Rise of the mummy bloggers

By Nicky Pellegrino

Read the musings of nzherald.co.nz's very own mummy blogger, Dita De Boni, here.

Bridget Whitteker, with children Noah (left), Ben, Ruby and Gabrielle, began blogging as a means to communicate with close friends. Photo / Simon Baker
Bridget Whitteker, with children Noah (left), Ben, Ruby and Gabrielle, began blogging as a means to communicate with close friends. Photo / Simon Baker

They write about everything from their post-natal depression to parenting problems. Some post photos of their pregnant bellies or the cupcakes they've baked. They even share video footage of their kids. And, while the mundane details of family life might not sound like the most exciting reading, the world's "mummy bloggers" are fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.

In the United States alone there are thought to be more 11,000 women writing online about the ups and downs of raising kids. For some it has become much more than a way to beat suburban neurosis - it's now a lucrative business.

The queen of the mummy bloggers is a mother-of-two from Salt Lake City, Utah. Heather Armstrong's dooce.com attracts four million hits a month and now brings in so much advertising revenue that her husband has quit his job to run the website. This year Forbes magazine listed her among the most influential women in the media.

Then there are others like Colleen Padilla of classymommy.com who reviews and endorses hundreds of products sent to her by companies eager to plug in to a network of women who are at the centre of family purchasing decisions.

Over in Britain, mum-of-one Jane Alexander isn't earning big bucks from exmoorjane.blogspot.com but was recently flown to Florida's Disney World for a free holiday along with six other mummy bloggers so she could write about it.

Alexander, the author of books about holistic living, started blogging three years ago because she thought it might be a creative way to market the rural house she was trying to sell.

"I had this wild idea that if I painted a gorgeous picture of our wonderful country lifestyle, I'd have townies racing to up-sticks and buy it," she says.

The idea was clearly ahead of its time since the house didn't get a single viewing through the blog. Even so, Alexander couldn't stop writing about her life online.

"I nearly fell off my chair when I realised I was a mummy blogger," she admits.

"I'd just thought I was a slightly odd woman writing about funny things that happened and, oh yes, I happen to have a child."

Friendship, rather than money and freebies, is Alexander's motivation to keep on blogging.

"Sometimes it's pure therapy - like writing a journal except you get warm, generous feedback from people you don't know," she says.

"I lived in a pretty isolated place and found that through blogging I made contact with other women in similar situations all over the world. Some - like New Zealander Cowgirl of Riverdale Farm - became good mates."

Alexander has posted chapters of her young adult novel on her blog in the hopes of getting a book deal. Occasionally she runs giveaways of stuff like Lego or sunscreen.

"I've been offered freebies but I'm incredibly circumspect about what I accept," she says.

"The blogging community is pretty sussed - my readers would vanish if they thought I was selling out. I only went on the blogging trip to Disney World after I'd established with Disney that I could say what I liked."

In this country, mummy blogging is still in its infancy. A growing number of women are catching on to the idea but the rich rewards aren't yet available.

Aucklander Sarah Gauntlett started her online presence, bobbyrobin.co.nz, last year as a creative outlet.

"I'm into photography as well as crafts and sewing and the blog was a great way to showcase the things I was making," she says.

When she became pregnant with her first child, the blog changed to become a record of her experiences. She now gets around 1000 hits a month and has been recognised by followers when she's been out shopping.

"I try to blog each day," says the 26-year-old.

"It only takes a few minutes, as I use a lot of photographs. It's a great way to keep in contact with other women and share your day-to-day thoughts without leaving the house.

"In among the laundry, cleaning and cooking, blogging is a social and creative activity. I don't want to get into a habit of living through my blog though. I won't start waking up in the morning and thinking, mmm ... I wonder what I could do today that I can post about."

Wellingtonian Benhi Dixon has also been writing a journal about her pregnancy milestones on her blog eggshellgreen.com. She gets around 150 visits a day, mostly from New Zealand and the United States.

"The concept of being able to earn some income on the side was my main reason for starting," says Dixon.

"Admittedly I've only earned a few cents here and there but I enjoy it and that keeps me going."

The commercial aspect to the blog extends to showcasing the craftwork Dixon sells and running some Google ads. None of it is yet making any money.

"I'd love it if I could make enough so I could quit my day job and spend more time blogging at home with my future babies."

Dixon is also motivated by the feedback she gets from her readers. "Their comments are the lifeline of my blog - they reassure me that I'm not just doing this for nothing," she says.

"The little notes people leave me can really brighten my day. When I write pregnancy posts I get lots of supportive comments and even some advice."

But not all feedback is positive, as dooce.com's Armstrong has discovered. She's been writing about her family life - including a spell of depression that resulted in her being admitted to a psychiatric hospital - since 2001 and now has an entire separate section of her website where she runs the hate-filled comments she's received.

One follower calls her "cold-hearted, narcissistic and un-motherly". Another accuses her of favouring one child over the other. This outpouring of vitriol runs to more than 30 pages but Armstrong doesn't let it stop her posting videos and photos of her kids, Leta and Marlo, on the blog and writing about everything from her emotions to her medical complaints in detail.

Most Kiwi mummy bloggers tend to be more reticent. They stay away from sensitive topics like money, career complaints, their marriages and their sex lives.

"We write about things other than our families too," says Sarah Gauntlett.

"Kiwi mummy blogs often have a creative side or some other interest flowing through them and I think that's what helps us draw an international readership. US mums find us a bit different to their usual daily diet of US blogs."

Rangiora's Bridget Whitteker has been sharing her thoughts on widgetlucy.blogspot.com since May this year. Her blog, she says, is about "the everyday life of a cool young wife and mum raising four small children. On the path to finding contentment and joy in what she already has".

The 29-year-old posts stories written by her son, admits her 4-year-old daughter's endless chatter drives her crazy and refers to her husband as "the gooseman".

"I'm amazed at how other people like to read what I have to say," admits Whitteker.

"Initially I thought it would be just for me and my two best friends, Christina and Meg, and I never dreamed of others reading too. But now I've been asked to contribute to a site called Women's World Magazine and another blogger from Canada has asked me to contribute to a book she's writing. So there have been unexpected benefits."

Whitteker's husband is slightly dubious about their family being in the public eye, so she has agreed to post only those photos of their kids that don't show their full faces.

"I'm honest about my day-to-day life, struggles and finding humour in the everyday aspects of being a parent. But I'm wary of revealing too much information," she says, "particularly if it involves other people".

Bronwyn Marquardt started aussies inauckland.blogspot.com so she could share her news with friends back home after she and her family relocated from Brisbane. Now the 41-year-old has followers in England, Australia, America, Asia and Europe, as well as New Zealand.

"It's made me realise that no matter where in the world we are, and how different we may be, we still have that common ground of producing small humans and doing our best to bring them up," says Marquardt, whose husband and two kids like to contribute to her blog.

"They love going through it and looking at photos of themselves, and reliving favourite moments - just like they would do with a photo album or scrapbook."

Mostly Marquardt blogs about daytrips and holidays the family has taken in New Zealand since they moved here a year ago.

"I think Tourism New Zealand should be paying me a commission or providing some free trips," she says.

"I'm constantly emailed by people who, after seeing New Zealand through our eyes, are longing to visit, having never considered it before. One couple is even thinking of moving here - they had no idea of the opportunities to be found across the ditch."

It's entirely possible that these are the golden days of the Kiwi mummy blog. Over in the US there are fears the whole phenomenon has become so commercialised, with sponsored posts and questionably accurate reviews of products, that bloggers are losing sight of the original idea of creating a supportive, online community.

Now, instead of writing about the cute stuff their kids say, US mums are blogging about how best to capitalise on their online presence.

"Mummy blogging is a business," writes queenofspainblog.com's Erin Kotecki Vest, who admits to being paid US$6000 ($7900) for consulting with Disney to help them better understand the phenomenon - "for what essentially amounted to a few emails, a survey and a meeting".

She urges her fellow mummy bloggers to think of themselves as brands and get their share of the corporate marketing spend.

"They want you to blog their product? Charge them for ad space," she suggests. "They want to know if you think other mummy bloggers will like their new website? Charge them a consulting fee."

But as mummy bloggers go professional they run into ethical issues. Some write about products and services without disclosing that the content is sponsored, so blurring the line between editorial and advertising. Others take a share of profits from the products they profile.

The burgeoning business has now caught the attention of the US Federal Trade Commission which is looking into the idea of extending existing laws about liability to new media - meaning US bloggers who endorse products may have to get themselves liability insurance.

And all is not peaceful in this increasingly competitive online world. There have been wars with bloggers fighting over breastfeeding issues, bickering about whether it's better to be a stay-at-home or a working mother and accusing each other of selling out.

And there have been scandals. One US blogger was arrested after she was accused of harming her 3-year-old. That same child's health struggles were often the topic of her online writing.

It might seem unlikely that Kiwi mummy blogging could ever become either so controversial or so commercial but, with 64,000 babies born in this country last year, it's a growing business.

"Blogging in New Zealand, while it's growing and becoming more popular, is still an untapped medium for companies looking for marketing opportunities," says Katherine Granich, editor of OHbaby! magazine.

Commercial or not, Granich doesn't see blogging dying off any time soon.

"Since we launched blog capabilities on the OHbaby! website, it's been steadily growing in popularity as more mothers discover what it is and how to do it. Many people are unused to expressing themselves in writing, and it takes them a little time to gain that confidence to just go ahead and let their thoughts out."

And once they do, says Granich, they quickly discover blogging can be both empowering and cathartic.

"When the kids are screaming and your husband is exhausted from work and doesn't want to listen to your day and you've just been told you need to provide six dozen cupcakes for your toddler's preschool's bake sale tomorrow, writing it all down in a blog is a great way to help you order your thoughts and take time out for yourself."

- NZ Herald

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