Archive for Blogging

Pitch Speak for Newbie Bloggers

I get a lot of pitches at Mamanista, the parenting lifestyle blog I co-edit. I’ve also written a few pitches, freelancing for some friends who own PR agencies.

And I’ve noticed some trends in the use of language that might mystify newbie bloggers. So, to help you read those pitches, here is some key vocabulary translated:

  • Exclusive: Only every blogger on my list of 10,000 mom bloggers has received this. Please be flattered and post this offer so I score points with my client / bosses. We’re not going to pay you.
  • Opportunity: We have some samples for you and we hope you are going to work for free because we are certainly not going to pay you.
  • Opportunity to Run a Giveaway: We want inbound links and traffic for the wholesale cost of our product but we’re not going to pay you.
  • Exposure / Traffic: We’ll put a tiny “no-follow” link to your blog at the bottom of an obscure page of one of our microsites in exchange for some quality content and active promotion of our brand…but we are not going to pay you.
  • Beta Testing: We want you to be part of a free focus group but we’re not going to pay you.
  • Feedback: We want you to consult for us but we’re not going to pay you.
  • Blogger Contest: Our SEO guy or gal told us we need to build inbound links but we don’t think your time, effort, and influence are worth the wholesale cost of our product and we are certainly not going to pay you.
  • Content: We paid hack writers to throw together a piece of content that will appear on hundreds of spammy websites and we’re hoping a few bloggers will pick it up, too, even though that is the one thing most real bloggers actually do well all by themselves. We paid someone else so we don’t have to pay you.
  • “We don’t have the budget”: Look, I’m just a low-level PR intern in a giant firm working on one small piece of a huge campaign for a multi-billion dollar-corporation. But I’m really nice and it would be so sweet of you to post for me. You and I both know this corporation has tons of money but they’re paying it to someone else. They’re not going to pay you. Heck, they are barely paying me to tell you we’re not going to pay you.

Essentially, you have to understand that if you are accepting PR-pitches, you are entering into a dance. PR usually cannot pay you, although they can sometimes connect you with the people who can pay you or at least sponsor you for a conference.

For the most part, however, PR people need to place their clients on your blog but they cannot pay cash to do so.

The better, more experienced PR people know some pretty fancy footwork–they are charming, talented, seductive dance partners.

But if you want anyone, your readers, the brand representatives, and yourself, to respect you in the morning, you need to keep your wits about you.

Know what you want out of a relationship. Your potential dance partner may have just what you need to set the dance floor on fire.

If that is not what is on offer, either delete or “pitch back”. If it does not work out this time, just sit this song out. Another, even more suitable dance partner, will be sure to invite you to tango.

And, even if they do not, in the immortal words of Billy Idol, “Well, there’s nothing to lose, and there’s nothing to prove, and I’ll be dancing with myself…”

BlogHer 10 – A Newbie Perspective

Having never attended BlogHer before (’06 – due in August, ’07 – moving, ’08 – due in August, ’09 – husband had National Guard duty and other relatives unavailable to watch young kids), I was impressed by both the amazing logistical coordination a conference of this size requires and by the beautiful sense of community.

Major No Swag Improvements

From the safe perspective of my couch last year, it seemed as if the swag and the avarice it inspired had gotten out of hand. I’m sure it was slanted coverage over-emphasizing a few misguided individuals but the fact that there was a crush of people pushing each other aside and elbowing little babies was alarming.

This year, the BlogHer organizers and founders took several steps to ensure that this year was different. From what I witnessed and heard, their efforts succeeded. I think it was a combination of keeping the corporate sponsorships in one area, limiting the on-site corporate presence to official sponsors, and focusing a track of sessions on “Change Agents”. The official presence of a charitable effort, “Tutus for Tanner”, also helped lend a positive feeling to the entire conference. How can you not smile when you see grown women (and men) wearing fairy-princess-ballerina tutus to support a charming young man and his family.

I loved that some bloggers were making tutus at The People’s Party and joined right in. I think a charitable activity should be an on-site part of every year’s BlogHer — either in a suite during the day or at one of the public parties.

Bloganthropy Awards

Another of the highlights of the conference for me was not an official part of the conference — the Bloganthropy Awards, hosted by Child’s Play Communications at their Dinner’s On Us. When Debbie and I founded Bloganthropy.org, we were just hoping we could highlight and contribute to the better nature of the blogosphere. Little did we know that we would be able to honor five blogs and their publishers at a beautiful dinner, awarding one a prize for all of her hard work for her cause. Congratulations to finalists: Kristine Brite McCormick of Cora’s Story; Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz of Violence Unsilenced; Debbie Dubrow, Michelle Duffy, Pam Mandel and Beth Whitman, of Passports With Purpose; and Megan Jordan of Velveteen Mind. And congratulations to the Bloganthropy Awards 2010 winner: Katherine Stone of Postpartum Progress. Since I’m still a part of BlogHerAds for now, I don’t know if I can thank our fabulous sponsors…but we will be thanking them on Bloganthropy.org and on Mamanista.com.

Bloganthropy was an official sponsor and I loved meeting all of the amazing blogging women who came by the booth. We are focusing on female bloggers because that is our community but tell your male blogging friends not to be shy! They are welcome, too!

Off-Site Parties

Given that off-site parties are going to happen, and, in fact, give a lot of the bloggers something fun to do at night, I wonder if there is a way to integrate them more into the conference timeline and make them more productive. Perhaps companies that would like an opt-in list of attendees, possibly grouped by self-indicated interest areas, could pay a fee to BlogHer and agree not to host their events during key-note speeches or sessions.

More about these fun events on Mamanista.com (again, not sure if I can discuss here as part of the BlogHerAds network).

On-Site Socializing

I met some of my blogging heroes for the first time and formed new bloggy-girl-crushes on bloggers I did not know just a few days before. Unfortunately, I also had narrow misses or too-brief glances across a crowded room with people I was dying to meet.

I was thrilled to see so many amazing ladies there. I felt silly asking them to take pictures with me and I am afraid to list anyone lest I forget someone! I know I have yet to unpack some of my business cards but still need to give some major love to new friends and old. I think I will tweet them out as I think of them so that I don’t have a static list of BlogHer buddies with lots of embarrassing (to me) omissions!

Oh, to heck with it…if I left you out, I assure you it is just a sleep-deprived brain. Just leave me a comment and I’ll add you to my list:

Joanne Bamberger, Sarah Beldin, Christina (whose last name escapes me but who just rocks!), Kristen Chase, Jane Couto, Janice Croze and Susan Carraretto, Stephanie Elie, Shannon Entin, Amy Gates, Clarissa Nassar, Liz Gumbinner, Lori Holton Nash, Nancy Johson Horn, Rebecca Keenan, Marie LeBaron, Erika Lehmann, Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz, Anissa Mayhew, Amy Mascott, Audrey McClelland, Lynne Anne Miller, Courtney Hutson, Kristine Brite McCormick, Stefania Pomponi Butler, Katja Presnal, Julie Meyers Pron, Lindsay Reed Maines, Jessica Rosenberg, Dawn Sandomeno and Elizabeth Mascali, Annie at PhDinParenting (whose last name I’ll leave off), Heather, Kim Janocko, Danielle Friedland, Katherine Stone, Veronique Christensen, Jen Singer, Corine Ingrassia and many, many, many more!

Again…I promise I enjoyed talking with you even if I missed you here–I probably just did not grab your business card. PLEASE leave me a comment so I can follow you and stay in touch!

I do not write at this blog very often so if you want to keep in touch with me, you are probably better off checking out my education blog, Naturally Educational, or my mom lifestyle blog, Mamanista, or following me on Twitter or friending me on facebook.

For those I missed at the conference…should you be in New York again, please look me up! Or if anyone heads out to the East End of Long Island, I’ll take you on a wine and local cheese tour!

I hadn’t heard about the birds of a feather lunches at registration–I would have liked those more prominently featured so I could have signed up. I also liked the “speed-dating” idea. I would have been interested to see that happen more formally.

Change Agents? How About an Ethical Sponsorship Policy?

The change agents sessions were a big highlight of the session which brings me to one of the biggest downsides of BlogHer ’10 for me. A number of bloggers I really respect and wished to meet chose not to attend due to the sponsorship of two Nestle brand affiliates. One of the panels that specifically addressed radical blogging was (at least to my eyes and the eyes of at least one other audience member) all white. An African-American conservative blogger backed out after hearing of Nestle’s sponsorship.

Ideally, I would like to see BlogHer form a committee, similar to the one that sets speaker policies, to develop ethical sponsor guidelines. I may not agree with the guidelines created but the idea that BlogHer would take all sponsors is concerning to me. Ultimately, it is an issue of the tone BlogHer wishes to set for its community. You can still be inclusive while saying that a basic concept of ethics is at the heart of our community.

The committee could also assist in filling the conference sponsor roster with companies that meet the guidelines, with the understanding that BlogHer reserves the right to add additional sponsors if the goal cannot be met by a certain deadline. I would be willing to volunteer as part of this committee.

Or a Session-Only Ticket?

Annie of PhDinParenting proposed that those of us concerned but still attending donate the Nestle-subsidized portion of our tickets (or the entirety, if possible) to a relevant charity. I do think that those who were speaking, or even just supporting those speaking, or working for positive companies and charities, did do more good than the harm of them accepting a small portion of Nestle’s largess. BlogHer already has an “unsubsidized” ticket price listed but I do not support that option for a few reasons. One, it makes ethics the province of the wealthy. Two, it will not change sponsorship policies and any person’s increased payment won’t influence BlogHer not to accept money from unethical companies. Three, subsidized or not we are still benefiting from all the sponsors.

If an ethical sponsorship policy is too great a change in one year, how about instead of offering an “unsubsidized” ticket, offer a session and keynote speeches only ticket? Asking people to pay more is not the only way to allow them to vote with their wallets. They can also accept less “value” for the same price. No meals, no parties, no expo hall. This way, bloggers who still want to go to hear the inspiring talks can do so with minimal contact with sponsors.

Session Hashtags and Speaker Twitter IDs?

Another session-related suggestion I have is to have one of the slides in the slide show list: the name of the speakers, their blogs, their Twitter IDs, and the hashtag for the session. I had trouble catching the names of the bloggers and even when I did (or remembered my program to look them up) I did not always know their Twitter names or blogs. And when tweeting I just made up a hashtag but I think having an official one would be helpful for the speakers, attendees, those not attending, and the conference in general.

Explore Your Host City!

I would also love to see BlogHer reach out to natives of the host city to plan some semi-official outings. City tours, museum visits, adventures out to hot spots.

I spent a lot of time convincing people that midtown West is not really Manhattan and lucked into finding Amy and Heather who were eager to explore. We took the subway down to the Village and seeing the delight of my blogging friends was a real highlight for me.

Wrapping Up

I don’t mean any of these suggestions to imply that I don’t have the greatest admiration for all of the hard work that goes into the many moving pieces of this conference — or that I did not have a fabulous time!

I was so impressed by how I could just walk into the banquet hall and sit down with any group and be instantly welcomed.

There were so many fascinating conversations and such great camaraderie–it was a great way to recharge my blogging engine. I left BlogHer wanting to use my online voice even more to build community and to help others.

The BlogHer & Nestle / Stouffers / Butterfinger Sponsorship Controversy

#NestleFamily

In September 2009, Nestle, one of the most widely boycotted and protested brands in the world, sponsored a trip to its headquarters for mom and dad bloggers.

They created a hastag #NestleFamily and posted images and names of the bloggers on a microsite, calling them “Nestle Family Bloggers”. Their hashtagged tweets also appeared on the microsite.

Before these bloggers went, Annie of PhDinParenting asked them to reconsider. She believed that no engagement with Nestle was likely to prove productive at a fully sponsored brand event at corporate head quarters.

In my opinion, this is especially true given the nature of the event and the fact that most of the bloggers there have stated that they were unaware of the concerns about Nestle until being contacted by Annie.

During the event, activists, boycotters, protesters, and others challenged Nestle’s use of the social media space on Twitter, using the same hashtag (#NestleFamily).

For those unfamiliar with Twitter, it is a “microblogging” site where you send updates of 140 characters. You can protect your tweets or allow them to be visible to the public. You can view the entire stream of all public tweets, the tweets of only the people you “follow”, “lists” you have created, and/or everyone with a publicly available profile using a hashtag. The use of a hashtag is free, is not pre-registered with twitter, and is not restricted to a list of followers–anyone can create or use a hashtag.

Hashtags are used to organize the conversation around a topic (#shoplocal), make a joke (#fail), or as a tool for twitter parties, both for regularly scheduled get-togethers (#ecowed, #gno) or one-time events like #NestleFamily.

BlogHer ’10 and Stouffers and Butterfinger

BlogHer, the largest conference specifically for female bloggers recently announced that Stouffers will be a sponsor. Butterfinger will be added to the list, soon.

A number of people who used the #NestleFamily hashtag to criticize Nestle or challenge the attendees or who directly sent public messages to the #NestleFamily attendees, are attending or were planning to attend BlogHer ’10. At least one person, Annie of PhD in Parenting, is speaking on the panel, “Radical Blogging Moms: Don’t Even Think About Not Taking These Moms Seriously“.

An organization I co-founded with my Mamanista co-editor, Bloganthropy, is also a sponsor of BlogHer ’10.

The Differences Between #NestleFamily and BlogHer ’10

Those who oppose what we see as Nestle’s unethical and even illegal and immoral practices are at a crossroads. Two people have already decided that they must return or tear up their BlogHer ticket in order to consistently observe their personal policy of boycotting Nestle. Two people have stated that they are going and have given their reasons for their choices. Others, at least three that I know of, are still deciding. Still others were already not attending BlogHer, are not members of the BlogHer community, or are not even bloggers.

Amy at MomSpark has asked very legitimate questions about how BlogHer and how anti-Nestle people who attend BlogHer will be viewed (or, as she put it, “judged”).

A few of her commenters, however, seem to take a particular glee in pointing out what they see as “hypocrisy” or a “double standard”.

Regardless of what is the strongest, most clear, most consistent, most useful, or most ethical position to take, I believe that these two events are very, very different.

On the one hand, you have an event designed to promote Nestle products to an invited group of bloggers. The entire experience is paid by Nestle. The images, names, and words of those bloggers are listed under the heading of “Nestle Bloggers”.

As Liz from Mom-101, who considers herself a third party observer, pointed out:

My understanding is that you all signed some pretty comprehensive contracts giving rights to use your likeness, your twitter streams, videos of you, and so forth. This means you are now public advocates of the brand. Nestle is referring to you as “The Nestle Family Bloggers.” That’s an endorsement. And I believe you gave your permission for it.

On the other hand, you have an event designed to promote the female blogging community and all are welcome to purchase tickets. The experience is paid for by attendees (some of whom secure private sponsors) and a number of official event sponsors. The conference itself “sold out” by the first week in March and at that time, the complete list of sponsors was not available. No blogger will be identified as a blogger “for” or “with” or “in favor of” a particular brand unless they choose to be.

There are other differences, which some people may feel are more or less on point. There is the issue of financial and legal extrication from the situation as some BlogHer attendees have booked plane tickets or even signed contracts with sponsors. In my case, this is not a big issue. I don’t know if the price of following one’s conscience is relevant to whether or not attending is ethical or not…but it certainly is another difference between the two.

I’ve spoken with several people (some of whom aren’t bloggers) about the situation and most seem to agree the events are apples and oranges.

Are Nestle-protesters Using a Double Standard?

I point the differences out in response to the “double standard” accusation. To identify a double standard, the situations would have to be comparable.

In fact, during the #NestleFamily event discussion, well before we knew this would be an issue with BlogHer, I drew the distinction between a sponsor for a conference and attending a brand event where your name and image are listed as a blogger for the brand.

On Annie’s post at PhDinParenting, Greg at Telling Dad asked:

[…]Do we conduct due diligence before accepting advertising? Sponsorships? Products to review? How many regulations are we going to pass upon ourselves to blog? […]

And I responded (again, in part):

[…]In this case, it isn’t that Nestle is a sponsor of a blogger conference, it is a NestleFamily event[…]

Now, whether they are “better” or “worse” (i.e. present more or less of an argument for boycotting the event) is another question.

Disagree with my logic all you like but don’t claim that saying the two events are very different is post-facto rationalization on my part.

Conflating People and Arguments

The other “double standard” argument is that the anti-Nestle people are asking to be treated with more understanding and/or respect than we gave to those who attended the Nestle Family meeting…many of whom, after all, had just learned of the concerns about Nestle shortly before attending and some of whom have clearly stated that after looking at the concerns, they still support Nestle.

To this I respond that people and arguments are being conflated. Among the “anti-Nestle” tweeters, there were long-term and vocal boycotters, those who have deep concerns about the ethics of Nestle’s marketing and/or sourcing of cocoa, lactivists, anti-corporate activists, fair trade activists, and others. Some of these people only spoke out against Nestle, others spoke to Nestle’s attempt to move into the parenting social media space, others engaged only Nestle Family attendees who spoke on point to the protest, others actively sought out attendees to call them out on what they believed to be an unethical decision, and among all these was also the random assortment of trolls and flamers who like to jump into the middle of any controversy and begin to hurl insults.

I believe that I engaged each person as an individual and spoke with them about their statements and beliefs.

After doing this with several of the attendees and other people who defended the event and/or those who attended, I found a few new tweeters and bloggers I enjoy. I also found a few people who were so hateful, nasty, and racist in their defense of Nestle that I have taken several measures to avoid socializing or working with those people in the future.

I am only asking the Nestle Family attendees and their supporters to offer me the same courtesy I extended to them: engage me as an individual and discuss my ideas with me–not attributing the actions of others to me.

That doesn’t sound like a double standard, does it?

In fact, I have, in a more closely related example, been in “their shoes” to the extent that I have championed a brand that many of the same anti-Nestle activists believe violates the WHO code. My objectivity was also called into question because I am an unpaid member of their “Mom Mavens” group–even though I have taken no official action as a member of that group nor received any compensation in any form whatsoever (travel expenses, samples, nada). However, I do not feel “bullied” or “harassed” at all. I have a disagreement of opinion with some other members of my community. I am willing to discuss that disagreement of opinion and have them challenge the views I express on my blog and on twitter.

Is it Hypocritical to Attend?

Here’s where it gets sticky.

My understanding of the word hypocritical is to say one thing and to do another. As before, we have to look at individual statements and see if their words are congruent with their actions.

If someone stated that he or she does not believe it is possible to ethically attend any event sponsored by Nestle, then the choice is clear.

However, if that is not the statement that person made, then things become more ambiguous.

Several supporters and attendees of the Nestle Family event have asserted that the anti-Nestle activists saw the issue as “black and white” and now are asking everyone to see shades of gray.

It has always been gray to me and I’ve never argued otherwise.

In fact, in comments on several blogs at the time, well before I even knew I was going to BlogHer or even thought about its sponsors, I said (in part):

I have no issue with the bloggers who accepted the invitation either not knowing about Nestle, knowing about it but not believing the evidence because they have evidence to the contrary, or knowing about it and believing it but hoping their attendance would draw attention to this important issue and allow them to personally deliver their objections to Nestle.

Of course it is a spectrum and a balance. Do you think that if Nestle had a product that would save my child’s life I would refuse to accept it? Would I drive an hour or more out of my way every time I go grocery shopping, expending huge amounts of gasoline, to shop at a store that does not carry Nestle? Do I refuse to accept public services because Nestle pays taxes in the United States? Somewhere between being willing to die to protest Nestle and cheering on Nestle as a brand, lies a vast middle of positions to take.

Does that mean I shouldn’t take any action to challenge Nestle simply because I am unwilling to take perfect action or because perfect action would require me to violate even more deeply held principles?

It is only hypocritical to attend BlogHer ’10 if a person said that a boycott against Nestle should be absolute and no one should attend an event sponsored in whole or in part by Nestle. Otherwise, that label does not apply to . Note that several important voices in our community will not be present at BlogHer ’10 because they believe that this is the only ethical stance they can take.

Even if it is Not Hypocritical, is it Ethical? (…and even stickier…)

As I said before, there are key differences between the events but whether or not these differences mean that it is ethical to attend one event and not the other (or whether it would be possible to attend both events or neither of the events) requires a deeper analysis.

Each of these contrasts can be examined from different perspectives.

For example, Catherine of Her Bad Mother has been cogently arguing that the stronger (which I take to mean clearer but could have a variety of different interpretations) position is for anyone who has publicly called for boycott to boycott any events sponsored in whole or in part by Nestle. She spoke also to the point that Nestle Family attendees received little value in return while BlogHer participants are receiving quite a bit of value from the sponsors:

I would actually argue that attending a branded Nestle event that was all about Nestle is more defensible than attending a conference sponsored by Nestle if one has boycotted Nestle. In the former case, one donates one’s time – receives little benefit, really, unless you count bunny photo opps and a plane ride as meaningful benefits, but expends one’s own effort (it’s why some bloggers insist that we should be paid for such junkets – they’re WORK) – and has the opportunity to discuss and/or confront Nestle directly. It is, in some respects, the perfect opportunity to engage constructively with a company. With something like a conference, there’s no opportunity for engagement with a sponsor, and it’s all benefit to the participant (a weekend with friends, opportunity for self-promotion, learning experience in panels, etc.) […]

Now, I don’t think that the Nestle Family attendees felt they were receiving little of value. If so, why did they attend? Obviously they saw some value in it to themselves, their brands, or their communities.

Even accepting this idea that a participant at BlogHer is on the receiving end of greater value from sponsors and that all sponsors make the whole conference possible (even though BlogHer was going forward even before these two sponsorships), there is still another way of looking at this same fact. Over at The Feminist Breeder,Gina explains:

Nestle is contributing a few dollars to helping outspoken, intelligent, and influential women come together to amplify their message, be change agents, and ultimately undermine everything Nestle stands for. The Joke is On Nestle – not on me.

Which is to say that the ethical implications of attending or not attending, whether or not it contradicts any one individual’s prior statement, is complicated.

Will attendance at BlogHer be seen as an acceptance of Nestle’s move into the social media parenting space? Or is going and speaking about radical blogging subverting Nestle’s agenda? In the spectrum, is it more important to lend your voice to the important and empowering work done at BlogHer than to make your objections to Nestle more consistent?

There are a lot of valid points in both columns. Not going/speaking sends a message to BlogHer and allows you to maintain a clear personal stance on benefiting from Nestle’s marketing campaigns. Going/speaking allows you to participate in a community of female bloggers and to inspire others. Would not going be more inspiring? Or would the message be lost among all the other attendees eager to get in the door?

Perhaps there are people who will see any justification for attendance as a rationalization. That’s one of those things that is impossible to prove. Obviously if I decide to attend, I won’t see my reasons as a rationalization even if they are. And if you believe that I can’t ethically or legitimately attend, you will see any explanation I offer as a rationalization.

Ultimately, I and others will make there own decision. And if you disagree with my decision, you can feel free to tell me. If you lose respect for me because of my decision, that is your prerogative. In the end, I’m the one who has to live with myself.

Why Am I Writing All of This?

Mama Saga has a ridiculously small number of readers. About 1/30 of the number Mamanista gets.

This is my personal blog to work through my thoughts and share with friends.

I am not foolish enough to think that Nestle cares what I think or whether or not I buy their cookie dough (really the only product I would buy if I were to buy Nestle brands).

Perhaps naively, though, I think BlogHer does care what a group of its members, attendees, contributors, speakers, editors, and party hosts thinks.

Would any individual’s statement to BlogHer be stronger if she gives up her ticket? Or can we make that statement to BlogHer and use our attendance to continue to influence the growth of BlogHer?

Of course, in writing this, I run the risk that “the lady doth protest too much”. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

In the end, I will make my own decision and you are free to have your opinion on it.

This is a start of a discussion, not my final word on the topic.

Proposals to Mitigate the Effect

For those who choose to attend, there are several proposals and suggestions to mitigate the effect of accepting Nestle’s partial sponsorship.

If I attend, I will donate the portion that Nestle Brands are subsidizing my ticket. This is a gesture and a statement. Annie has also proposed this idea and taken it a step forward–she will make it a group fundraiser. It does not change the ethical equation but it at least shows that a group of bloggers are willing to accept a higher priced ticket (or fewer available spots) if it means that the sponsors adhere to some code of ethical conduct.

If it would be accepted, I would try to raise the money to substitute for their entire sponsorship. However, I suspect that BlogHer still will not remove the sponsors, even if they wished to, because they likely have a contract with them. Even they have an escape clause, it could still mean a battle with the legal department of a mammoth corporation.

There are other possibilities and many bloggers are currently considering options that will stay within BlogHer’s rules and be respectful of other attendees.

I would also like to suggest that anyone who thinks these issues are important, more important than, say, the product reviews I do on Mamanista, attend the Radical Blogging Moms panel. I don’t consider myself a radical. I pretty darn conservative when it comes down to it. But I do like ideas. And if thinking that debate isn’t about being “mean” or “rude” is radical, well…let’s get radical. Maybe we can get more than the usual 20 people I hear some panels get. Maybe we can pack that room. And maybe we can have a real conversation about our values.

BlogHer: Please Draft an Ethical Sponsorship Policy

BlogHer has an advertising network (BlogHerAds) that allows people to opt out of categories of ads. At the request of Annie, BlogHer developed additional opt-out categories for BlogHerAds, including non-WHO compliant ads. I checked off that box for Mama Saga.

As many have pointed out, there is no “opting out” of a portion of the conference. BlogHer is made possible by its sponsors.

No sponsor will please everyone but it does not follow, then, that all sponsors are healthy choices for BlogHer. Another argument I have heard floated is that several in the blogging community are Nestle fans. Not having Nestle brands as BlogHer conference sponsors would not exclude those individual bloggers from being sponsored by Nestle. No one would be silencing their voices.

Various organizations and charities have “ethical sponsorship policies”. These policies speak to the mission of the group.

Since BlogHer is a community of female bloggers its policies might exclude sponsorship from companies that degrade women, for example.

Should official BlogHer sponsors be “family-friendly”? Or will BlogHer accept more “adult”-oriented sponsors? Or perhaps those sponsors would only be welcome for appropriately-themed panels?

Ultimately, that policy would be up to BlogHer to determine and interpret. However, simply having a thoughtful policy would be a very forward-thinking statement.

This policy does not have to be exclusionary but it can give a vision of what BlogHer is about. And then it is up to the individual to take it or leave it.

Best. List. Evah.

I’ve only met Liz from Mom-101 & Cool Mom Picks once, very briefly, but I liked her immediately and she deserves all the kudos she gets. Not only does she write insightful, funny, and touching prose, but she gives back to the blogging community, too.

Now, she’s written a list. A list of mommy bloggers.

WAIT! No really. Hold on a second.

And it is the best mommy blogger list ever. And not just because I’m on it.

No I’m serious. Don’t run away yet.

She manages to skewer the whole list-making, blogger-ranking silliness, while simultaneously giving an irreverent shout out to a bunch of genuine people in all their wacky humanity.

And the best part of all?

All you had to do was ask.

OK…and happen to be following Liz on Twitter last night.

Marketing to Moms 101: Don’t Diss the Babies

Nikon DOES NOT Hate Babies

Sadly, I missed BlogHer this year. Originally I was hoping to make it a family vacation so that my husband could play with the kids while I enjoyed the conference and then we could spend a couple of days seeing the sites. Unfortunately, the national guard had other plans and my husband is on drill.

But Debbie, my co-editor at Mamanista, attended (and tweeted some fantastic updates). I was already sad about the missed opportunities to meet some fabulous people I’ve chatted with over the last couple of years and then watched with envy as the invitations to exciting parties poured into our shared inbox.

In particular, I was jealous about the opportunity to meet Carson Kressley at the Nikon Party. Carson, I adore you. You remind me of most of my college friends. But with better fashion sense.

And Nikon? I inherited a love of amateur photography from my father and my last camera was a CoolPix. I have a Canon right now but Nikon–woo me back? I know you have my e-mail address and if Carson meets me in New York and tells me a Nikon will make me look better in pictures, I’ll buy one next. Promise. I’ve never stopped thinking of you, Nikon.

Anyway, Debbie went to the party and, like others who attended, said it was amazing. Elegant. Fun. Fabulous.

Nikon did everything right except for one oversight. A few moms showed up with babies at the door of the Nikon cocktail party. They were turned away because the venue did not permit babies.

I’m just guessing here, but Nikon presumably assumed that a cocktail party invitation signaled adults only and these moms presumably assumed that any event at baby-friendly BlogHer was fair game at least for in-arms infants.

(Nikon has now apologized for not making the venue’s “no baby” policy clear in its original invitation.)

The night of the party Esther Crawford @faintstarlite tweeted:

I just got kicked out of the Nikon party because I have a BABY & no babies are allowed #blogher09 #nikonhatesbabies

Esther has since said that she had no idea that people would take up the hashtag. But it was catchy and it spread.

I think Esther was perfectly within her rights to tweet out what she did. If I was all set to go to a party (to which I had been invited and perhaps turned down other invitations to attend) and was turned away at the door, I might send out a snarky tweet or two.

And I do think that it is worth discussing how companies might better handle this issue.

However, before anyone gets into lynch mob and Shankman starts referring to Mom Bloggers as The Borg again, can everyone take a deep breath?

I do not believe that the good will Nikon earned was wasted at all. Nikon marketing to this female demographic, including moms, with a campaign that really understands how we take pictures and how we wish to appear in them. They are reaching out and they are, for the most part, doing so in a genuine way.

Whenever I see mom bloggers calling for heads, I cringe. Do you really want someone to lose their job? Over a misstep at an otherwise lovely event?

No, I don’t buy into the whole, “play nice or they’ll take their ball and go home” thing. However, could we possibly take a little perspective and make our criticism constructive without demanding firings or floorscraping apologies? Nikon is definitely listening to us and we need not shout to be heard.

Yo Mama

Moms are a desirable demographic and online moms, particularly bloggers, are increasingly seen as thought leaders.

So, companies large and small, are diving into the social networking space (or at least dipping in a toe), with various degrees of success.

The “problem” with consumer conversation is not so much a measurement issue (because there are plenty of ways of measuring ROI with social media) but a control issue.

And mom bloggers are…ummm…well…let’s borrow some of our own vocabulary: spirited? independent-minded? assertive?

So companies want to reach us, but they are concerned about the backlash if they make a misstep.

I’m almost 100% sure that Nikon does not hate babies, or moms. They just missed a key passion of a portion of their targeted demographic.

First Things First: We have kids.

This should be self-evident but sometimes it seems to be missed. And it is big. Huge.

And more to the point of the latest kerfluffle, many moms (though certainly not all) who self-identify primarily as moms (as opposed to their occupation, hobby, or other interest or relationship), who go so far as to keep online journals about parenthood or parenting products, have very young children.

Allow me to explain for the non-parents in the blogoroom. See, whether you work full time, stay at home, or something in between, the first 5 or so years are a haze of feedings, sleep issues, separation anxieties, potty training, preschool decisions, playgroups, vaccinations and a myriad of other needs, controversies, and decisions that constantly pull on your attention.

Does this perhaps make us obsessed? single-minded? dull to you non-breeders? Possibly. But we are who we are. And if you want our money, you would be smart to keep these things in mind.

As our children get older, most of them will go to school. Even those children whose parents educate them primarily at home will still develop strong, healthy relationships outside of the family. They will become more interested in the world around them and less interested, even embarrassed, of us, the moms. At which point, most healthy moms, while still identifying strongly as moms, will recall that they had a career, liked to paint (or possibly take photographs), or always wanted to sail around the world.

In the Meantime, Young Children, Particularly Infants, Require a lot of Care

Babies require a lot of attention. Some infants nurse constantly, around the clock. Some, like mine, never take a bottle.

My opinion is that wherever mom goes, an infant (especially a nursling) should be allowed to go.

I don’t want to belabor this point because I don’t think it is the main issue at hand. I am just sharing my opinion, and how I’ve handled this issue, in the interest of full disclosure.

Once a baby is old enough that he will not sleep quietly in a sling, then I would not bring that baby to an adult function. Until then, I believe he should be welcome along with me.

In fact, I recently turned down an invitation to an event because I have no one to watch my almost 11-month old. I’m not ready to travel away from him overnight, but he’s too active to just come along for the ride. However, when my daughter was an infant and still not yet crawling, I took her to several parties. She slept through them in my sling. Even some people who spoke with me never even knew she was there.

I will say that when I am invited to an event, especially if it is not specifically for moms as the Nikon party was not (other female bloggers were invited as well), I do ask if a baby under one is allowed. However, I would be surprised and disappointed to be told that no, I would have to leave my infant with a stranger if I wished to attend.

Does that make me self-centered? entitled? spoiled?

You are allowed your opinion, of course. But remember:

It is called Marketing TO Moms, not Being Passive-Aggressive About Moms

If you are child-free, or have older kids, or never missed a beat in your corporate professionalism or glamorous social life, or simply put these things on hold while your kids were younger, you may believe that moms who bring their infants to adult functions are expecting the world to cater to them.

But remember, if you are marketing to moms, you must reach out to us where we are at, not where you believe we should be.

And the question is not so much whether or not a mom should know that a nighttime cocktail party means no babies but rather whether or not someone who did a little research would know that there are mothers, perhaps even among the invitees, who would bring their babies to cocktail parties.

If I were marketing to middle-aged, male executives, you can bet that I’d reach out and do my research. And if I found that pictures of babies made them anxious, I sure as heck wouldn’t use that as part of my creative and then blame them for being immature when they don’t respond the way I had hoped.

How do you know where the moms are at?

Hire consultants and pay focus groups.

I’m not saying hire someone just because she is a mom. However, there are tons of clever, savvy, experienced, professional moms out there involved in social media. My co-editor and business partner, for example, has held executive level marketing positions at major corporations. Off the top of my head I can recommend at least a dozen blogging women who make amazing and presentable coordinators and have experience in marketing, public relations, media or a related field–some of them even have MBAs.

They might have advised Nikon to either hold the event at a venue that would permit infants (which could not have been hard–I’ve lived in Manhattan and never heard of a “no baby” policy before), set-up a babysitting suite, or at the very least notified guests ahead of time of the policy.

The question is not ultimately whether or not planning an event for mom bloggers at which babies are not welcome is a mistake, but rather whether or not some of the confusion, disappointment, and aggravation could have been avoided by consulting someone reasonably knowledgeable about the space. And considering that we’ve been down this road before, I think the answer is absolutely.

More opinions to read:

I just want to point out that this is just *MY* opinion (no one else’s) on hearing about this issue–I reserve the right to change my opinion as more information comes in. I’ve tried to make this less about Nikon (love you, babe!) and more about some points to take away.

A Possible Model for Blogging and PR Campaigns

Bloggers and PR people are caught between the proverbial financial rock and the ethical hard place.

Whether or not this is the case, paying and accepting money for reviews on a blog are seen as damagingly prejudicial or, worse yet, a potential legal liability.

And yet, many talented bloggers spend hours establishing, building, and maintaining their blogs. They have integrity and care about the blogging community and their focus topics–but they also aren’t just giving away their hard work for free.

We offer clearly marked, paid advertisements, but companies want the editorial reviews. And if they can get the editorial milk for free, why pay for the banner ad cow?

For many smaller companies, they are simply interested in sending a product for review and that is a completely acceptable deal. You pitch, the blogger accepts, and they either review or get back to you if there is a concern.

In this post, I’m talking primarily about larger corporations that are seeking a wider campaign.

First, let’s start by being honest. Some bloggers are just in it for a quick few bucks, some companies just want the in context links, and some PR people just want to be able to fill in that their campaign reached x number of glazed over eyeballs.

Fine.

If this is you, just skip the rest. Continue on as you were.

For those of us who care about genuine word of mouth campaigns, let’s consider how to move forward.

Instead of sending a press release to thousands of bloggers, regardless of their quality or relevance (I’ve received some, uh….ummm…”adult themed” press releases for my parenting product review blog), try something different.

  1. Research the right blogs that are a fit for your campaign.
  2. Invited a select number of quality, relevant blogs to join your campaign.
  3. Demonstrate your respect and appreciation for the expertise they bring to your campaign.
  4. Provide something of value to them and their readers.
  5. Ask them to share with their readers as appropriate.

Lee Fit Ambassadors is a great example of this type of campaign. Lee selected 25 Fit Ambassadors, including myself and my co-editor at Mamanista, who write about topics relevant to the type of affordable fashion Lee represents. The Fit Ambassadors will have the opportunity to test out various new Lee products throughout the year. In return, they request you share your thoughts on a couple of the products with your readers. They also offer you a number of giveaway pairs to distribute to the bloggers’ readers.

PR people can also use social bookmarking and corporate blogs to share posts, offer bloggers opportunities to guest post, hire bloggers as consultants, identify expertise and invite these expert bloggers to participate in your communities as such, and invest in the blogging community by sponsoring events.

How can you trust that these bloggers will take the time to give you valuable feedback and share with their readers as relevant? Well, you DID do your research right? You chose quality and consistency over page rank and numbers? You showed an interest in the bloggers’ work?

Choose the right bloggers for your campaign, recognize their expertise, value their time, and engage their audience and you will have a great return on investment in your word of mouth campaign.

And if you want a tightly controlled message delivered on your schedule…then buy an advertisement.

Are Parenting Bloggers Liable for Product Reviews? Are Bloggers Marketers or Journalists?

After reading that Parenting Blogs May Be Held Liable for Product Reviews, an article which quotes the always delightful Classy Mommy, Colleen, I have a few thoughts and suggestions to throw out there.

First, a fitting disclaimer: although I did discuss this with my husband, who is a lawyer, these are simply my own opinions and ideas and do not in any way constitute legal advice.

According to the article:

A regulatory review process is underway to determine whether reviews by bloggers like Padilla may be in violation of good business practices, said Richard Cleland, a spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission.

“The proposed revisions signal that the commission will apply existing principles of advertising law to new forms of media, like blogs,” Cleland said, adding that a decision on the proposal is expected sometime this summer.

I believe this comes down to whether we are journalists (and held to that standard of ethics) or marketers.

Are we receiving products as payment for our services or for editorial consideration?

If we are journalists merely reporting what our investigation has revealed, then I don’t see how our posts could be considered “false advertising.” We may have an obligation to perform some sort of due diligence, requesting independent documentation to support claims, but we ultimately are not responsible for those claims as long as we indicate they come from the manufacturer and not us.

While not everyone may enjoy product reviews, or find them to be hard-hitting reporting, I do believe they, for the most part, more closely resemble journalism than advertising. I still remember Christine’s video showing how to go shopping at Costco with six young children and leave with your shopping list, all your kids, and most of your sanity still intact.

The difficulty lies, yet again, in the fact that we are not only the journalists in our little business model, but also often the editors and the sales staff. We are responsible for everything from coding to circulation to selling ads in addition to planning and writing stories. Once upon a time newspapers worked that way, too.

This does not make this multi-role model unethical, just more complicated.

As more attention is directed towards blogs, we’ll have to ensure everything is even more clearly marked–what we have received and from whom. Here are a few possibilities to consider:

  • Add a disclaimer visible on all pages of your blog (in the footer or sidebar).
  • In every post, explain who sent you the item.
  • If you make a statement beyond your own experience of the product, you can make it a quote and/or add some sort of citation. This will look cumbersome, of course, but it is an option.
  • If you receive monetary compensation, clearly indicate that.
  • Be wary of agents that try to put words in your mouth. I’ve received pitches with suggested language–they want you to make their claims for them. Don’t. Write your own posts.
  • Related to the above, we could consider what, exactly, the company wants from us and why. We need to assess whether the company wants our opinion, our audience, our page rank, association with our brand, etc. And if you don’t feel comfortable with the project, don’t participate.

True, none of this guarantees protection. Anybody can sue anyone at any time for any reason…but the whole idea that the FTC is going to go after Mom and Pop bloggers for their honest opinions is absurd. How, exactly, will they determine which posts are advertising and which are editorial? What is the litmus test and how on earth will they gather information? What is a blog, an online magazine, a conversation, or a community? Not only is this unenforceable, it runs the risk of intruding into freedom of association and free speech.

The sad and telling thing is that, as with the CPSIA (and let’s hope indie artisans and small manufacturers come out in support of bloggers the way we came out in support of them), it has been the independents that have been keeping the mainstream honest.

At Mamanista, I’ve refused products even from trusted PR people when they could not produce proper documentation to back their claims about BPA-Free or other status. Along with Cool Mom Picks, we came out with a guide to choosing safer toys during the lead scare. I first found out about phthalates from Mom-101. When I want to find out how safe a children’s product is, I check the Zrecs Guide.

These are just a few examples of bloggers that have questioned claims, tracked down information, and even done their own investigation.

Yes, this is a business for us as well. But many of us are making far less blogging than our regular hourly wage. And many of the products we test are donated or given away to readers. It is fun and it is a labor of love and we approach it with a great respect for the manufacturers, retailers, and readers in our community.

You Voted for HER?

I’ve been doing some thinking about influence.

I was joking with another HAWT blogger that I’m a connector, but how do I make my zillions off of this? I always seem to connect exciting people together and they have synergy or whatever and go off and do fabulous things. For example, I connected one of my favorite college professors with my Iraq veteran husband and now he’s been a guest speaker at the professor’s classes twice.

I’m a node, but I’m rarely at the center.

Then, I started to think about success. I see a lot of Internet classes advertised by bloggers I respect and I wonder–do people who take these classes really achieve success? And if a few do, how likely are they to have done so anyway? Is it the knowledge conveyed in this class or is it the attitude of the person who uses the knowledge?

This is no disparagement on the quality of those classes. I just suspect that the people teaching these classes on how to become just like them did not need a class to become themselves.

And then I thought about a person who I think is just wonderful. Sweet, smart, helpful, confident, fun, etc., etc. I voted for her for the Hot Blogger Calendar (and yes, she’s in it).

Why did I vote for her?

  1. She Asked Me To: For starters, she asked me to vote for her. So did several others I know through blogging. But since some of the nominees asked me, I was almost certainly going to vote for one of them.
  2. She Deserves It: The Hot Blogger Calendar is interesting because it leaves it to the voter to define “hot.” That could mean talented, popular, sexy, or something else. In this particular case, the blogger is attractive, talented, and is increasingly making ripples throughout the blogosphere.
  3. She Had a Shot: People love to be on the winning team, don’t they?
  4. She Wasn’t a Sure Thing: Although a lot of people know her, she isn’t huge. Not yet. Even better than a winner is an underdog who wins.
  5. She Plants Seeds: This blogger always helps out others, though it is not in a calculating way. She is genuinely kind and the karma comes back to her.
  6. She Wanted It: I knew she would do it if chosen. And she showed her eagerness for this”honor” with a humorous stunt that was daring but still classy.

I think this last one is especially important. All the others who asked me probably fit the first five criteria, but this blogger just seemed to want it more than the others.

There are some people who draw success around them and they do it by “dressing” the part–by which I mean that they give off a winner’s aura. More importantly, they make you feel like you are part of their success and it is just so much fun to be along for the ride.

So, if you voted, how did you make up your mind? What makes a winner in your book?

Like My New And Improved Lucky Look?

So, I’ve been cleaning up my sidebar because I was crashing some computers with either my blogrolls or mybloglog or both. Until I can figure out what and why, the blogrolls have a temporary new home.

I also added a new background and played with the template a little while I was tinkering…just because. What do you think???

I’m hoping it will bring me some luck in these blog contests.

First up, our contests at Mamanista! I’m turning 30 and since I usually don’t like to make a big deal out of my birthday, I thought I would give you guys the presents. There are three up right now with two more to come on Monday and Tuesday:

PLUS, For Bloggers Only, A Halloween Recipe Carnival with Prizes. Please share a recipe…I need to try some new ones!!!

Now, I think with my lucky template and my upcoming birthday, I deserve to win at least one of these awesome contests:

  • You can win an 8-gig Ipod Nano at It’s Write Now!! Just go to the giveaway post and see how you can enter to win this fabulous giveaway! (ends October 31)
  • Whenever I shop, I search for coupon codes from sites like UltimateCoupons.com. Right now you can Win a Nintendo Wii from their coupon blog EverybodyLovesCoupons. (ends October 31)
  • So, A Blonde Walks Into A Review is run by a real sweetheart who likes to give away cool stuff, go to this post to find out how to win an item from Island Baby Boutique. (ends October 14)
  • Katja at Skimbaco is another sweetie and she has a Madallie Gift Certificate to give away. I love to travel so it would be awesome to win this. Madallie is also a Mamanista! affiliate, too. (ends October 14)
  • Crunchy Domestic Goddess is giving away a copy of Herb the Vegetarian Dragon. No link required but I like her and I keep missing her giveaways. (ends October 16)
  • You can win a pair of BabyLegs at Adventures of a Twenty-Something Mom. I’m sure she is also really nice…but I haven’t had the pleasure of working with her yet! (ends October 15)
  • 5 Minutes for Mom is giving away a Casio Pink EX-Z75 digital camera. This special edition Pink Camera will proudly sponsor the National Breast Cancer Foundation. For more information, please visit www.casiousa.com. I hope I win because one of my cameras is busted and I need to take more cute baby picks. The twins have such amazing contests and are such good people! (ends October 26)
  • Laura Williams, a lucky blogger who seems to win lots of contests…and is, gasp, I know, surprise, very nice, is hosting The Tessy & Tab Reading Club – a giveaway a week for 8 weeks = 8 winners!!
  • Last, but not least, another wonderful lady of blogland is also turning 30 (what a coincidence)! Christine at From Dates to Diapers is having a big birthday giveaway with lots of cool stuff!

Are Mommy Bloggers Undervaluing Their Work?

Over at her very interesting new blog, Blogging for Parents, PHATMommy has a great discussion going: “Is Advertising on Mommy Blogs Different?” This is in response to several fascinating posts throughout the blogosphere, including Liz’s points about being asked to discount her ad rate.

I tried to respond to the post at Blogging for Parents, but the comments section does not accept comments over a certain length…so after looking like an idiot by making several failed attempts, I decided to come post here. Trying to get everyone to link to you? Just kidding…but it would be diabolically clever of you.

At any rate, here is my response…check out PHATMommy’s post and the comments for the context and I will post more about monetizing later:

Have you all seen this article?

Salary, Gender and the Social Cost of Haggling

The gist is that not only are women less likely to bargain…but that they may in fact be recognizing a very real penalty for women who negotiate.

A number of Mommy Bloggers have noticed people essentially asking them to promote a business for free or way below their advertised rates. Does this happen more with Mommy Blogs than other blogs? I don’t know. I wonder…it would be interesting to find out.

I think that one can look at the fact that other blogs with similar traffic and similarly desirable demographics (and moms are a desirable demographic what with all our registering and anxiety-for-our-children’s-healthy-happiness-success-driven spending…), and come up with an approximate idea of worth. Even if it is not exact, it is at least a beginning point for understanding whether or not we are undervaluing ourselves.

I don’t think of it as taking advantage of us–your goal is to get value for your money.

However, it is worth while for us to consider so we can also get good value.

I also think that Liz’s point about the pay-per-click issue is worth pointing out again…although it is probably more of a ads on blogs in general issue, than an ads on mommy blogs issue.

To some extent, though, it is colored by the Mom Blog Issue…it comes back to what the advertiser actually wants and what the writer wants. Do you want to be associated with a certain writer because of the quality of their writing, are you mainly building your “brand,” are you looking for a certain value link from a high PR blog, how about traffic, there’s also “buzz” by associating with an opinion maker, are you hoping to get sales directly from the click?

I think different advertisers want different things and some do not know what they want and what they are getting.

There is perhaps a disconnect about what can be expected for these various things, all of which may have different value to different people…