The problem with the business of mommy blogging
Blogher has come and gone. The swag has been taken, sorted, trashed or given away. Trinkets and real useful items emblazoned with corporate logos weighed down the shoulders of Bloger attendees. While I did not go myself, there was no lack of swag posts in the momosphere. Last year I gobbled up as much as I could and even made a swag care package for Amy. This year the swag appeared to have jumped a notch or two. One team of mommy bloggers even road tripped their way to Blogher complete with a hybrid Chevy Tahoe and a list of corporate sponsors, including CBS News which got current mom blogger BFF Katie Couric to tape a welcome message for Blogher. As I find myself deeper and deeper in this blogging thing and as I get more and more emails for products and promotions (NOTE: Stop emailing me at my work! That's what the contact me link is for!), I make myself stop and consider the ramifications.
No, I don't think that mommy bloggers are any less smart than techies, music reviewers, or anyone else who blogs and gets freebies tossed at them like we're at a sporting event. I do think that the speed of the mommy blogger boom and the intensity of the swag has been overwhelming for many of us.
Let's take the Blogher Mom Roadtrip moms. I use to write with them and know that they are all intelligent women. I also know that the powers that be over at SV Moms aren't out to do anything sinister. That's why I think it's safe to make them my case study.
There was buzz before the road trip was announced in certain blogging circles that a car company was trying to find the right audience for the offer. I wasn't privy to those conversations, but when I mentioned the road trip to a friend, they nodded and knew it was coming. "They just needed to find the right niche." Add in Zune, Weight Watchers & Six Apart as sponsors and the cross-country road trip appears to have paid for. Yet before they even set out to pay their first toll rumors began to swirl that they were mere shills for the sponsors. On July 10th Jill Asher blogged a huge disclaimer/fact that the moms involved were not given any guidance/rules on how to blog the trip.
…what you won't see blogged from this road trip is detailed information or opinions about the gear our sponsors have provided to make the trip happen. Instead, we've asked our bloggers to simply chronicle their experiences, the good, the bad, the funny, the plain weird. They can mention our sponsors, but they don't have to. For example, we had a question from one of our bloggers today: can she just say, "I got in the car," or does she have to say, "I got in the Chevy." We told her car is fine.
As I said, I know these women and know them to be honest; especially since many of them are also professional writers. They aren't the stereotypical wide-eyed PJ wearing mommy bloggers. Yet because they were going on a sponsored road trip, their integrity was questioned.
I believe that happened precisely because we are not dumb. We, as a society, as a blogosphere, are leery of corporate sponsors. Even if we get them ourselves, we know sometimes they come with strings or gentle suggestions. I know that at some of us are reluctant to post a bad review of a book, restaurant or product for many reasons. First is the backlash that the company or marketing agency won't tweet us again. Next is having no desire to be "mean" to something someone put a lot of work into, especially books. Another reason is that some of us know too well how much power a small post can wield. Yes, even a blog like mine with a small audience can post a bad restaurant review and bring the chef to his knees. A few of us had this convo at last year's Blogher. One woman got emails from the owners asking her to remove the review! I wrote a bad review many moons ago and the manager offered to give my husband & me a free meal to let us judge again. No, I never took him up on it.
I agree with Diane Farsetta at WIMN's Voices (where I also blog) that I'm not totally sure if this type of partnership is problematic. I do find it problematic that marketers who are getting paid big bucks have figured out a way to get moms to do their work for them. Rather than spend thousands of dollars on an ad buy, they are ship off a few freebies with an information sheet chock full of talking points.
The NYTimes covered Blogher and many bloggers were not happy with the placement (in the Style section where almost all women-centric stories live) nor with the description of women bloggers:
[Blogher] has since evolved into a corporate-sponsored Oprah-inflected version of a '60s consciousness-raising group. … many women at the conference were becoming very Katie Couric about their belief that they are not taken as seriously as their male counterparts at, say, Daily Kos, a political blog site. Nor, they said, were they making much money, even though corporations seem to be making money from them.
And that's just what gets my goat. That so many women, especially mom bloggers appear to be drowning in free samples for their review blogs, yet don't seem to be swimming even in the kiddie pool when it comes to cash flow. Well, unless you're Blogher who just signed a deal with NBC & iVillage to the tune of $5 million. No word yet on where that money will end up. And for the record, the women who put Blogher together deserve a good cash reward…yet so does every review blogger out there. For many of us, this is a business and we need to start acting more like businesswomen not grateful for the crumbs that are thrown at us (myself included!).
Farsetta reminded us that Anne Elizabeth Moore chides us all, bloggers or indie punk folk, that when we shill for companies for free swag or a flat-fee that does not add up to at least a certain amount an hour, we are underselling ourselves.
My mother use to remind my sisters and I that we were a reflection of the people we hung out with so to be careful. I think the same idea can be said about those we partner with on reviews and sponsorships. And because of this, we shouldn't be too hurt when someone questions our integrity if we're tooling around in a free car with free $5/gallon gas and blogging about it – Even if we aren't dropping the make & model name every chance we get. "I'm getting into my Toyota Prius. Wow. My Prius windows are dirty! Time to wash the Prius…"