Please comment here on my latest MediaPost OnlineSpin column, where I interview my wife, Laura, on what drives moms to online communities, particularly parenting boards:
Mom’s Best Friend: Discussion Boards
by Max Kalehoff
Moms. They’re the foundation of the household. Despite some shifts in gender roles, they more often are responsible for managing budgets, selecting doctors, feeding the family, choosing vacations, clothing kids, and influencing purchases of homes and cars. And if moms are distinguished by anything, it’s their propensity to seek one another out for advice, share their experiences and seek reassurance.Word of mouth rules..
According to Marketing to Moms, a division of BSM Media, Inc., word of mouth is the strongest form of marketing within the mom segment. Fifty-five percent of mothers say they rely on recommendations when making purchases for the home, and that number jumps to 64 percent when it comes to buying a product for their child. Moreover, 71 percent of moms report they are likely to use the Internet for product information, advice or general information.
That explains why moms also are among the most prolific groups who engage in consumer-generated media. Just consider the millions of posts across communities like Mom’s Life , iVillage’s Pregancy and Parenting, Internet Based Moms, Just Mommies: and Urban Baby.
As a researcher, I’ve always been aware of how big CGM is for moms. But it really hit home when my wife, Laura, became pregnant with our first child six months ago. She was kind enough to share some personal insights on what drives moms to online communities:
How long have you frequented online discussion forums, and how much time do you spend on them?
Since the night I received a positive reading on the pregnancy test, I’ve been on the expectant mother and parenting boards. Before that, I rarely visited discussion sites. [These days], I’ll check my favorite board about five times a week.
Considering the abundance of sources for information and advice, why online communities?
Online discussions represent the unvarnished truth. I know the people with whom I correspond and seek opinion aren’t being paid off by advertisers… nor involved in some sort of strategic alliance with a company, nor hiding any sort of commercial agenda.
I also like the immediacy. By going to an online discussion group, I usually get my answer in seconds. If the advice I’m looking for is not a matter of life or death– decisions that would ordinarily require a professional’s direct input–then it’s just as well answered by women who’ve been through the exact experience just months before me.
Why do you turn to message boards as opposed to magazines or books?
Books and magazines still have a place–I’m a magazine fiend, let alone a magazine editor [note: Laura is psychology editor at Self]. As soon as I got pregnant, I ran out and bought Mayo Clinic’s pregnancy guide, as well as the Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy. However, these sources often don’t offer specific answers–nor the camaraderie and assurance that shared experiences and peer recommendations do. Think about it, The Girlfriends Guide was written by one woman about ten years ago; the book doesn’t have the same feeling or currency as a living discussion. And while the Mayo guide will answer my questions about how the baby is doing in a particular week, it won’t tell me when there’s a sale at Barney’s on maternity jeans, an important function of my favorite message boards.
What prompts you to seek advice or give opinions?
I seek advice much more than I give opinions. If [there’s] something I feel expert in, I’ll weigh in. If something annoys me, I’ll speak up. But mostly I’m a lurker and an advice seeker. I think most people are opinion seekers, yet there is a smaller, louder and opinionated faction of advice-givers.
How do you develop trust online? And what about shills?
I won’t trust everybody, but I feel I’ve developed an intuitive sense of when people are genuine and when they’re not –and this is especially pertinent to boards I frequent heavily. I can tell when people are lying, or trying to put on a façade; wealth and “domestic bliss” are two common illusions they try to create.
Shills and companies hawking their products? We can pick them out –we know who they are! They’re easy to spot! Spammers don’t understand the nuances of the discussions taking place in the community. We call them out as “spam” and we then just ignore them. I think brands that shill are desperate.
What do you think of anonymity in discussion forums?
Anonymity is a good thing. I like being able to ask any question and say what I think without repercussions on my personal identity. The ability to participate anonymously reduces many inhibitions that would otherwise prohibit women from fully and passionately engaging in conversation.
To what extent are discussion boards a live, participatory event versus a one-way media channel?
For me, fifty-fifty, but it depends. If I’m concerned about an issue I’m going through, I’ll first start by searching on my issue, and then I might ask the community. However, most nights I’m lurking in on discussions to observe what other people are talking about.
Are boards effective vehicles for emotional exchanges?
Once in a while, I’ll share with the community various symptoms of my pregnancy that are new or challenging. The community will validate me and reassure that I’m not the only one. However, if I have issues that are complicated and specific, I tend to seek advice from my close friends offline.
What’s your favorite parenting board and why?
I’m drawn to Urban Baby–the Expectant Mother board– because the people there seem the most like me. Many of them deal with very local, similar issues, such as which OB to go to, where to sign up for childbirth classes, and which rooms in the hospital are most desirable. Urban Baby is even helpful for many of the products that we have to invest in, such as city-suitable strollers, Moses baskets for small apartments and baby bath tubs.
After you become a mother, will you continue using parenting boards?
Yes, because I’m sure more and more questions will continually pop up. I’ll be asking about everything: sleeping, peeing, pooping and daycare–you name it.
As an expectant father, it’s time for me to get with the program! Where are the father boards?
What do you think? Join the debate on the MediaPost blog here.