The originator of the scandal was the parenting site Mumsnet. In addition to Brown, the site played host last month to Conservative Party leader David Cameron, who was criticised for being slow to answer questions; Home Secretary Alan Johnson in April and Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband last week. The latter sparked controversy by revealing he used disposable nappies for his baby son.
Such is the power of the site that senior politicians have made it a key communications medium in the fight to win the much-desired and influential 'mums' vote.
'Politicians are keen to engage with the mothers audience,' says Mumsnet co-founder Justine Roberts. 'On Mumsnet, they have a concentrated group of mums in one place. These are mums who are influential at the school gates.' Political social media expert David Prescott, MD at Game Changer, adds: 'Any politician who turns down channels such as Mumsnet is missing a fantastic opportunity to engage with real people. But the most important thing to remember for any politician is not to go to these online forums expecting to broadcast policy.'
Mumsnet was set up in 2000 by Roberts, a sports journalist, and Carrie Longton, a TV producer, after they met at an antenatal class. After nearly a decade, the site now boasts close to 1.5 million monthly unique users. These users are mainly well educated, which is an attractive proposition for politicians aiming to secure that key middle-class vote.
But Roberts is keen to stress the site is foremost a hub of information for pregnant mums or parents wanting advice.
'Mothers tend to be the gatekeeper of the health of the family, so we need to engage with them regularly to allow them to feed into the policy-making process,' says Department of Health director general of communications Sian Jarvis. 'We have done this on a range of policies. Most recently Mumsnet has been an important channel for talking to mums about swine flu.'
Roberts warns is a mistake for brands to presume mums are only interested in washing powder or bottle-feeding.
'Women also make the buying decisions in the house so other brands such as household goods, insurance or finance companies should also think about getting in touch.'
For this reason, Ford has signed up to be the first car manufacturer to advertise on the site. The car company will promote its multi-purpose vehicles through a digital user-generated video campaign.
Ford of Britain communications manager Lisa Brankin explains: 'Mumsnet is a trusted community for mums. The team has a good feel for what will work for its members.'
Unique users: 1,452,000 in November
Page impressions or hits: 17 million monthly
Weekly newsletters: A parenting news round-up and a round-up of the best discussions on Talk
Gordon Brown's favourite biscuit: Anything with a bit of chocolate
Contact: 020 3051 0167; email@example.com
A MINUTE WITH ... JUSTINE ROBERTS, CO-FOUNDER, MUMSNET
- Describe the average Mumsnet user
Mumsnet users are pretty well educated. Seventy-five per cent have a degree or an equivalent qualification. Ninety-five per cent are women, while we also have five per cent of users who are either male, grandparents or childminders. They are skewed in terms of income, with higher than the national average income. The quality of discussions online attracts people who use grammar rather than 'text-speak'.
- How can PROs get involved in providing content for the site?
Promotions and competitions are an area where PR professionals can get involved. Market research and product testing are also areas of opportunity.
- Is there an opportunity to provide news?
We don't editorialise news. The news channel is purely what is in the news in broadcast media and in the nationals, so there wouldn't be a chance to provide content. We don't accept product news - brands can advertise instead.
- What mistakes do brands often make when contacting the site?
The biggest mistake that brands can make is to patronise our users. They shouldn't pigeonhole our audience. Mums don't just want to make whites whiter. They are people first, not mums.