Online Moms: Where Local, Social, And Vertical Worlds Collide
Not long ago I had an appliance repair person to my house in the San Francisco Bay Area to fix my clothes dryer and, while he was at it, my dishwasher, which was stopping in the middle of cycles. I had used the Internet to find his company; however, he didn’t once ask me how I got his name. So, after he was done, as he was leaving, I prompted him with, “Don’t you want to know how I found you?”
“You probably found us in the Berkeley Parents Network, right?” he very casually replied. “You’re right,” I responded, surprised. The Berkeley Parents Network (BPN) is a non-profit online community heavily used in the East Bay neighborhoods of the Bay Area. While I don’t have empirical proof of this, my anecdotal observation is that those who write and consult the reviews on the BPN site are mostly moms.
I went on to tell the appliance repair guy that I had also used Google, Yelp , and InsiderPages in the process of finding him. But, in fact, BPN had been the first place I looked (after being referred there by Google). I used the other sites (e.g., Yelp) to confirm the original positive recommendation I found on the BPN site.
“That’s how we get most of our business, by word of mouth,” he said — and from the BPN site in particular. In a recent online small business survey conducted by Opus Research and AllBusiness.com, 60 percent of respondents said that more than half their business comes from customer referrals and “word-of-mouth.” Online ratings and reviews or recommendations are the electronic equivalent of word-of-mouth – on steroids. Word-of-mouth has now moved from “one to one” to “one to many.”
At last week’s SMX Local & Mobile the panel “Community Driven Local Search” was one of the most lively and surprisingly controversial, with Done Right CEO Paul Ryan arguing that ratings and reviews are often inaccurate, unfair, and can be “gamed.” While many of Ryan’s critiques have considerable merit, the phenomenon of “online word-of-mouth” is here to stay.
I wrote in a previous “Locals Only” column that local and social media were joined at the hip. However, when people think of local reviews or word of mouth, they often think of Yelp, Citysearch, Yahoo Local, Internet Yellow Pages, and even Facebook. Rarely do people think about parent sites or “mom networks.” This is something of a neglected but critical segment in local search and should be present in thinking about local search marketing.
Why are moms so important?
According the Census Bureau, there are more than 80 million mothers in the United States and 51 percent of all US Internet users are women. In addition, survey data from the Pew Internet Project has argued that mothers of children under the age of 18 are “significantly more likely than the rest of adult Americans to go online.” Women also tend to disproportionately influence household purchase behavior, except in categories such as consumer electronics.
Early in 2006 a company called Lucid Marketing, which specializes in targeting moms, issued data that reflected just over 20 percent of stay-at-home moms and another 19 percent of moms who work part time visit “message boards” or “chat rooms” on a daily basis. Moms are a very social segment. According to data compiled by AdAge, there are more than 30 million moms who read up to five blogs on a daily basis. The average household income of these moms is $70,000.
Both Judy’s Book and InsiderPages (now owned by IAC) closely studied and borrowed from the BPN in their initial thinking about their sites. And a majority of their usage comes from women and moms in particular. Now there are scores of sites that cater to parents and moms. The following is only a partial list:
- Baby Center/Parents Center
- Club Mom
- Lila Guide (recently acquired by TheKnot’s parent)
- Maya’s Mom (recently acquired BabyCenter, which is owned by Johnson & Johnson)
- Mom Junction
- Parents Connect/GoCityKids
- Urban Baby
There are also dozens of “mommy blogs,” such as Mommy Track’d, and numerous community sites like BPN around the country. While some of these sites are “hyper-local,” they’re not just about local. There is typically advice and information about parenting and family that doesn’t have to do with a particular DMA. But there’s a great deal that inevitably will involve local markets: doctors, preschools, events for kids, travel, and so on.
The identity and affinity of being a parent helps create the incentive to participate in these communities. The community also creates loyalty and trust. All this is fundamentally different than a straightforward local search/directory site, which often feels highly anonymous or “cold” by comparison.
This trust factor is key. That and habitual behavior are partly what sustain Google’s leadership in crowded and intensely competitive markets. In a “noisy” market people will gravitate to what’s effective, familiar, and trusted. This also explains why Craigslist continues to prosper in an extremely crowded classifieds segment.
Marketers and local businesses should consider some of these mom sites in their thinking about targeting local audiences and in terms of “online word of mouth.” While it’s considerably more challenging to market within online communities, a little time and attention to some of these sites could pay off in a meaningful way.
Regardless of whether marketers pay attention to them, these mom networks are in fact driving lots of recommendations and business referrals all over the US. It’s very much an untold story in local.
Greg Sterling is the founding principal of Sterling Market Intelligence and a senior analyst at Opus Research’s Local Mobile Search program. He publishes Screenwerk, a blog focusing on the relationship between the Internet and traditional media, with an emphasis on the local search marketplace. The Locals Only column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.