thanks for the good, critical thinking.

It's especially timely, since I attended a product promotion/giveaway event tonight. This one was well done – set up so that we had time to talk to each vendor, learn about products, play on a Wii Fit, and such. I do very few product reviews (probably less than three in the last year), so this is a rare event for me, but it was great to chat with blogging friends. There was a nicely printed card in the take-home bag that reminded everyone about disclosure policies and such.

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SUEB0B November 16, 2009 at 7:50 am

Sigh. Again with the sighing. Because I will never have a closet full of free stuff. Despite being involved in blogging for over five years, despite having deep connections with so many people in the blogosphere, despite being a social media junkie, I will never get invited or wooed simply because I am not a “mommy blogger.” I have no kids, so I do not exist. The sole opportunity I got to do reviews was for sex toys. That is it.

I make more money by myself than the average family income in the United States. I choose how to spend that money, and a good portion of it is on kid stuff since I am related to, and know, many children. But to marketers, I do not exist because I did not birth my own children.

Am I bitter? Yes. But more than that, I am frustrated at the silliness and short-sightedness of ONLY marketing to mom bloggers. It seems ridiculous to me. What am I missing?

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Kim Moldofsky November 16, 2009 at 10:13 am

It's a great time to be a mom with a computer because today's moms can make our voices heard in a way that women of previous generations could not imagine (I mean, really, computers? Talking to each other through computers?).

I was approached by a local TV crew this summer regarding a momblogger feature, but they never followed up after I said I wanted to talk about things like community rather than product reviews. Apparently my take on the mommyblogging world was a snooze.

Re your predictions: “The mass freebies will dry up as marketers start thinking a little more about their return on investment.”

Momblogger outreach is still a relatively inexpensive way to build buzz. But between concerns about FTC regs and related liability (i.e. onus is on company to demonstrate that they educated blogger about disclosure and required disclosure in posts) blogger outreach might become more of a pain.

I think the bigger thing to watch-out for is the IRS. What if Christine, or any blogger with a closet full of stuff, gets taxed on all those freebies or swag? To what degree are these items gifts and to what degree do they have a legitimate business purpose (and if the blog is not a business, how do you justify any business purpose?)?

To what degree does a blogger need to track each incoming item to justify its use or show that it was donated to charity or otherwise passed along?

If memory serves me you have some thoughts about this from CoolMomPicks as do the folks at ZRecs.

This may not be a big deal when we're talking things like the occasional book, but what about refrigerators and other high-end items?

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Mom101 November 16, 2009 at 12:24 pm

SueBob, that's such a great question. You should check out Just Ask a Woman which is a really smart marketing consulting firm that focuses on women – not moms. I know they do a lot to reach out to all kinds of women depending on the client. But still, for a lot of marketers especially in this economy, moms are the low-hanging fruit. A mom feeding a family of four just buys more Kraft Singles than you do.

But SueBob? You'd be an asset to any marketer at any time. They only wish all their junket guests were as smart and thoughtful as you.

Kim,

personally I feel like what people do with their booty is between them and the IRS and honestly, it makes me uncomfortable when I see people calling out others about what they did with the items. (Not you per se – but I've seen commenters write “So did you report it? Did you?”) It feels a little witch hunt-y to me.

I know for a fact that the Frigidaire “test drive” moms had to sign W9 forms before participating. I did too when I won the trip to Spain.

Disclosing freebies is a public matter because it affects me as a reader. Disclosing income is a private matter.

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momminitup November 16, 2009 at 2:05 pm

Part of the problem is the insistence that every mom with a blog is a “mommy blogger.” The article you site is case in point – Andrea's site is about saving money and using coupons, not about the changing diapers or dealing with PPD or sending her kids off to kindergarten. To me, it's an entirely different ballgame, and the unwillingness of the media to differentiate blog genres is offensive.

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momminitup November 16, 2009 at 2:06 pm

And by “site” I mean “cite.” Ugh.

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Mom101 November 16, 2009 at 2:13 pm

I agree momminitup that we're not all the same kind of blogger and I've said it here often.

But it's not the media that can't differentiate – it's the marketers. Andrea and I are often invited to the same events. So are Christine and I. And yet…very different kinds of blogs right?

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Kim Moldofsky November 16, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Thanks for responding, Liz. As a reader, I don't much care what a person does with items or whether they report said items as income. But in terms of the Big Picture of where marketing via momblogs is headed, I do think it's a relevant issue.

As far as witch hunts, it's only a matter of time before some blogger tries to bust another one for violating FTC regs. Or has that already happened? *sigh*

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Julia November 16, 2009 at 2:49 pm

More from me here in marketing/PR land! Influencers (which is how I think of Mommy Bloggers) are not one size fits all. Each of you (like editors or celebrities who are also valuable contacts we focus on to share messaging) connects with their followers differently. Each has a POV or as I prefer to say “a vibe” that differentiates and actually makes it easier to get it right – if marketers pay attention. This should not be a numbers game – rather a quality of connection exercise…from start to finish.

And to Nicole’s point – insulting influencers makes little sense – in fact, the net result is many times worse than the possible positive outcome. Somehow, these basic principles are quite lost on those left “in charge” in most cases – youth perhaps or inexperience or just plain old underestimating the power of the Bloggers you are targeting (leading me directly to my boiling point of this turning into an insult to women, but I digress).

Bottom line – this can and will be done better. A good idea to those who wish to use the power of Moms as influencers – ask for help. There are plenty of us out there who are more than qualified to help…

Liz – I feel some collaboration coming on…Happy Monday!

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Mom101 November 16, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Kim, I'd imagine the FTC would be annoyed as all shit if that started happening. Their aim is to regulate deceptive word of mouth marketing programs, not to step in the middle of a fight where OMG, like Amy tooootally got that for free and didn't disclose it and I'm calling the FTC and anyway I'm still mad at her for not following me on twitter.

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David November 16, 2009 at 3:49 pm

I think the LA Times and anyone else who writes stuff like this about bloggers should police their own. Seriously, it's not as if journalism is an oasis of ethics. Most bloggers aren't journalists and we shouldn't expect them to be.

I could go on for hours about this topic but that's sorta the one point that I haven't really seen on this particular thread in great detail.

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Lisa @ Crazy Adventures in Parenting November 16, 2009 at 3:56 pm

The more and more articles that come out about us “mommy bloggers” being “shills” and “FTC” and “reviews” and… bleh. I can't even finish the sentence, because my mouth went dry and I wanted to crawl into a ball and suck my thumb in a corner. I am sick. SICK. of the smack talk, as though moms with a computer are some virus because marketers and PR want to/are working with us.

Do you know what I saw when I watched So You Think You Can Dance the other night? Kmart bought a “spot” where one of the former contestants “quizzed” fans of the show about dance moves. It was sponsored by Kmart, and, for each fan who participated, they each received a scooter from Kmart. Bet the FTC doesn't knock on SYTYCD's doors, or those fans, and scream about disclosure, or ask how much the former dancer was paid to do the spot.

The fact of the matter is, television shows, newspapers, magazines, they don't have to disclose how they were paid, or how much, the ad is there, the “sponsors” are there. Even doctors have them, and they are the WORST kind! No one asks about their product-specific pens, or notepads, or fancy prescription-calendars, posters or anything on the walls. No one from the FTC is barking at the doctors' office about why his sudden medicine-of-choice happens to be the one littering his office with pamphlets about possible kickbacks he's receiving from the company for prescribing their new medicine, are they? Yet we, as moms with a computer, are feeling forced to now put up these ridiculous forewarnings at the end of posts, such as “I am FTC compliant, and while I was given this xyz toy to review for free, this review is my own opinion..” or some ridiculous nonsense like that. Even when someone is just talking about everything and nothing, but mentioned a company or product in passing, just to “be safe” it's even being thrown in, “just in case”. What a way to fuck up the flow of conversation.

I find it absolutely hilarious yet appalling at the same time that we're forced to jump through hoops, being looked at with a microscope, and yet no one else gets a second look for their actions, especially those blatantly worse, and we're all playing in the same marketing sandbox.

Bottom line is, bloggers, we're not getting a fair shake, here, and we need to come together if we're gonna take back our space and be respected. You need to wake up, especially if you aren't seeing yourselves being used and abused by marketers. Read Kelby Carr's fantastic article about being paid, it's worth the time.

Marketers, you need to wake up and smell the baby diapers. Realize that our time is just as valuable, if not more, because we're at home raising the ones in charge of who will, some day, govern your country. Make it worth our while. If you can pay others for the opportunity to invade their space for your brand, you can pay us for our time, too. Just because we're “mothers” and our audience is other “mothers” doesn't make us less valuable. Our words and space are what we have and we don't work for free.

FTC, you need to wake up and stop spearheading a witch-hunt on the evil “mommy bloggers” and realize there are bigger, worse fish to fry, or is it that you, yourself are receiving kickbacks to look the other way? Hmm?

Either way, until this mess gets cleaned up, I think we should do what Kelby suggest and ask marketers to “put their money where their mouth is” and until then, stop the ridiculous over-disclosures, stop accepting everything thrown at us, and stick up for ourselves. It's like raising our children – how is anyone to love them if they don't love themselves first, right? Same applies here, bloggers. Love ourselves, find our worth, and let's stick together, through thick, thin, and the FTC quagmire.

Lisa
Crazy Adventures in Parenting
@crazyadventures

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Mom101 November 16, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Lisa, thanks so much for your comment. It's clear you're passionate about this – go you!

In defense of the FTC, they're not after mommy bloggers. They're not after bloggers at all. Blog With Integrity had a webinar last week with the FTC's Mary Engle and she said on the record “We are absolutely not after mom bloggers.” I hope we can get it uploaded to
vimeo soon. It was enlightening.

What they are trying to do is regulate word of mouth marketing (including celeb endorsements and buzz agents) that is potentially deceptive. In other words, they know that that Kmart spot is bought and paid for on that show. A reader who clicks over to a product review on a personal blog may not know that. That's all.

And just for the record, doctors are no longer allowed to receive freebies from pharma. The rules went into effect January 1 of this year.

I would like us to try and figure out if we're upset at these stories in the press because they're not true – or because they are.

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Scattered Mom November 16, 2009 at 4:22 pm

As far as I'm concerned, I'm a writer, not a marketing, reviewing, machine. It may sound cliche but the art takes precedence over any $5 item that some company will hock at me, even if it includes some fancy vacation.

I will review things that I have found and enjoy because I'm genuinely excited to share them with readers. Kinda like if you have a great pair of new boots and want to show your girlfriend? Those items are bought on my own dime. I rarely am sent things, and in the past I only featured things I liked. I've changed my stance on that one. Instead, I've decided to include the pros AND cons of the product.

It does irritate me as, someone already said, we all get lumped into some big pile and companies I'm sure eye us carefully to see what sort of blogger we are.

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Katherine Stone November 16, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Reporters always want to look for the controversial angle. The truth is there are scores of thousands of bloggers who are moms who write about their lives or a topic close to their hearts; they receive nothing for free, shill nothing, and promote nothing other than the causes that are important to them. They don't get invited to shindigs or wooed by corporate bigwigs. (Hey, that rhymes!) But that wouldn't be interesting enough to sell newspapers. Sometimes we forget that the blogging world isn't made up of only the top 100 or top 250 or whatever top number you choose of “mommybloggers”. There are lots of amazing women out there writing and doing amazing things.

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Boston Mamas November 16, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Hell, YES. I do agree that brands and marketers need to step up and think carefully about what they are putting together, who they are inviting, and what they are sending out.

But the onus is a shared one. I hope that at bloggers realize that it's good to question and be picky; you may get a bit of a reputation as a hard ass (apparently some PR firms think this applies to me…) but when you are more selective, you up your own worth.

-Christine

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pixielation November 16, 2009 at 8:52 pm

As a reader of blogs, I have to say that I pretty quickly stop reading any blog that is endorsing goods. I don't read blogs for product reviews. There are other sites for that. I read blogs for humour, insight and enjoyment. I want to read well written articles.

But I also have a view from the other side of this, since I used to work in advertising. I know the tricks of the trade – marketeers will view mommy bloggers as just another tool to endorse their product. And a cheap tool at that. There is nothing alturistic about the “relationship”. We talk all the time about building a brand relationship with consumers, and it's all hype.

They pay big bucks for above the line advertising and they pay medium bucks for below the line advertising. If blogs advertise their products, then they should be paying for that too.

Of course, I still won't read blogs that are glorified adverts. Adverts are supposed to be the annoying bits at the side, or between the content. Not the actual content itself.

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Julie Ovenell-Carter November 17, 2009 at 1:27 am

Oh Liz, thanks for this excellent rant. I hope marketing profs are photocopying and/or linking or otherwise making it a must-read for the next generation of PR people.

My beat is travel and tourism, but the issues are the same: how do travel bloggers and PR people navigate this brave new world so that the READER–that is, the person we ostensibly do this all for–gets the straight goods and not just some breathless wank just because we took a free trip to Topeka or wherever…

In the end, I think cream rises–and also that readers can smell rotten milk at 50 paces.

The PR people who are only looking for temporary “flings” will no doubt find the bloggers they can manipulate in the short term. But they ignore long-term relationship-building at their peril. Because readers will not be loyal to a disingenuous blog. They will not come back for claptrap.

It falls to both camps–the bloggers and the marketers–to keep the bar high and not be tempted by quick hits. Posts like this will help…

cheers
Julie

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Suburban Turmoil November 17, 2009 at 5:52 pm

I miss the days when we all had AdBrite and were excited to make $1.43 per month off our blogs.

My husband doesn't. But I do. :)

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marfmom November 17, 2009 at 8:07 pm

I'm glad that this debate is happening. I feel like my head is swimming from all the information. I'm with Angry Julie: why do I have to define a niche? I blog because I love it. I've missed writing, and now I have an opportunity to go back to that, and to hopefully improve the quality of my work. I have the opportunity to connect with moms from all over, which has been great as I've been feeling very isolated since having my son and moving across the country from everyone I know.

I don't want to change my blog or start writing review after review, but I would like to find occasional, relevant giveaways as a “thank-you” to my readers. Does that make me a sell-out? I've been struggling with that. As I've tried to learn the ins and outs of more serious blogging (not that I delude myself that I'll ever be a well-known blogger!) I've found a hesitancy in other bloggers to discuss some of the issues and I've felt really awkward.

Well now I feel like I'm rambling, so I'll just stop talking. Thanks for the great discussion!

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bingo house November 19, 2009 at 11:55 am

I also like stopping by for blogs that doesn't have any advertisements attached. Bloggers are individuals that also has rights. Same with journalists, bloggers are entitled to their own integrity and credibility.

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