They attract millions of followers by sharing parenting tips, lifestyle advice, and product suggestions with new and expectant mothers. But there’s a bigger reason 'momfluencers' have taken over social media, and that’s simply because it’s big business.
"I think mom creators are growing as a category because many women like the flexibility and the ability they have to stay home with their children while also making a very nice income," says Chelsea Clark, founder of Momfluence.co, a platform that specifically helps brands grow by connecting them to moms who have digital influence.
And Clark admits it can be very lucrative work.
"It's been said that you could make the dollar amount equivalent to your following, so someone with 20,000 followers could make $20,000/year," says Clark. "But it takes a lot of energy and time spent unpaid to get over the threshold."
It's big business for advertisers, too. According to Hannah Ryan, senior campaign director at leading influencer agency, The Goat, the followers of momfluencers are some of the most loyal that you’ll find, often resulting in fantastic sales.
"We have run campaigns for big FMCG brands over the years and the organic sales we see on the products that momfluencers are shouting about are pretty significant," says Ryan. "Momfluencers are some of the most powerful and persuasive voices online."
And it's little wonder when women are said to drive 70-80% of all household purchasing decisions that momfluencers are one of, if not the most in-demand categories in the influencer space.
"Marketers have long been guided by assumptions that locate women at the heart of consumer culture; historians of the 20th century even used the shorthand of 'Mr. Breadwinner and Mrs. Consumerism'," says Brooke Erin Duffy, an associate professor in the Department of Communication at Cornell University. She is also a member of the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies faculty.
"But even though gender roles have evolved markedly over the last century or so, the construction of the social women shopper is a persistent one."
A toxic pull
As the power, influence, and persuasion of momfluencers grow online, an increasing number of women are succumbing to the toxic pull of comparisons, unreasonable expectations, and the pressure to be "perfect".
The supposedly flawless lifestyles portrayed by momfluencers, who frequently present an idealised view of parenting, inspire many moms to want to live up to those standards. But their highly curated social feeds, which range from photos of immaculately kept homes to precisely planned events, from immaculately clothed children to immaculately designed nurseries, can, unsurprisingly, leave other mothers feeling inadequate.
Sara Petersen, a writer and mother of three who lives in the US, has been tracking the meteoric rise of the "momfluencer" for almost ten years, and has recently published a book called 'Momfluence', that examines how mommy influencer culture came to be the economic force that it is.
"I think when mainstream momfluencer culture upholds the status quo of a 'good mom' looking a certain way or conforming to a certain family makeup, viewers can absorb the quietly toxic message that the 'standard' for 'good motherhood' is always white, always domestic, always cis-het, and always delighted to be doing unpaid care work," says Petersen.
And brands, too, can be guilty of missing the mark in ensuring diversity and inclusion in the creators that they work with.
"I’d definitely suggest that all brands take a step back and look at the creators they are working with to ensure they are representative of real lives and that they speak with the right tone to relevant customer groups," says Ryan of The Goat Agency.
Time to get real
Taiwanese model Kate Pang is a full time momfluencer in Singapore doling out advise on pets, motherhood and fitness
There was a time, especially before the pandemic, where life online for momfluencers was frequently aspirational, and often peddled narrow, unrealistic, and sometimes toxic ideals of what motherhood is and how it should look. But, according to the experts, those days are fast disappearing.
"Recent shifts in our culture and economy-particularly those wrought by the pandemic—have increased the felt demand for more relatable, candid, and unvarnished depictions of womanhood," says professor Brooke Erin Duffy. "Those who defy these codes for 'realness' don't just risk losing audiences; they have been the targets of hate, harassment, and other expressions of online antagonism."
Clark, founder of Momfluence.co, says there will always be a split in the momflueuncer community, some who are idealistic and some realistic, because some people enjoy the escapism, similar to reality TV, while others want to feel seen & heard.
"There are tons of Mom accounts that show only the good of course," adds Clark. "But more and more there are huge accounts (and some that are small) that have grown because they show the real, relatable side. I think Momfluencers already show a very real version of parenthood and life as a woman, you just have to be in that circle on social."
It is true that if you look hard enough, you'll find momfluencers from almost every walk of life-disrupting our cultural narratives of "ideal" motherhood.
"There are so many momfluencers utilising their platforms to draw attention to serious issues impacting mothers and caregivers," says Petersen. "Issues like paid leave, bodily autonomy during childbirth, access to weight inclusive healthcare for fat moms, accessibility for disabled mothers, representation for queer and trans mothers, gendered division of care work within the home, parenting children with unique medical needs. It has already become 'more real' in many spaces."
A growing number of momfluencers like @mommacusses or @brownpapernutrition – are already thriving in this space, priding themselves in being real about the most challenging and funny sides of parenting.
"While aspirational content can be appealing, we are seeing growing demand for influencers who are willing to show the less glamorous side of motherhood as well," says Suzie Shaw, CEO at We Are Social Australia. "But they're still one of the most popular categories of influencer marketing and can command a strong price premium."
What about the kids?
While momfluencing has at times been criticised for being toxic and making other moms feel bad, what impact does it have on kids? You can’t, after all, be a momfluencer without kids.
The children of momfluencers often appear frequently in photos on their social feeds. But is it ethical for momfluencers to commercialise their kids? And should there be stricter rules/protections for minors?
"I think the issue of consent is critical to consider when we think about parents earning money as a direct result of their children's participation in their social media accounts," says Petersen. "And I think clearer guidelines (like those in France, where there are labour laws in place to protect children of influencers as well as legislation directing a portion of the momfluencer's payment to go into a fund for the child) would certainly help. But even with these protections in place, I think the ethics of privacy and consent will always be thorny."
Clark, however, argues that it paints a complete picture of their life.
"Our creators mostly post about themselves, while their kids are in a lot of content, the captions and focus is on their experience with motherhood and life in general,” says Clark. “Parents do a lot of things like force children to play sports they don't want to play, for example, so I'm not sure how this is any different. If anything, it provides income that theoretically benefits the children."
And professor Brooke Duffy points out that while children should be protected from commercial exploitation and the myriad harms that befall those who "put themselves out there," existing child labour laws don't neatly translate into the influencer space.
However, momfluencer content, with or without featuring their kids, doesn't look like it will be declining in popularity or its lucrative appeal anytime soon.
"It's already a multibillion-dollar industry, and I certainly don't see the power of influencer marketing going anywhere anytime soon," says Petersen. "Most of us are more inclined to shop through our social media habits than, for example, through traditional advertising sources like women's magazines, television commercials, etc. Forming parasocial bonds with the people selling us stuff is also much more likely to make us trust their product recommendations and click 'purchase now.'"