When Moe’s Southwest Grill heard that the annual BlogHer Food conference was coming to their hometown of Atlanta, the marketing department scrambled. “We scanned the attendee list and scoured the Web to find... mom bloggers who would relate to our brand,” says Lauren Barash, director of corporate communications. They were invited to join the Moe’s Rock ’n Roll Tour Bus, which picked them up at the airport and shuttled them to their hotels, accompanied by music and snacks. “Our chef was on the bus serving our signature salsas and chips, along with some execs from the chain.”
Needless to say, with such a flashy promotion, Moe’s thinks highly of so-called mommy bloggers and their growing influence. Other restaurants do too.
Smashburger, the Denver-based “better burger” concept, has embraced mom bloggers from its start.
“When we open in a new area, we do a pre-open event for mom bloggers and food bloggers,” says Doug Thielen, VP of communications. “Moms really have their finger on the pulse of our audience and market.” Thielen looks for bloggers who have influence around specific niches—not necessarily those with the biggest following. Coupons and gift cards are sometimes offered to sweeten the pot. Then Smashburger takes a hands-off approach. “Our goal is to build relationships and bring people into the fold, without requiring payback,” he explains. This lack of hard sell gets bloggers eagerly talking about Smashburger, building online buzz. “Third party endorsements are the most valuable, especially when you open in a new market,” Thielen adds.
“According to our research, women active in social media are twice as likely to trust a blogger than an editor or other expert,” says Jory Des Jardins, co-founder of BlogHer—which boasts 37 million visitors to its site and 4,100 attendees at its 2011 conference. “And moms have something to say about everything—it’s endemic to that stage of life.”
McDonald’s has actively embraced “word of mom,” according to Des Jardins. The mega-chain has hosted groups of mom bloggers at its headquarters, touring the facilities and sitting them down with the president for a Q and A. “The bloggers were able to share a personal experience with their audience, and their followers saw the experience through the eyes of someone they trust,” says Des Jardins. It’s all about influencing the influencers in a positive way, she adds.
It’s clear that moms wield a considerable amount of cyber-clout. Vera Sweeney, creator of Lady and the Blog and brand ambassador for several companies, feels “an endorsement, review or opinion by a mom blogger is more influential than a celebrity endorsement. It’s more honest and believable.”
Finding mom bloggers
- Check out the blogging communities. BlogHer is a top resource for mommy bloggers, as is Babble—which ranks the top 100 bloggers in several categories, including food and parenting.
- Look at who is already talking about you in the blogosphere.
- Track interactivity. “Influencers read certain blogs that are not necessarily the ones with the most traffic,” Des Jardins contends. Those that generate activity, engagement and comments are more effective. Plus, moms talk about restaurants in the context of other conversations; you aren’t necessarily looking for someone who focuses only on your industry.
- Do a Google search. Google can help you target bloggers in a specific locale—a good tool for openings in a new location. “When a restaurant searches ‘mom bloggers in Georgia’ my name comes up,” says Connerty. Chains also find her on Twitter, where her profile includes “food truck stalker” and “foodie” in the description.
- Work with local PR firms.
- Participate in events. Vera Sweeney of “Lady and the Blog” hosts a “Getting Gorgeous” blogger expo, which Lauren Barash of Moe’s attended. “I met dozens of bloggers, thanks to that event,” she recalls.
Go to the next page to meet five influential mom bloggers...
Five influential mom bloggers
Name: Vera Sweeney
Blog: Lady and the Blog
Stats: 115,000 monthly page views; 15,950 Twitter followers; 5,300 Facebook fans and friends
Sweeney was a blogging pioneer, launching in 2005 when she was “looking for something to do” after her baby was born. That celebrity blog is still part of her “I’m Not Obsessed” mini media empire, but Lady and the Blog is the property where she provides a personal focus on family, fashion and food. Sweeney dishes on travel, style, “deals and steals,” recipes, dining out and her kids, ages 6 and 4. “I love to comment on my restaurant experiences while lifestyle blogging, specifically recapping my favorite local eateries,” she explains.
“I try to keep my posts either positive or neutral when doing product and restaurant reviews,” she says. “If I have a problem with something, I just won’t blog about it.” Honesty is key to a successful mom blog, Sweeney believes, and she’s always upfront about saying “samples were provided” if a product appears in a post.
Sweeney loves to blog and posts almost everyday—often in the form of video blogs—but she doesn’t limit herself to that medium. “Twitter parties have become increasingly popular. I host about one a week for different brands. It’s a one-hour nonstop conversation generating millions of impressions,” she says. And her “Getting Gorgeous” events—one of which attracted Moe’s for the launch of their retail food products—attract key influencers who blast their messages across all social media channels.
Industry connections: She’s worked with brands like P.F. Chang’s, Restaurant.com, Bertolli, Emeril Lagasse, P&G and Nissan, often as a virtual or live spokesperson.
Name: Stacie Haight Connerty
Blog: The Divine Miss Mommy
Stats: 668,838 monthly page views;
65,300 Twitter followers; 9,000 Facebook fans
This mom of three is a former director of the Georgia Restaurant Association and previously worked in social media with the Carrabba’s chain. In 2009, she started “The Divine Miss Mommy” blog where “my goal was to write and do fun stuff on a more regular basis and attract higher income families with children,” she says.
Industry connections: Consults with smaller Atlanta restaurants and local chains.; promotional work with Domino’s, Applebee’s, Moe’s, Chick-fil-A and Smashburger.
Name: Marla Meridith
Blog: Family Fresh Cooking
Stats: 280,000 page views; 4,348 Twitter followers; 10,760 Facebook fans
“Delicious whole food recipes to inspire healthy lives” is the tagline of the Family Fresh Cooking blog, but it goes way beyond home cooking. Marla Meridith’s goal is to promote a healthy lifestyle and “I try to be everywhere that’s appropriate to reach that goal,” she says. That includes visiting restaurants with her family (kids are 8 and 5), traveling to family-friendly resorts and speaking at industry events.
Name: Julie Casey
Blog: The Restaurant Mom/MyKidsPlate.com
Stats: 500.00 website page views;
551 Twitter followers; 940 Facebook fans
She might not have as many Facebook and Twitter followers as some of the others, but Julie Casey is the only one who covers the restaurant scene exclusively—and from a parent’s point of view. Before she became a mother, Casey worked in marketing research at Darden, and that background gives her a unique and critical perspective into topics like training, service and menu development. Industry connections: She has worked with concepts including Famous Dave’s, Cracker Barrel and Beef ‘O’ Brady’s to “get good kids’ programs going.
Name: Ericka Sanchez
Blog: Nibbles & Feasts
Stats: 50,000 page views; 1,280 Twitter followers; 456 Facebook fans
Ericka Sanchez started blogging to keep in touch with her extended family in Guadalajara. “Since I love to explore L.A.’s food scene, people here were always asking me where to eat,” she recalls. So that personal blog evolved into Nibbles & Feasts—written in both Spanish and English. Industry connections: Worked with foodservice brands Maseca corn flour and Nescafe, along with The Capital Grille.