By Yuna Park and Liz Cullen
Parenting and family blogs have existed in one form or another since at least 2000, but they really came into their own in the mid-2000s. The official proclamation of a new niche in blogging came when major news outlets such as the Washington Post started writing about the “birth” of blogs for parents. Describing this new genre of blogs as a product of “a general feeling of isolation, the lack of time for deep conversation and the shifting identities that parenthood brings,” the article notes with some fascination the mixture of narcissism, identity, community, creativity, curiosity and self-promotion that have propelled parenting, family, “mommy” or “daddy” blogs into a visible, powerful part of the blogging scene. In the Time article “The New Family Album,” it is stated that “experts who study the effects of the Internet on society say parents create blogs not simply because the tools are easy and available but also because their blogs are a response to sociological and psychological shifts. In a harried society in which people can barely return calls on their cell phones, blogging offers a quick way to feel connected to a community. “Pregnancy, childbirth and parenting are times of great personal change and uncertainty, and that enhances our desire to reach out,” says Mary Chayko, author of Connecting: How We Form Social Bonds and Communities in the Internet Age (SUNY Press; 2002).”
However, over the past few years, parenting blogs have become so much more than just a diary, a personal collection of memories or community of friends. While these blogs still offer these features, they have also expanded to include money-making opportunities via product reviews/product placement, giveaways, and advertising, as well as sometimes becoming platforms for bloggers to write books, launch their own products, or become spokespeople for companies.
We were interested in studying the blogging phenomenon through the lens of these “mommy blogs,” and are excited to present our conclusions.
A Theoretical Background
Jodi Dean’s expo on “The Death of Blogging” explains the social and psychological affect of the rising accumulation of blogs, as she argues that quantity is overcompensating for quality and meaning. Yet, we could not help but reflect on one passage of her text: “Blogging lives. Rather than “the lingering remainders of a cultish enthusiasm for self-expression that is rapidly wearing off,” the new technological forms and practices emerging around and from blogging indicate the spread and morphing of drives to connect and express” (Dean 38). Dean’s argument is one of the ever-persisting Faustian Bargain. True, the number of blogs is making it ever more difficult to obtain true quality and content, yet mainstream media now seeks information form the everyday internet user in order to create their pieces. The impact this presents is that everyone is now a reporter, a storyteller, or a vital source of information. While a debate on the psychological effects this has on the public and users of this medium still remains untold, it seems that certain specific groups of bloggers are able to overcome issues of quantity and control. Our travelogue focused on the Mommy blogger, as these women (and sometimes men) are able to thrive in an active blog community. While some are able to retain incredible popularity and money as a result of their blogs, lesser known bloggers also gain a sense of self-worth and respect as their raise their children and document both success and failures.
The fact of the matter is, Mommy Bloggers have gained presence and recognition even in traditional news media, as everyday Mothers utilizing this medium are sought after to share their first-hand knowledge on raising kids. In an article from NBC Philadelphia, local Mommy bloggers conducted research for the news agency on which stroller was safest and most comfortable for your toddler. Another story from the Asheville Citizen Times, interviewed their own sect of Mommy bloggers to analyze how this group of people were able to further their voices outside of their own blogs with usage of twitter and Facebook. Another critical example comes from Mommy bloggers in Cincinnati, Ohio, who are using their blog platform as a way to collect donations for the people of Japan that were affected by the recent tsunami. This Fox news article demonstrates that even “unpopular” Mommy bloggers in terms of overall hits and prestige, still can retain presence amongst the masses of Mommy bloggers that exist. Although Jodi Dean argues in her text that the quantity of blogs is affecting the overall quality of their content, Mommy bloggers are able to prove that sometimes this quantity does not affect meaning and purpose–especially for a specific niche of individuals.
While it may be tempting to write off parenting blogs as a niche of unnecessary chronicles – what that color of poop means, how to get a barf stain out of a blouse, the most soothing color of teething toy - what we have found in our research is that “mommy blogs” far surpass most preconceived stereotypical notions.
We sent 10 survey questions to a wide range of bloggers, ages roughly 30-50, with anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of followers. Overall, we received 18 responses, from 17 mommy blogger and 1 daddy blogger. We were successful in getting responses from both popular bloggers, as well as numerous everyday mommy bloggers who chronicle their lives mainly for friends and family to see.
The first question we asked was, “What is your blog about? How personal would you say your blog is?”
Most responded that their blog was generally about parenting, but from there, the emphases differed. Lydia and Kate of Mommyland see their blog as “a place where moms come to vent frustrations, find out their aren’t alone in this love/hate relationship with being a mom, and – most importantly – to find the funny moments in the mundane, in the harder moments, and in the middle of the night.”
Allison of Misadventures in Baby Raising and Crash Test Reviews stated that her blog is about “my family, issues that pertain to me and I feel passionate about, and…product reviews and giveaways…Misadventures is like a consumer report for moms.”
Most of the respondents, including Liz Gumbinner of Cool Mom Picks, agree that their blogs are “very personal.” However, several did point out their blogs are “not a diary” and Jennifer of Eighty MPH Mom stressed, “I am cautious with how much I say about my family.” Their is a sense of being trapped in wanting to share their lives and families with the world, while also protecting the privacy of their families, especially young children.
The second question was, Who is your intended audience? Does that match up with who your real audience is? And if you are willing to share, approximately how many readers/followers do you have?
The respondents all agreed that their blog was meant for other parents and was indeed read by other parents. They qualified readers/followers differently; some highlighting unique monthly hits while others listed email subscribers or Facebook friends. Overall, our range of respondents reported anywhere from 3,000 followers to 40,000+ followers.
The third question was, “How often do you update? Do you believe it is very important to update frequently? Do you use any other social networking media such as Twitter to supplement your blog?”
Across the board, respondents stated that they update daily or as often as daily as they can. Candice Broom of Mom Most Traveled wrote, “It is important to update regularly or people will stop checking in.” A couple of bloggers mentioned however that the daily or even multiple daily posts was very time-consuming and difficult to keep up with. Liz Gumbinner stated that she has had to cut back on her blogging in recent years, and is favoring the faster Facebook and Twitter more as a means of staying in touch with readers and the mommy blog community. Similarly, Jim Lin of BusyDad joked about his declining updates: “BusyDad isn’t just some arbitrary name I picked! I am pretty much on Twitter 24/7.”
Question 4 asked, “Why did you begin blogging? Why do you still blog now?”
A common theme throughout the responses was that blogging began as an outlet, a personal space to express inner thoughts and feelings. Louise Bishop of MomStart wrote that blogging was “just for something to do that was more than taking care of two babies in diapers.” Candice Broom said, “I started blogging just because I like to write and I was 20 and narcissistic.” Holly Rosen also echoed these sentiments, saying, “I started blogging as an outlet to write about the things in life I care about and to develop a network of friends with common interests and skills.”
When discussing why they continued to blog, most respondents spoke about the feeling of community/networking, money-making opportunities and self-promotion most frequently. Lynn Miller of OrganicMania said that “I blog now because my blog has opened up many new opportunities for me both personally and professionally.” One blogger, Liz Gumbinner, mentioned that she wanted to leave behind a legacy for her children through her blog. “I’m hoping that one day my kids will have this collection of essays from me from the time that they were growing up, and it will have some value to them to see how much I love them, and the honest truth about how hard it can be sometimes.”
The next question was, “How would you define success for your blog, or any other mommy blog?”
Bloggers seemed to define success on a number of scales: from page counts and folllowers, to personal satisfaction, to opportunities to travel and/or network, to popularity/visibility within the mommy blogging community. Adriana Calderon of TheMomsBuzz stated that she looks at daily visitors, page views and profitably as a way to gauge her blog’s success. Lynn Miller described success as “If it makes you happy.” Lydia & Kate emphasized how they moved away from counting page clicks to focusing on the personal rewards of helping other moms feel like they can connect through their blog. Jim Lin defined success as “engaged audience and recognition in the blogging community (conferences, etc.)”
Question number 6 was, “Do you agree to disagree with the claim that blogging has become overcrowded to the point that it will become irrelevant?”
We provided some background on the literature and then asked bloggers to evaluate the claim. Most bloggers disagreed, though one blogger, Sarah of Sarah and the Goon Squad, did. (Unfortunately she did not elaborate on why she felt that way). Lydia and Kate felt “somewhere in the middle” with regards to this question, saying that “There are a lot of folks out there typing away like monkeys in a gymnasium. But, the good stuff always seems to rise to the top, and word gets around. We may not be the good stuff, but our moms are loyal and vocal. They make us who we are. Irrelevant? No. Not until something else comes along to replace it.”
Most of the bloggers iterated some form of the idea that yes, the mommy blogging realm was crowded, but that “good” material would survive. Alison Rigdon said, “I wouldn’t say that the realm is overcrowded to the point of irrelevance, but it definitely means that if you want to survive and be at the top of the food chain, you have to take the time to distinguish yourself from the rest.” Liz Gumbinner suggested that the overcrowding of mommy blogs will cause a sort of self-filtering, whereby “the advertorial bloggers, the ones who only post reviews of products they receive for free – those will start to go away. It’s not a sustainable business model for the blogger, and for the marketer.”
The next question was, How do you or anyone else stand out as a mommy blogger?
Jennifer stated that one way bloggers stand out is by virtue of their writing style, or voice, and/or choice of topics. She said, “Someone who stands out isn’t afraid to push the envelope a bit with their posts…[some bloggers] are very witty, or write posts that get people thinking…Some people thrive on controversy and they tend to come back to the blogs that offer it.”
Holly Rosen said simply: “Good content rules.” Lynn Miller added to that, “Readership, unique content, awards, community building.”
Adriana Calderon added that the “look and feel” of a blog is also important, and Lydia & Kate emphasized sincerity (and thus credibility).
Question 8 asked, “What is the community of mommy bloggers like? Is it very tight-knit? Do you ever meet other mommy bloggers in person?”
All respondents said to some effect that the community is close, supportive and engaging. Several allusions were made to the feeling of a “sorority” or clique in high school or college. Allison Rigdon said, “For the most part, the mom blogger community is very tight-knit. We tend to stick together and interact with each other as if we are members of a sorority. Of course, there are those who want to be at the top and don’t care about how many people they step on to get there, but for the most part we are a tight group.” Candice Broom also referred to this group at the “top,” saying, “There is kind of like an ‘upper tier’ of bloggers that are the first to be askd to do all kinds of things like brand ambassadors and trips, but I don’t see them as being tight knit with each other, per se.”
Louise Bishop also mentioned that “sometimes blogging can feel very lonely, but that’s when I’m not putting any effort into it. To be a part of a community you have to be there for others before they will be there for you. It takes a lot of work to network and get to know others, but once you do, they stand by you.”
Question 9 was, What would you say is the purpose of your blog?
Most respondents answered this similarly to the question of why they blog. The most frequently cited reasons were for personal outlet, as a way to network and meet other parents, and to provide a resource to other parents. Jim Lin said that the purpose of his blog is “to keep me entertained. Really, that’s it.” However, it’s clear that the blogs are not just for the individual writing them. Holly Rosen said that the purpose of her blog is “to inspire women to be as much as they are meant to be and to enjoy their kids at the same time. To also provide useful information on what to do with their kids and where to go.”
We saw that these mommy bloggers do not see their blogs are purely personal or for entertainment only – their blogs are meaningful and have a purpose that serves others.
The responses to this question were interesting. Most said yes, but a few said that they were unsure. No one said that their blogs did not have any capacity to change and affect culture. Louise Bishop said, “I do believe that mommy blogs have the power to affect culture. Not all mommy blogs are created equally, I’m not even sure MomStart actually affects culture, but as long as I’m able to make a difference in my community, or get pleasure out of writing, I’m going to continue.”
Lydia and Kate said that “Truthfully, we don’t know. But in as much as soccer moms determined the 2008 election, blogger moms have a pretty high stake in the 2012 election. Does that give us power to change and affect culture? Probably. Until then, we’ll be busy changing diapers.”
In terms of the social and psychological ramifications for the blogosphere, Mommy bloggers provides a crucial commentary on this medium’s ability to empower both readers and creators. For Mommy bloggers, they are able to get feedback and encouragement from their daily readers who are also raising children and experiencing similar dilemmas and memorable moments. Readers on the other hand are able to not only get advice on child raising, but also a sense of comfort in knowing that other parents are going through hardships and complex difficulties that come with having children.
Overall, we found the Mommy blog community to be vibrant, engaging and lively as ever. These women are passionate about sharing their experiences with each other and the world through writing, video and pictures. They believe what they are doing is meaningful, and that while their genre has certainly grown crowded throughout the years, the belief in the self-editing nature of the marketplace of ideas keeps these bloggers certain their niche isn’t going away any time soon. Supplemented by Twitter and FB, and continually relied on for information and opinions by traditional media and businesses, Mommy blogHERS are here to stay.