Brands foster a mom connection online

Noticing their impact in social media, companies are boosting outreach to these influential women

Moms have long been a coveted audience for brands, but the ways to reach them are changing rapidly. In the past year, companies have shown an increasing propensity to move key communications with moms to the online and social media space. Brand ambassadors done in more authentic ways, such as McDonald's Moms' Quality Correspondents; tie-ins with events like BlogHer; and outreach to mom bloggers have become pillars of the new landscape.

Campbell's Soup Company held a “landmark” event on January 29 with 11 mom bloggers at its headquarters, according to Juli Mandel Sloves, senior manager of nutrition and wellness. It was coordinated by Weber Shandwick, its wellness AOR, and sponsored by two of its brands, Kids Condensed Soup and its V8 V-Fusion. Sloves says the company is engaging bloggers to “start to have a dialogue.”

“The overall trend is that companies are finally recognizing the need to reach moms online... companies are also realizing that moms aren't only relying on corporate [sites], but more so on the other moms online,” says Stephanie Azzarone, president of Child's Play Communications. “So outreach to mommy bloggers is the biggest trend.”

Her firm recently hosted a brunch for mom bloggers, where they were introduced to some of its clients' products, including Elmer's Products and other exhibitors, such as Disney Publishing. It also allowed the companies to create a personal connection.

At Newell Rubbermaid's Graco Children's Products, the PR team has invested in a long-term strategy to build its social media efforts, according to Lindsay Lebresco, senior PR and social media manager for the brand. Although it launched a blog in December 2007, the company has been “listening” for the past nine months to help develop its strategy. It started with a “fundamental switch in how we viewed our PR,” she says. Lebresco adds that Graco is now focused on making personal connections and translating that into better, faster customer service.

“Our approach to social media and getting to know our consumers was to gain trust in the community,” she says. For example, it enlists 11 parents at its company to blog because we “wanted to represent the fact that Graco isn't just a brand, but is made up of parents.”

Lebresco has been Twittering for the company – though first as a mom – for more than a year. “That was, ‘Hey, I'm a Mom first... and you're going to connect to me as a mom.'” The company started a branded Twitter account this past summer, and it has recently expanded what it discusses on both its Twitter and blog to be more customer-service focused. Lebresco envisions this as eventually not only gaining brand ambassadors and word of mouth, but also saving the company money as customer relations shift from telephone call centers.

Brands need to understand how moms view themselves to effectively engage them, says Heidi Hovland, SVP and senior partner at Fleishman-Hillard, and one of the co-chairs of the agency's FH Moms practice, which launched in January.

“Moms have always been a priority audience,” she says. But because of the “growing control of consumers in general, moms are really leading the conversation.” Moreover, moms know they play a powerful role in their households and communities, and brands need to “find ways to recognize them,” Hovland adds. “The more you collaborate, the more they're going to feel pride of ownership and advocate on your behalf.”

Kelley Skoloda, partner and director of the global brand marketing practice at Ketchum, says that brands should start by listening. Skoloda, author of the upcoming Too Busy To Shop, points out that all brands should learn which blogosphere audiences are most influential for them, whether it is TwitterMoms, Yahoo's Shine, or CafeMom. “It sounds obvious, but I think there are brands that aren't even listening,” she says. “Think about natural ways to engage... just take steps.”

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