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Mommybloggers: Integrity, Community and Taking Back the Respect We Earned

Mommybloggers: Integrity, Community and Taking Back the Respect We Earned

Back in 2005 before the first BlogHer conference, two amazing women- Jenny of Three Kid Circus and Meghan of I’m A Bloggin’–  were asked to be on a panel about mommyblogging by BlogHer co-founder Elisa.  I was honored to be asked by Lisa Stone to join them.  We were told it would be a small room and not to feel bad as it may not have many attendees.  In fact, I believe the words “mommyblogging” and “passing phase” were used by Elisa.  (Yes, we laugh about that now seeing as there was an entire track dedicated to mommybloggers in 2009.)  You see, back then mommybloggers were at the very bottom of the blogging food chain.  We were just moms writing as a “little hobby.”  We were not taken seriously.  We were not respected.  We were the frivolous bloggers who would go away soon enough.   During that session, the room was filled to capacity.  Not only were other mom bloggers present, but tech bloggers, literary agents, a reporter and others who were just curious to see what we had to say.The main topic of conversation that first year at the first BlogHer during their first mommyblogging session was the phrase “mommyblogger” itself.  Was it derogatory? Was it demeaning?  Do you we fight it or embrace it?  Many opinions were shared that day but the bottom line came down if “they” were going to call us mommybloggers, we were going to make it a phrase to be proud of when we were labeled with it.  Many women that day did not want to be labeled at all. Especially not labeled a mommyblogger. At that time it was “uncool” to be a mommyblogger.  We did not have respect.  We did not have the “power” that other kinds of bloggers had.  In fact, it was almost a joke to be called a mommyblogger.  We did not have the media clamoring to talk to us about our blogs.  There were not agents knocking on our doors for book deals.  We certainly did not have marketing representatives or PR professionals coming to us for our opinions.

Alice of Finslippy said it best when she stood up at the closing keynote and declared, “Mommyblogging is a radical act!”  And?  It was.  At that time, to be called a mommyblogger and have a mommyblog was radical.  We had to fight for any respect we received.  We had to work hard to earn any recognition that was not negative.  It was radical to embrace (or even accept) being called a mommyblogger.

What did we walk away with that day?  If “they” were going to continue to label us mommybloggers, we would make it a term that was synonymous with respect, integrity and quality writing. The opinions and writing styles represented by the women in that room at that panel were as varied as the writers behind them.  It wasn’t as if we walked away holding hands and singing Kumbaya.  We weren’t suddenly some bonded community that adored each other and created a uniform way of mommyblogging.  For goodness sakes, some of us didn’t even like each other but we did respect the writing represented by each one of us  Regardless of any of our differences, we did agree on one thing:  We would no longer sit back and be disrespected for being a mommyblogger. We were not going to sit at the bottom rung of the blogging ladder and be content.  As a collective of individual writers, we were taking back the term and demanding respect. Not by telling people to respect us.  Not by storming the gates of the media and demand they respect us.  No, we gained respect through our writing.  Call us what you want–label us what you want– we were first and foremost writers.  Good writers.  We just happened to write about our family lives and our children.

Part of embracing the term was starting the site Mommybloggers.  I registered it and went to Jenny and Meghan and asked if they wanted to start a site that focused on featured the quality writing of the amazing women who were labeled “mommybloggers.”  Thus, a we began to shine a light on how amazing these women writers really are.

It was inspiring to see the changes in the perception of mommybloggers after that first year at BlogHer.  We mommybloggers  proved through our writing that we were a powerful group of bloggers.  We showed that the power of our blogs reached much further than our immediate family. We could change the world with our words on our “little mommyblogs.”

Many of us that day were blogging long before some of the “big name” mommybloggers of today even had children.  Yet, when they became moms and were suddenly labeled mommyblogger, they brought even more respect to our community.  Simply because they were popular?  No, not exclusively.  Because they could write well and they did so with confidence and authority and wouldn’t let the label mommyblogger change that.  It was an exclamation point on what we were doing. And I admire them immensely.

The fact of the matter is, those of us who were blogging at and around that time were pioneers in the mommyblogging field.  We did it with pride, openness and quality.  We told the stories of our lives.  We shared stories about motherhood honestly and without apology.  We took back the term “mommyblogger” and made it synonymous with power, integrity and respect.  We worked hard to gain that respect.  We fought for it. We earned it.  And even those who did not want to be labeled at all could be proud when referred to as a “mommyblogger” because we all made that happen.  Together.  Individually with our own blogs.  Yet together.

In the past year or so a new crop of mommybloggers has popped up.  Many women who are a part of this new breed of mommybloggers have come to the scene heralding with much pomp and circumstance a sense of entitlement.  They feel they are owed something.  They feel just by slapping the label mommyblogger on their blog (blogs where they barely if ever write about their personally lives or families at all), they have earned the same respect as those who are writing quality stories that engage their readers.  Do not misunderstand me.  I am under no circumstances saying that this includes all new mommybloggers.  I don’t care if you started blogging 10 days ago or 10 years ago.  It is not in the length of time blogging but in the attitude behind it.  There are some absolutely amazing mommybloggers who are just starting out who I absolutely respect. It is not about being new.  It is about being a part of the “new breed” that is stirring things up.

What do I mean by a ” new breed” of mommybloggers? I am talking about the ones who project an air of entitlement because they are a “mommyblogger.”  I am talking about the ones who shout so loud to marketers that the rest of us can barely be heard above the clamor. I am talking about the ones who behave rudely to PR people who do not give them what they want, complain if someone else got something they did not, or cry foul if they are not the ones sent on a trip that other women took.  I am talking about the ones who try to tell others how to make PR work for them and how to get the best things and how they deserve those things.  In the midst of all of the noise and self declared importance, where is the quality writing about life and family that actually brought respect to the mommyblogging community?

Now, before you even go there I will say that I do not have a problem with working with the media. (I have done several interviews both in print and on tv.)  I do not have a problem working with marketers or PR representatives.  (I have great relationships with many, many of them.)  I do not have a problem with sending bloggers on trips to teach them more about a product and show them firsthand where it all starts.  (I have been on a few of these and have referred many other mommybloggers for these trips when asked.)  And finally, I do not have a problem with free products, product reviews or working with a company to test a new product. (I have done all of those more than once.)  I do have a problem with assuming you are entitled to it, demanding you receive it and throwing an Internet hissy fit when it doesn’t go your way.  I have a problem with behaving so poorly and rudely that the term “mommyblogger” is suddenly becoming synonymous with greed, rude behavior and a self important sense of  entitlement.

Who do you think brought those marketers and media to your blog?  Those of us who fought (and still fight) to bring respect to the term “mommybloggers.”  Our writing, not our shouting, demanding or grabbing gained us the respect this new breed feels entitled to have.

This weekend I heard bloggers that I admire and respect say things to distance themselves from the term mommyblogger.  The always kind and spot on Julie of The Mom Slant saying  more than once “Don’t call me a mommyblogger!” Kristen of Motherhood Uncensored who never pulls a punch declaring her new motto ” Not all bloggers are like that” when referring to being called a mommyblogger.  Hearing Busy Mom (The Original) –who happens to be one of the most mellow, non-judgemental, pioneers in the mommyblogging community– refer to all of this as the year shame died which in turn prompted the title of a brilliant post from the amazing blogger, Liz of Mom 101.  I heard and experienced all of those last weekend.

And it broke my heart.

These are the women who stood up and earned respect for term “mommyblogger” through their amazing writing, professionalism and pride in what they write about.  Even those who resist labels altogether wore the mommyblogger label with pride when it was applied to them are now these women want nothing to do with it.  Those same women who brought respect to the term and the community are now repulsed by it.

And I am heartbroken.

And I am mad.

It brings to my mind a question that I have been pondering since all of this finally came to a head at BlogHer.

And I want you to think about this long and hard.

If you join an established and respected community, do you owe it anything?  Is it your responsibility to respect what has been built with hard work and diligence by the people who consider themselves a part of that community?  Especially if it is a community without set rules, guidelines or membership but rather it is merely a community of writers who have worked hard to support each other through their writing and willingness to stand up for each other both on their blogs and in their personal lives?

If you throw on that label, what does that mean?  Does it mean anything?  Should you respect those who came before you–the pioneers if you will–or do you say to hell with how it has been done or the work they have put into this community, this is how I want to do it?

If a community is built by being open to everyone who identifies with it, respects it and is proud to be a part of it, what happens to that community when just using the label that identifies it throws it into turmoil.  When it places someone right smack dab into the middle of this open community and that person has little respect for what it stands for already?

Does self labeling make you are part of a community?

I don’t know.

What I do know is my heart broke when I heard amazing writers who have never fought the term mommyblogger and even go as far as bring it respect, not want to be associated with it.  Worse?  When I was talking to  Susan Getgood, a woman I respect immensely,  and heard the words, “I don’t even want to be called a mommyblogger anymore if this is what is has come down to.”  come out of my very own mouth, my heart dropped to my feet.  The look on her face (and the tears that began rolling down my cheeks)  said it all.

But now?  You can forget that.  Too many amazing mommybloggers fought too hard to walk away from something we brought respect to.  Mark my words, we will take back the respect we earned and fought for.  Will we do it through screaming, threats, blog attacks or excluding people?  No. Absolutely not.  That is not what built us up in the first place and it is not what will sustain us through this insanity of poor behavior.

What will we do? We will write the hell out of our blogs and remind people who mommybloggers are and why we earned the respect we have.  Just before I left I was handed a fortune cookie. (I was overwhelmed so I cannot remember the link of who gave it to me. Tell me and I will link you!)  That fortune cookie says it all for me.

The end looks much like the beginning.  Return to what you once knew and many have forgotten along the way.

I have not forgotten.  Have you?

Pitch me and I may hit it out of the ballpark for you. But I may call a foul!

Pitch me and I may hit it out of the ballpark for you. But I may call a foul!

Recently I was asked about pitching to Mom bloggers by someone in PR. (Thank you for actually asking and taking the time to care!) I had this in draft but decided to go ahead and post it. Take it for what you will.

I have been having some amazing conversations with people “in the know” when it comes to PR pitches, branding, owning who you are and what you write. I have learned a lot. Mainly because I have learned to shut my mouth (for the most part) and listen. (Sorry, Aaron/technosailor. I am not so great at it yet.) I spoke with the wonderful Robert Scoble who had great advice. Chris Pirillo who I totally have had a geek crush on since way back in the day on TechTV (or was it ZDTV? I forgot which came first.) They not only support mommybloggers but had some great advice when talking about this issue. (Thank you, Erin, for the introductions.)

One of the things that I have learned that is vital for trust is “full disclosure” in this whole new world of being pitched to and products. So in full disclosure, here are some of the bigger companies and/or products I have worked with recently. (Note: I am not telling you because I am shouting “Hey, look what I have done.” But more because these have been companies that have gone above and beyond to reach out and learn from mom bloggers on just how to approach us and work with us.)

  • AT&T
  • Nintendo (I would so totally have Nintendo’s baby if you could have a company’s baby! For now? Tattoo!)
  • Saturn
  • Ford
  • Flip.com
  • Disney
  • Disney Mobile
  • HP
  • Blizzard
  • Ogilvy
  • Johnson & Johnson

These are the companies I have chosen to work with. It does not count the amazing PR people that I work with on products like DVDs, portable hard drives, gift certificates, etc. I am not highlighting these companies because they have the “big items” but rather because they took the time to talk to me, get to know me and try to see if they can work with me and not just shove a product at me and want results.

Of all of those above, they only represent a handful of PR people that contact me on a consistent basis. I only work with ones who have taken the time to get to know me, my blog and my readers. That list? Those are amazing people that I am honored to work with. (You know who you are and I will link you only with your permission.) If they ask me to try a product that sucks, I will tell them no and why. If they offer me something that I would probably buy anyway, I will try it because we have formed a working relationship. It is a give and take now. They would never dream of mass emailing and just assuming that I will try something. They know what to approach me with and what not to bring my way. Because they got to know me and my blog.

If I had the chance, would I love to have dinner in person with these people? Rob, Nichole, Charlie, Scott, Ryan, Monica, David, Maria, Stacy, Jason etc? (Forgive me if I left your name out. I love you too and you know it if we talk.) Hell yes I would. I adore them so much after working with them. I would jump at it because we have gotten to know each other beyond the PR pitch. These types of PR are people are welcome in my inbox, on my phone and on my blog. They know they can count on me to be honest and upfront with them and about their product.

Why do I turn down the rest of you PR people? Here are a few reasons:

  • My name is NOT “Needs Coffee”! Do you really think that is what my mom named me? When you address me as such what you are saying is: “I don’t give a crap who you are. You are just an email address to me.” Want to know what? I don’t give a crap who you are either. You are just another deleted pitch to me.
  • Starting an email with: “I read [insert last post written] and think your readers would love [insert product here].” Oh really? I wrote about biting my dog. How does that make you think that my readers want your “yummy” new product that “all mommies will love” or that I want your diapers. That is so transparent! I know you just picked the last post and are trying to pretend that you have some interest in me. I have two teens and a 7 year old. How about pitching me a cell phone, laptop or webcam. (Kidding.) That is something my readers will understand. Hell, that is something that makes sense to my blog and the things I write about. Now, I know there are a lot more things to pitch a mom of young kids than a mom of teens and school age kids. I get that. But really? Try to put some thought into what you are trying to tell me “I will simply love! And want to share will all my mommy friends on the playground!” Gah!
  • EVERYTIME you send me a standard press release with no intro, personalization or thought, I will NEVER endorse you. Period. Would you if I sent you a standard PR pitch about my blog? Would that make you want to jump up and offer me all of your goodies? Would you think. “Wow! A standard press release about a blog I don’t know anything about. I must be special!” I didn’t think so.
  • Do you really want me to talk about your product? Why? This is my space. My words. My brand. If you want me to attach my name to it, tell me why. It isn’t that hard. Give me real reasons why the readers of my blog and/or I personally would want to use up the real estate on my blog to talk about your product for free. Pitch me. Convince me. Don’t come at me like some dumb housewife who would rather talk about butt wipes and watch soap operas than actually use what I have built to make a name for myself and my brand.

And this is just a question for me out of curiosity that I already touched on. I know that the word “mommy” brings up images of babies and toddlers, but have you not yet figured out that there are those of us who have teenagers? You are missing out on a large and growing population of mom bloggers by ignoring those of us with teens. We have the experience, the knowledge and have earned the respect of moms of younger children. You should take that into account. And when it comes to teens, trust me when I say we ARE looking to each other for advice on products and services. This is a prime market, people. Have you not figured that out yet? We are buying products on a daily basis for these tweens and teens and yet are virtually ignored when it comes to being seen. Big mistake. For one, these are also the kids who are making money and will be buying these things as well.

I thought about not posting this or just ignoring the whole issues since I have been there done that, but you know what? I am tired of being treated like someone who has no brain. I am smart and I know my likes and dislikes. And trust me on this one: If I love what you have, I will move heaven and Earth to make sure I get the word out. By the same token, if you treat me like dirt, I will get that word out as well. So listen to those of us who are trying to teach you. Seriously. Stop doing what you have always done and learn from us. We actually are trying to help you. Oh, and just a thought, if you really want to reach the mom bloggers and do this right, have you ever thought of hiring one of us to teach you these things? Because really? Many of you could use us. Many of you.

Just so you know.