The question of whether virtual communities are real has been more than silenced of late by members, who have never met, rallying to each others’ aid.
Among the most recent examples are blogger Monica Bielanko and her family, who were swooped up by readers of her blog after their house burned to the ground. The clarion call, which raised tens of thousands of dollars, was sounded by blogger Katie Allison Granju, who’d had her own taste of the embrace of strangers about two years earlier, after the death of her teenage son. In fact, the baby Monica and her husband carried clear from the fire was named Henry, after Katie’s boy—even though the parents have only met in person once.
Also tested, and proven, is that these communities can mobilize for causes that are personal in a different way. Woe to the retailer that crosses Internet moms. Motrin learned this when it insulted “attachment parents” with a video showing people in pain from carrying their children in slings. JCPenney, in turn, learned the upside of this targeted passion when it refused to back down to the One Million Moms group protesting Ellen DeGeneres as their spokeswoman. You can’t buy that kind of advertising. Susan G. Komen for the Cure has also learned the power of Internet community when it watched a storied brand implode in 24 hours after it pulled funding for breast cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood (a decision since reversed), as (mostly) women rallied their (mostly) virtual networks to express disapproval of the foundation’s withdrawal .
Women, particularly mothers, are clearly finding so-called mommy blogs more than a place to kvetch and navel gaze, which was how they were described early on. Advertisers are finding something there, too, and what attracts Madison Avenue’s interest is not just the numbers of women reading them (though those are impressive), but their connections to each other.
These sites are simultaneously something brand new and as old as humankind. They’re places to connect and be heard, they satisfy a need to belong to something larger than ourselves, and are an invisible but palpable scaffolding of support. Mom blog readers give and receive—and since the best advertising is a mention from a friend, strangers who feel like friends are marketing gold.
Watching from the sidelines, this raises two questions. The first is how to navigate what is essentially a contradiction: women come to these virtual coffee klatches because they are intimate and genuine. How to introduce advertising and sponsorship without turning what feels like a morning cup of coffee with a friend into a chat perched on a neon sign in Times Square? On the highly trafficked site ThePioneerWoman.com, for instance, Ree Drummond’s readers used to talk both to each other and directly to her; now they mostly post to tell her how great she looked on the latest episode of her TV show. How large can one grow these brands without destroying them?
Second, what about men? Until recently, marketers mostly ignored the existence of daddy blogs, except occasionally to tick them off. Ragu did this last year with its “What Is Dinnertime Like When Dad Cooks?” video, which made fathers out to be dolts in the kitchen. A protest campaign by marketing professional and dad blogger C.C. Chapman resulted in some 1,800 anti-Ragu tweets. That was nothing compared with the tsunami directed at Motrin, which removed its video; Ragu did not.
But it’s a start. And there are other signs that marketers would do well to take dad blogs seriously. Surveys show a steady increase in the time men spend shopping for domestic goods, and there is parallel growth in the number of places where males can share online.
For the first time this year, Babble.com released its list of 50 Top Dad Blogs, to bookend its standard-setting roster of mom bloggers. “Dad bloggers are gaining more recognition with every passing month,” the introduction read. “In the process, they are also changing the way we think about fatherhood, parenthood, and exactly what is possible for men raising families.”
But as with mom blogs, the numbers will tell only part of the story. A blog without interaction is a billboard. Are men seeking the same conversation and connection as women seem to have found? If so, then a new community—for parents, and for advertisers—is about to be born.
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