So, that underbelly I was talking about… (updated)

Fight

A few months back, I wrote a post on my PR and journalism blog, Getting Ink, mentioning the commercialisation of the UK Mummy blogging scene, and how I felt it was beginning to create some divisions and tensions.

I got a lot of comments – universally saying I was wrong. The Mummy blogging community is so supportive and friendly, people said, nothing resembling a seedy underbelly here.

So, erm, did you all see this in the Indie yesterday? Nice article on Mummy blogging, quite bland. But check out the comments – ouch! 

Have to say, I’m not surprised in the slightest. If you add money to any community, those who get it (in terms of advertising, freebies or publishing deals) will always be a source of irritation to some of those who don’t. Isn’t it inevitable?

I’ve had some first-hand experience of handling this frustration, because I put together an index of  the top 100 UK parent blogs. “I was once blog of the week in the Daily Mail!” fumed one blogger. “I regularly pay WordPress for additional bandwidth, and I know for a fact that X and Y blog have less than half of my traffic!”

Another blogger said she belongs to a “private forum for established, PUBLISHED bloggers” and claimed that BMB (a social network for parent bloggers) is basically just a circle of mates sending each other pretty badges.

Being honest, I can see both sides. It must be frustrating seeing people who don’t write as well as you getting plaudits or freebies. Perhaps even more so to see someone getting a book deal when you know your audience is far bigger.

But from a journalist’s perspective: I don’t think the PR community is being misled. I think most PR agencies view blogger outreach (as it’s called) as being incredibly inexpensive, and they don’t worry too much if some of their attempts don’t generate a return – providing they get enough return overall. Also, for a PR agency, a Mummy blog with 500 incredibly relevant readers might be worth more than a generic website with 10,000 readers.

 That's not to say PRs don't need to be smart or selective when pitching blogs. They should absolutely be asking questions like: is this a good blog, is it read outside a small circle of virtual friends, is it well linked to, does it generate conversations? Does it have values and content that align with the client’s messages? Is the blog itself selective, or does it promote anything that comes along?  Part of me suspects in the early days that many PR agencies are just adopting a scattergun approach and hoping something hits the target – which doesn’t surprise me, it’s what many agencies do when pitching mainstream journalists.

Which brings me to another point: the UK Mummy blogging scene is very new. I don’t think, as yet, any real leaders have emerged. I think over the next year or so, we’ll start to see some blogs remaining non-commercial. Those that do accept advertising, or freebies for review, will have to learn to balance commercial and non-commercial content – or lose their audiences.

Blogs that are better written and more engaging will find it easier to build and retain an audience than those that are less well-written. If you genuinely feel overlooked, then work harder to promote your blog, to increase engagement, to build links – you can't expect the world to come looking for you.

Ultimately, those who’ve invested time in building relationships and not undermining their blogging friends are the real winners – because the real point of blogging, for most of us, isn’t making money or getting freebies. It’s about having fun, sharing our writing, making connections and exchanging experiences and ideas about parenting, creating a record of our children’s early years. A free box of soap here or there doesn’t change that, surely?

 [Note: I updated this because I don't want to be overly ra-ra* about
ALL blogs. I do definitely think that good writing and being selective
about what you cover on a blog is important.] 

*technical term

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

16 Comments

  1. 25th August 2009 / 1:14 pm

    Well, well, who’d have thought it? I read the Indie article when it was published and didn’t think anything of it. Then I heard that some of the bloggers quoted were unhappy. Now this! I’m going for a lie down, and then I’m taking up, oh…I don’t know: flower arranging!

  2. 25th August 2009 / 1:50 pm

    @Tim – flower arranging – brutal, all those clippers…

  3. 25th August 2009 / 2:05 pm

    There I was, writing about gardening and kids and reading other gardening blogs, thinking ‘isn’t life sweet’. Did I stay there, in my happy place? No, I thought I’d like to start reading some other parenting blogs, maybe meet some other mums and dads, chat about our delighful children. I started yesterday. Today I am afraid, very afraid.
    I’m going back to gardening… It doesn’t conjure up the same level of anger.
    I shall return when I feel braver.

  4. 25th August 2009 / 2:13 pm

    Dawn, don’t let one article put you off! We’re all lovely, really. Honest.
    There is a fantastically friendly, supportive Mummy bloggging community out there, that’s completely separate from the PR/publishing shenanigans.
    There’s debate – which I think is healthy – and then there’s trolling of the sort on this article. Actually, I think those comments say more about the sort of people who typically comment on newspaper stories than about bloggers, who are mostly pretty upfront and supportive.

  5. 25th August 2009 / 2:38 pm

    I wasn’t brave enough to comment on the Inde article – this whole blogging malarky is still a bit new to me.
    I never dreamed of having a blog for anything more than just a place to write. Because writing is what I love – that and entertaining people and maybe making them think. Sure it’s nice to have an audience, lovely to get good feeeback because that’s what brings writing to life and stops it being stagnant words on a page – the people that read and respond. I’m also really enjoying getting to know those people, finding out what THEY have to say, and being inspired and encouraged by them (and maybe doing some encouraging in return).
    I enjoy writing reviews (and am loving contributing to the GTG) but doubt I would ever be interested in posting reviews on my site – that’s just not what it’s for.
    So I’d like a nice little readership to read and engage with but to stay annoymous enough to keep out of the PR radar thank you very much.
    I have enough stuff already anyway…

  6. 25th August 2009 / 2:40 pm

    Sally, perhaps you’re right. I guess it’s like knowing which parents to avoid at the school gate and who you should never ask to bake a cake for the pre-school summer fair. I shall go and weed my pumpkins (not a euphemism for anything, I promise) and return to the mummy blogging world when I’ve communed with nature for a while…

  7. 25th August 2009 / 2:54 pm

    Hi Sally,
    Reading Sticky Fingers’ response to the Indy article, the following comment hit home the most:
    “If PR companies want to continue to get the most out of this community they need to learn how to speak to us properly and understand what makes us tick.”
    Is this not synonymous with best practice for all PRs, regardless of the media in question? Research your target audience thoroughly and pitch appropriately – or god fobid – not at all…

  8. Sian To
    25th August 2009 / 3:30 pm

    As a blogger, a mum and a PR – I would like to think that I can see this from all sides.
    I target bloggers for some of my PR clients because I see the value that they bring to the press mix.
    Magazine circulations are down again and the way PR’s place press coverage is changing.
    From my own point of view, my PR company specialises in baby and children’s products, so product reviews and mentions on a handful of perfectly targeted blogs and Tweets that have a potential reach of millions are the too good an opportunity to pass by.
    As a blogger I was lucky enough to go to the BlogHer conference in Chicago last month. This was an amazing experience and one that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. But I came away with a couple of things that really shocked me.
    Firstly how different the US & UK blogging platforms are (I naively thought that we were all one happy www family) and secondly how negatively ‘Mommy Bloggers’ are perceived. They are really looked down upon by the rest of the blogging community and it is a real insult to be labelled as one!
    It seems that if you are a Mom and you blog – then you are a Mommy Blogger regardless of weather you write about what your precious little bean had for breakfast or the political climate post election.
    I came away thinking that I should change the name of my blog…. Though a learnt in another seminar that it’s suicide to change your name – so where does that leave me?
    When I started to blog, I had planned to pen a product review blog – and I chose my name accordingly. For me it hasn’t really panned out in that way, though I do feature product reviews if and when I want to.
    I get lots of approaches from PR’s – some I act on, some I don’t. Again – my choice.
    The fallout from the Indie piece has really shocked me. The article itself was so middle of the road that I nearly fell asleep reading it.
    I hope with all my heart that the bitterness on the other side of the pond has not found its way back here already.
    The nasty, spiteful comments left anonymously come from the same place as the ridiculous recent US PR blackout. Driven by peoples jealousy that other bloggers are getting bigger and better toys, days out and designer gear whilst they have to make do with a packet of vitamins.
    The truth of the matter is – if your blogs were as good as you think they are – then you would be getting the freebies too. But you have to face it, in every walk of life there are those who can and those who should not.
    http://www.yummymummytips.com

  9. 25th August 2009 / 4:34 pm

    Yes, what did happen with that Indie article?? I couldn’t see why twitter was alight until I read those comments. Man oh man!! Like, Dawn, I started blogging in a realm of craft/creativity/simple living blogs that tend to have less of the commercial element to them (though not completely, there are a couple of notable exceptions). This “underbelly” is unfortunate, but probably inevitable. I do hope that the predictions of more stability over the next year are correct.
    Great post, sally!

  10. 25th August 2009 / 6:05 pm

    Oooh, I read the Indie article the other day and thought it fairly innocuous, but just went back and read the comments.
    I think when people start taking blogging too seriously then they start to see problems. For me, it’s a bit of a hobby, somewhere to vent occasionally and yes, I get the odd freebie. I’m not going to be losing any sleep over it though.

  11. 25th August 2009 / 8:52 pm

    Wow, some really thoughtful comments here, thanks everyone.
    First, I think it’s a real shame if people like Josie and Dawn are put off blogging by a minority of people who treat blogging as a competitive sport, like Natalie says. Blogging is all about individuals having a voice, and expressing themselves.
    Second, I think PRs have exacerbated the situation by leaping in blindly. As Stephen says, all PRs should know by now the importance of researching targets and being selective – and I think as the sector matures, PR will inevitably have to become smarter about how they do this stuff.
    Third, I agree completely with you Natalie. And it does reflect badly on women that there’s this competitive edge to what is really just a hobby for most of the women involved.
    But — one point to note is many of the women blogging are business owners, or freelance writers. To them, building an audience and gaining influence is hugely important, and I don’t judge anyone for wanting to increase their audience or celebrating moving up the index (which suggests they’re getting more influence, after all).
    As I’ve said before, I think the next 12 months will see a lot of shaking out, and a bit of clarity emerging between the different sorts of blogs – there’s not just ONE mummy blogger, as several of you have pointed out. We’re different women, with different priorities and very different blogs – which is something we should be celebrating, after all.

  12. Liz
    25th August 2009 / 11:41 pm

    Hi Sally,
    I just wanted to say that I thought this was a very well written, fair and balanced post. I must say I’ve been taken aback by some of the bitchy comments in response to the Indie article and it does mummy/daddy bloggers absolutely no favours. I’m not sure where it’s all coming from but I really wish it would stop!
    Lizx

  13. 26th August 2009 / 12:13 am

    Hi Liz
    Thanks for your comment, it’s really appreciated. I learned a long time ago that there’s a minority of people in any community that thrive on discord and competition – I’m not one of them.
    I say leave them to their own devices, and get on with the business of being happy and writing great blogs.

  14. Deb
    26th August 2009 / 9:34 am

    I think the problem is that “mummy blogging” has got rather competitive hasn’t it? What started out as something creative, or a family record has really turned into something else entirely.
    People are seeing others whiz off to Disney, moan about PRs and stuff they want to send them and worry about their position on the Top 100 list. And some even get book deals. People now see it as a way to earn a living rather than as an outlet for their thoughts.
    There are badly written blogs (in every genre) and some do become inexplicably popular.
    I haven’t really entered into the debate til now (and am not sure why I am really). It must be deeply hurtful to have nasty comments but if the person is anonymous then I think they should be ignored. That’s the nature of the internet – people do feel able to say what they wouldn’t dream of to someone’s face.
    Ultimately, I really think people should just carry on what they’re doing and ignore the nastiness. Blogging is competitive and it can be cliquey. That, I think, is life.
    PS. I’m part of the gardening blogging world (and don’t see myself as a mummy blogger because I don’t really write about my children) but even though it is nice *all* blogging is competitive.

  15. 26th August 2009 / 12:04 pm

    Very sound advice, Deb.

  16. Happy Mum
    1st September 2009 / 10:05 am

    I haven’t been around much in the last couple of weeks being busy entertaining and arguing with my mum about cooking and cleaning… I am shocked at reading what has been said in this article comments! Really shocked! It is so easy to be nasty when you are not showing your face or being anonymous in comments. Anyway, my point of view is that yes there are some great writers out there and some others who are not writing what you could call great literature, but I also think that everyone is free to follow or not who they want, why feeling the need to attack and hurt others?!
    I did write a post lately about the pressure I started feeling about blogging and keeping up to certain standards, but you know what, writing this made me realise how silly it is. I love writing, I am not a writer and I am not even writing in my mother tongue, so I can imagine how many people must cringe at times when they read my posts. But to be totally honest, I don’t care. These ones are free to move on to other blogs and leave me and my friends have fun together! If they want to come back they are always welcome and constructive comments are always appreciated.

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