Archive for Mommy Bloggers

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.

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?

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…

Down the Rabbit Hole

And seriously, that is what some of these properties look like…a rabbit hole…or someone’s bad trip!

I have many posts to write and memes to which to respond and no time to write…But…Christy at Christy’s Coffee Break, one of my newest favorite places to visit, passed along the Rockin’ Girl Blogger Award to me.

Since girls do, in fact, rock, here are some of the most rockin’, rollin’, and generally cool Internet gal superstars I know:

1. Mom-101
2. Momomax
3. Amygeekgrl at Musings of a Crunchy Domestic Goddess
4. crazedparent
5. Vicky at The Mummy Chronicles

Please accept this bold pink button and pass it along to five others!