Suburban Turmoil: Just me and my brand

Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 1:00am

Packed into a hotel conference room along with hundreds of mom bloggers and marketers, I stare bleakly at my laptop screen, my fingers frozen on the keyboard. I’m listening, but the people around me might as well be speaking Farsi.

“I was so afraid of getting in trouble with Google,” a woman says breathlessly into a microphone a few feet away from me. “I got totally freaked out about my keywords and I have to admit, I was not adding ‘no follows’ in my text. I was giving away too much link juice.”

The other women in the conference room cluck sympathetically and nod.

“Good search engine optimization starts with analytics,” a man sitting in a chair on the stage at the front of the room intones. Around me, I hear the click of keys as women type his words into their computers.

“Does anyone have any idea what these people are talking about?” I whisper to the women seated at my table. I conclude from their pitying stares that yes, they do.

Mommy blogging isn’t what it used to be.

I started a blog back in 2005 because I liked to write. I tapped out stories about a life spent silently cursing the sour-faced crossing guard at my stepdaughters’ school, helping my toddler decide which alphabet letters her poop resembled and contemplating a frontal lobotomy. I was shocked to find that some people seemed to like it.

Over time, my readership grew. I began getting e-mails from other moms, asking how they could draw more readers to their blogs. “Ignore the gimmicks,” I always replied. “Focus on writing well. If you can do that, the readers will come.” I thought my advice was infallible. But according to this blogging conference, known as Mom 2.0, I was wrong.

I’m learning here that I’m not just a mom writing about her life. I’m a brand! And if I want to be on top, I need to aggressively promote my brand!

I attend discussions with titles like, “The Power of Product Placement & Brand Integration,” and “The Economics of Women-Centered Digital Media.” I’m instructed to find the true value of my marketing potential. I’m taught how to ask for sponsorships and create working relationships with public relations firms and corporations.

I’m not exactly surprised by the message. After all, if you haven’t heard, mommy blogging is the new black. Advertisers have discovered that mom blogs are the perfect way to market directly to a target demo of women, at a fraction of the cost.

Consequently, the most popular mom bloggers are showered with products like Nintendo Wiis, iPods, children’s clothing and even sex toys. They’re flown to corporate headquarters for lessons in turkey basting and canned soup production. They’re routinely featured in national magazines and on network news. It’s hard, really hard, not to get caught up in the fever.

It’s also hard not to feel like I’m dangerously close to exploiting my family for a taste of fame and fortune. I can’t call what I do “my brand” without wanting to vomit.

Still, at a conference cocktail party, I make one halfhearted attempt to use what I’ve learned and “connect” with one of the many marketers attending the conference.

“Okay, give me your spiel,” I say, smiling weakly after he introduces himself.

“I should probably do it tomorrow,” he says apologetically. “I’m sort of drunk.”

“Well, now you’ve really got my attention,” I say. “Go for it.”

He begins babbling something about how I can sell my personal data to advertisers. My lame-o-meter shoots to eleven. When some friends approach, I introduce them.

“He’s giving a drunk pitch,” I tell them. They clamor to hear it and giggle as he recites his litany again. When someone asks us to pose for a picture, I turn in time to see him literally running from the room to escape us.

So much for marketing my brand.

I think about all of these things as I stare at my laptop screen in the hotel conference room, while the breathless woman with the microphone cries over spilt link juice. I suck at marketing and technology, I think morosely. I am, therefore, obsolete.

“Search engine optimization really can make a difference,” a woman at my table tells me. “You need to go back and label all your photos and links. And you need to put your posts on StumbleUpon and Kirtsy and Digg.”

“I don’t have time to do that!” I tell her ruefully. “I barely have enough time to even type up a blog post.”

“I do it while I’m watching Lost,” she shrugs. She continues her conversation with the women on either side of her, and one of them types “mommy blogger product reviews” into Google to find out which mom blogger has the coveted first position in the search results.

It’s me.

My blog is number one in the search. I burst into embarrassed laughter. Could it be that even in a world of keyword popularity research, link strategy, networking and brand promotion, simply trying to write well really is enough? Can I truly attract readers with content rather than flashy corporate sponsorships and search engine trickery?

For everyone’s sake, I sure as hell hope so.

Read Lindsay Ferrier’s blog at suburbanturmoil.com

Filed under: Lifestyles
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By: werled on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Once a blogger starts structuring posts to "brand" herself and start pulling in advertising dollars, I find my reading of that blog falling off. It's not that I have anything directly against trying to make a buck, but I find that the focus of the content changes so much I'm no longer interested.While not a "mommy" (just turned fifty, never married professional here), I enjoy reading about others' lives, the sense of community that can come of the shared experiences. The marketing gets in the way.There are a few - your blog included, Lindsay - where the writing is so good that the advertising opportunities may find you, but (and here is the critical thing) your writing style doesn't change to pander to the needs of the advertisers. You kept being you, not a brand, maybe not "famous" in the way defined at the conference, but honest, funny and sincere in a way that draws readers in.We love you the way you are.Too funny about the product review google!Diane at http://www.quiltbabe8.blogspot.com/

By: scarymommy on 12/31/69 at 6:00

So, that's how they're doing it? Shit. I'm going to be way out of my league at Blogher, I think.I love your writing, and admire the way you approach it. I am trying to figure out where else to go with this blogging thing, as the $36 checks a month are pretty pitiful given the fact that this has become more time consuming than any job I've ever had. Looks like I have my work cut out for me!!Jillwww.scarymommy.com

By: shainapearce.com on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I love your writing too. I hate dealing with all that stuff to further my business. You have inspired me to spend less time fretting about my Google results and more time honing my craft. Glad you were first!!Shainahttp://shainapearce.com

By: nicurnmama on 12/31/69 at 6:00

i have to agree that blogging is evolving into a marketing tool. i tend to drop off reading blogs that focus on marketing their advertisers or linking to other web sites where they write mainly because that is not what attracts me. as far as my own personal blog when i talk about a product it is because i picked it up all by my little ol' self and loved it or hated it and i just want to share my 2¢ worth. for me my blog is personal and is all about my circus life and my opinions because i sometimes wonder if all my children really do listen to what i have to say nothing more.http://adventuresinjuggling.wordpress.com

By: NewUrbanMom on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I write as well and feel just as uncomfortable as you do about this writing for money bit. I think we're still in the early stages of monetizing what use to be the fuzzy warm world of mommy blogging. That said, I think it worth noting that companies are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars LESS with this kind of marketing then they have spent in previous years with traditional advertising/marketing channels...thus the freebies will likely be fast and furious now that there is more money directed the mommy bloggers way. Personally I need to write good content - my blog is written for my readers to enjoy. If I promote something, it's because I think it is something that readers can use, but I keep that stuff to an all time minimum.If we downplay the importance of good content for the sake of money, I fear the mommy blogger superstar status will be short lived as readers move onto smarter fare.http://www.newurbanmom.com

By: Mamainstilettos on 12/31/69 at 6:00

wow. I felt incredibly anxious reading about your experience. I, too, only blog for writing and don't even know ONE THING about making money doing it. Either I'm not savvy enough, or I don't have the time...Or both. I was am shocked that mom's are capitalizing that way. I supposed I shouldn't be in this whole world of "bigger is better". I'm just a snarky mom who loves her kids and her shoes. That's all. And I love to write about it as my kids try to throw toys through my front window or tie the dog from my kitchen chandelier. Am I interested in getting free things or making money? of course! But I have no idea where these moms find the freaking time without their houses burning down.www.mamainstilettos.com

By: liberty on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Holy cow! Talk about naive, I only figured out a few months ago that the google ads have to do with our content. My friend and I had no idea what was possible, we started ours with the hope of noting the boys' milestones and possibly making the $ for personal enhancements....I am with mamain - where do the mom's get the time to do all of their linking and self promotion and still come up with blog content? Seriously - I work 7-8 hours a day and sometimes life just isn't THAT exciting. Which I suppose with 4 boys is a good thing.....lib @ www.16ballsintheair.blogspot.com

By: mmmyatt on 12/31/69 at 6:00

you have totally summed up my issues of the last few weeks. i didn't even know there were so many blogging conferences. i just want to be able to write. i am glad to have a few extra places that have asked me to write for them but i don't have nearly the wherewithal to pursue things on such a corporate level. i used to hope that something would fall into my lap but, seeing how many women are out there pushing themselves forward, i have given up hope of that ever happening.i didn't even want to have an ad on my blog because i felt like it took away from my integrity and purpose. i suppose i will always be watching from the sidelines.thank you for your honesty and encouragement to keep writing well and with integrity.www.myattkids.blogspot.com

By: ParsingNonsense on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I sure as heck hope that good content is enough to distinguish someone as a top blogger. I would love to be considered a mommy blogger (I'm working on the whole becoming-a-mommy thing) but I'm very wary about exploiting my family for monetary gain.I just love blogging, and can't wait to write about being a mother. I blog for a living, and know a lot about SEO, but I have no desire to maneuver my way to the top. I'm really very glad that good content is good enough. Thanks for writing this and for the encouragement!http://www.ParsingNonsense.com

By: jpdmom on 12/31/69 at 6:00

When I went to Blogher last year this was all the rage, and all anyone was talking about. I was trying to figure out how all these women had the time to do all this SEO stuff and write, and raise a family. Your post is dead on (and funny). Thanks for putting out there what some of us other blogers were thinking.www.jpd.typepad.com

By: Assertagirl on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Thanks, Lindsay, for reminding me that it's about the content, and not the promotional value, a site has. I have done some product review stuff but I like to keep it separate from my main site because the idea of "product placement" on a blog seems really...icky...to me. If my readers want to read about my opinions, that's great, but I like it to be their choice.http://www.assertagirl.com

By: CountryFriedMama on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I've just taken a private blog public, and I'm giddy about the few comments I get on stories I tell about my family. Marketing? Haven't even thought about it. I am naively hoping that someone will like what she reads, pass the link on to a friend, and so on. http://www.countryfriedmama.com

By: annmartin on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Well, I have a business blog, so I'm looking at it from a different perspective. I think the biggest difference is that I'm openly a business blog. I don't try to hide the fact that I'm selling and showcasing my photography. I do offer tips that are of value to anyone about clothing and makeup for portraits. I also add content that might be useful to my target market. I don't try to sell any ad's though, and I'm not being paid in any way by the items of interest I post about.I do discount blogs with paid advertisement to some degree, more so if the content no more informative than the ads.

By: HeatherJT on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I'm with you. I went to Blissdom and I sat there with a half lost and half sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I'm terrible at pimping out my blog and myself so I'll readily admit that this is the most difficult part of blogging for me. I like to write. I started a blog to get better at it. The end. I'm totally lost on the SEO's and the branding and I like it that way. There are people love it and do it well but I'm just not one of those.Heatherhttp://runningfromthelittlepeople.blogspot.com

By: JennL on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I read certain blogs (including Suburban Turmoil) because I like the editorial content. When a blog starts to sound too much like an advertorial, that's when I bail. As a writer, I want to read good writing...not have to patiently sift through a bunch of SEO keywords and flashing ads, etc, to find the content. That said, I understand that people are trying to make some money from their blogs, and product reviews and advertisements are perfectly legitimate ways to do that. I just hope that people don't start catering to the ad folks to the point where the good content dwindles. That's what really worries me as a reader.As fopr me, I have two personal blogs, and neither have any ads on them. I've toyed with the idea of looking for advertisers, but I never followed through with it. It's probably a combination of laziness and the belief that I'd probably never make any money off my blogs anyway. Plus, I can do whatever I want with my blogs and not worry about how the ad folks are going to react.Guess that just makes me idealistic. And poor. :)Jenniferhttp://jenniferlarsonwrites.wordpress.comhttp://three-peas-in-a-pod.blogspot.com

By: Lucie on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I attended Blissdom as well, and a lot of it was like a foreign language to me, but I figured that was because I'm a newbie (been blogging for less than a year).I wonder if mom bloggers have changed as much as two very different groups are emerging? I think there will always be the mom who sits down at her computer not knowing what the hell she is doing and writes her first blog post. I am an interesting mix, I guess, in that I write "magazine style" sometimes (ex: advice on anti racist parenting), and tell stories others (ex: day with my boys, letter to my son on his first bday). I have been told that's inconsistent and hurts my brand, but that style is so ME.This and mom101's recent post have really put things in a new light for me, because I have felt torn between the marketing mom and the journal mom, feeling like I had to be one or the other. Now I am realizing it's okay to just write and write well, dammit.Oh, and your ending to this post MADE MY DAY. Thanks so much.http://unconventionalorigins.com

By: Marinka on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Every time I hear someone say SEO I immediately slip into a reversible coma. I'm sure that's to my blogging detriment. To say nothing of my health care bills.Marinkahttp://nycmomandmore.blogspot.com

By: OHmommy on 12/31/69 at 6:00

This topic is so interesting as I too have noticed an influx of bloggers blogging purely for pay and perks. However, with that said, I don't read them.Your post proves that, in the end, good writing prevails. A million thanks for making that point.Paulinewww.classychaos.com

By: momtothree on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I just want to write and tell my story so that my kids will be able to read it one day. Melody http://makingthatspecialface.blogspot.com/

By: paperfairies on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Lindsay, I totally get what you are saying but I am absolutely positive that aside from putting forth good writing and sharing it, you MUST have had some notion of making money and eventually becoming marketable. Otherwise, you wouldn't have worked to make your blog popular and you wouldn't place ads on it. I guess a difficult economy calls for aggressive self-promotion. Sometimes, excellent writing goes unnoticed without it.www.paperfairies.blogspot.com

By: Funditto on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I see a mommy version of sex in the city in lindsay's future...

By: Kylie on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I enjoy blogging just to keep up with and reconnect with friends, to brag on my kids and see what is going on in the lives of my friends. It's a nice journal outlet for me and a way to keep a record of our daily lives!I do love your blog, Lindsay and you are so right that good writing speaks for itself! I love to write, but I don't know that many love to read it! :)www.rkhiggins.blogspot.com

By: HeatherK on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Fantastic piece of writing and spot on observation of the different styles of blogging. I think it needs to be said that there are very different goals for bloggers, whether or not they fall under the 'mommy blogger' umbrella or not.You don't have to do the SEO/linkorama stuff. Sometimes shameless self-promotion is just that. I've seen someone ask for simple help on blog design tweaking and instead of help she was given a handful of names of fellow bloggers that do blog design work for $$. At some point it just gets tacky. Someone the other day referred to it as the new Amway.I could ramble on and on about this. I gave it up the ad/review thing after just a couple weeks after seeing grown women throw hissy fits and fight/steal preschool toys out of others 'swag bags' at an event. heatherk.typepad.com

By: ThisHeavenlyLife on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I get a little turned off by the blogs I happen to run across that are full of ads and reviews to the exclusion of all else. I want to read something interesting...stories, anecdotes, whatever. I view blog reading as a form of entertainment, and also a way to keep me connected to other moms who may be going through similar issues. I write a blog, for mostly the same reason. I'm hoping to make connections with other people who may enjoy reading a bit about my life too. I have no earthly idea how to go about making those connections though, and I can imagine there are others out there, like me, who might be willing to promote themselves just to get noticed in the first place.I think I'm too lazy to go about the business of marketing my blog. I just want to get these nagging ideas out of my head...hopefully in a well written manner. Otherwise, I like to be able to have a place where family and friends can see what I do all day...besides drink margaritas and eat girl scout cookies.Sarahhttp://thisheavenlylife.blogspot.com

By: comagirl on 12/31/69 at 6:00

It is nice to know that some of the bigger bloggers feel this way.I don't think I can have much of an opinion, since I have no readers ;)www.comagirl.net

By: petuniafacedgirl on 12/31/69 at 6:00

This is what depresses me about writing, whether it be via a blog or writing a book, whatever. It seems that only about 5% of success is based on actual writing talent, then 80% is marketing yourself well and 15% is sheer luck. Which sucks for people like me who naively think the writing should speak for itself.In other news: one can actually get a car from blogging??? Dude, if this is the case, I will freely whore myself to whoever has a late model new set of wheels. Just contact me at:http://petuniafacedgirl.blogspot.com

By: rubberbacon on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I have to assume that getting a free car for a year means alot of pitch writing for said car? Not sure if readers are going to stick around for such writing thus defeating the purpose. I read your blog because I like the stories and I write mine for a group of friends that I don't have much time to talk to every week so it gives them a chance to keep up on my life. I have a full time job so keep the business stuff at work!!!http://sprocketswife.blogspot.com/

By: Jo-Lynne on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Lindsay, you are my hero. Honestly, I wrote a post on Tuesday (actually, I wrote it on Saturday after reading your "tweets" from Mom Summit and posted it on Tuesday) because I was feeling the exact same way after Blissdom and to see you say it made it somehow legit to feel that way. You have inspired me to do what I really want to do -- ignore all the buzz words and just write. It is all so overwhelming and takes the FUN right out of it. And your thoughts on "the brand" - thank you.

By: TheYummyMummy on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Thanks for this great article. You've totally validated my "strategy

By: AdventuresInBabywear on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I read your post at your main blog as well as this one and must say a big thank you. It feels so good to not be alone. I just want to write. I don't want to have to think about all that other stuff- maybe I will someday if it becomes an extreme necessity. But so far I've gotten where I am just by writing and being me. I attended BlissDom and avoided the "branding" talks and marketing and all that goes with it because it just makes my skin crawl thinking about it. Like you said, it's just not you. It's not me either. At this point in time, I'm happy with keeping with my own pace and taking into consideration what comes my way. No time to search out all that stuff on my own, and right now in my opinion, that makes it too forced. And it makes me not want to blog at all. Steph

By: AdventuresInBabywear on 12/31/69 at 6:00

P.S. sorry- that above was me- http://www.adventuresinbabywearing.com/

By: teliason on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Wow...I had no idea that there could be so much marketing to this blog world. I am very new to the blog world. Honestly I was somewhat inspired when I wrote my list of "25 random things about me" for Facebook that everyone was doing. I wasn't sure if it was weird that I enjoyed writing those things about myself or not, but I found myself wanting to write more. Sort of a creative outlet for me that is slightly above the 2 year level that I seem to be in every day. And I wanted to try to capture some of the funny things that my kids come up with.So, while I would love to have a "following" I am just going to see what happens and hope people enjoy it. At least my family should. By the way, I love your writing! Thanks for making me laugh.Teresawww.tleadventures.blogspot.com

By: AccidentalMommy on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I think it all depends upon what you want to accomplish and why you started your blog to begin with. I originally started mine as a resource for WAHM's revolving around taking paid surveys. I liked earning a few $$ here and there and I LOVED getting new products to try. I also wrote product reviews on the major sites. It really was a passion for me and I wanted to show other moms how to do it and earn some extra $$.As I navigated the blog world looking for inspiration and resources, I discovered this whole other world of moms writing about their lives. My blog sort of morphed into a combination of my two passions.When the marketers and PR reps came-a-calling it was like candy was falling from the sky for me. You want to send me what? for free, and give one away to my readers? Of course I'll try your product and share my opinion with the world (and gain readers in the process).I don't believe that mom blogs are shifting towards commercialism and completely abandoning their morals and ethics to exploit their families (well, some are...but whole other story). I do believe that like anything, the more we do it and the more that participate, those who are mom bloggers are "learning the lingo" and trying to discover new ways to stand out because it has become much more saturated. The statistics of people starting new blogs every day are staggering. Established "mom blogs" like yours will not become antiquated and ignored. In fact, many of us, although I do love the review aspect of my blog, will continue to dream of the day when all we need to do is put up a post without giveaways or promotion attached and have 100 comments by the end of the day. As an added thought, in the wake of the economy and just the fact that many moms would stay at home with their kids if they could, the "power" inherent in being labeled a "mom blog" by the popular media today (sure some mock but I think if you look at where advertisers are spend their $$ they would shut up), many intelligent creative women are finding a way to help bring in extra money for their families. I put up a post about a scammy free paid survey company, included affiliate links to LEGIT ones in my post and made $110 in a week and it continues to earn. Selling out? No, I would have posted regardless with the same links. Smart? I think so...people would click the links anyway and why shouldn't I take advantage of that? I'm not taking advantage of my readers, it really has no affect on them, but for us, with our financial situation it is a blessing.Keep up the good work!~Kim @ What's That Smell?http://accidentalmommies.com

By: WhisperingWriter on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Wow.She does it while watching Lost? How? If you look away for a second you're wondering how that dude is alive again and why that chick is bleeding from the nose!Okay, in all seriousness...I admit that I know very little about marketing. As you mentioned, I also write my blog because I've always had a passion for writing. If someone wanted me to review a product, I might be tempted, but I wouldn't ever lose the reason on why I started a blog in the first place.A free Wii would be awesome, I won't lie, but not if it meant that I had to dedicate entry after entry about how facinating it is. I'd probably tick off Nintendo when I'd continually write about how I threw their Wii Wheel across the room because my MarioKart kept getting stuck in the corner. They'd admonish me and be all, "Okay, the point is to make the Wii sound wonderful. Not difficult." Then I'd be fired and they'd ask for the Wii back.So you see, it's probably better if I stick to writing and not reviewing.Amberhttp://whisperingwriter.blogspot.com/

By: JoannaJenkins on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Holy Crap Batman! I started blogging to get AWAY from work. I'm with you. Just write baby!Joanna Jenkins www.thefiftyfactor.com

By: Steph. on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Hello there! After almost completely dropping out of blogging, I went to the expo and happened to see you there--one of my first blogging friends. And, I'm actually happy to have read this, because I feel a whole lot like you, actually.But, most importantly, I want to know HOW THE HECK that lady does anything else while watching Lost? Please, girl. That was a TOTAL lie. You can't look away even for a second or you'll miss MAJOR plot lines. (Grin)

By: LindsayFerrier on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Ha ha. I think, more specifically, that she does it during commercials. ;)

By: kwr221 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I don't mind stuff on the side bar.... I ignore it. :-), but it's a bit of a turn-off to see bloggers pander to advertisers and stretch a connection to plus something. I read for amusement and to connect with like-minded, witty women (or men) and not only does it give me entertainment, it gives me a mirror in whicho reflect on my own experiences. Love all your blogs!Kristin/kwr221 kwr221.blogspot.com