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The rise of the mommy economy

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Articles - May 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012
Asha Dornfest works on Parent Hacks from home. The site receives about 100,000 visits a month.
// Photo by Eric Näslund

Of course, in a world where community and commerce are increasingly conflated, selflessness, coupled with self-expression, looks something like a career path. And like Simple Mom’s Oxenreider, Dornfest’s modest aspirations eventually turned into something grand. Seven years after launching Parent Hacks, Dornfest not only earns about $30,000 annually, she has also parlayed the blog into a book deal — Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less, co-written by Christine Koh — and was recently tapped by the anti-poverty group ONE to be one of the organization’s ambassadors during an upcoming “ONEMoms” trip to Africa. “I have the opportunity to write this book because I started the blog, and now I have opportunities that are potentially global in their reach. The new digital cottage industry lets you do that.”

The proliferation of Internet technologies has made it easier for everyone, men, women and children, to start a business or make their voices heard. But social media and mobile technologies are also uniquely suited to the millennial mother, mom watchers say. After college students, mothers are the second most viral community online. According to eMarketer, mothers are also more likely to visit blogs than the average online user.

To be sure, moms have always shared parenting tips. Today, the venue has simply shifted from the back fence to the web. But other forces are driving moms online. Compared to previous generations, today’s mothers face “extreme anxiety,” fueled by a surge in single mothers, environmental concerns and a proliferation of consumer choices, says Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist at San Francisco State University. In a world where anything goes, “moms are looking to other moms and brands for help” carving out the right path.

Tiffany Larson, a 34-year old Portland mom who blogs for Oxenreider’s Simple Living, is a case in point. In the mommy economy vernacular, she is a classic “mommy influencer,” a mom who uses blogs, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook to disseminate and share opinions about products, brands and business practices. After her son was born, says Larson, she started researching healthy foods and home products. “I would find information on the web that made me think there were safer products out there than the ones I was using, and I decided to share them with other people.”

A recent blog post focused on alternatives to canned packaging; Larson also purchases books and food products based on recommendations from readers. This past winter, she notes, Campbell Soup decided to phase out use of BPA liners, a change in strategy that was driven by a grassroots social media campaign from moms. “There is a misconception about mommy blogs as fluffy material,” Larson says. “But that gets me excited — that moms have some power.”

In a country where mothers control about 80% of household spending, that power is not lost on companies targeting the mom demographic. “The most critical thing we’ve learned in our research is that you cannot underestimate the power of her-to-her product recommendations,” says Elisa Page, co-founder of BlogHer, a community and media company. Women form “circles of trust” online and trust those circles more than other sources, Page says. “We’re not listening to E.F. Hutton any more. We’re listening to each other.”



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