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Saturday, September 14 • 10:31am - 10:50am
"Monetizing the mommy: Community and the commodification of motherhood in blogs"

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Much of the early theorizing around Web 2.0 technology focused on how it would democratize the media. The barriers to entry were lowered; anyone with an Internet connection, and a desire, could publish (Gillmor 2006). As a journalist in the early to mid 2000’s, I distinctly remember the conversations in the newsroom that blogs were one solution to a problem we wrestled with daily: how to get the voices of ‘real people’ (as opposed to professional media spokespeople) out into the media sphere. 

One of the genres of blogs that quickly rose to prominence was the ‘mommy’ blog. These were women who were blogging about their adventures in childrearing, reporting from the trenches of domestic life. Their critics accused them of glorifying the minutia of daily life. However, their growing numbers of readers celebrated what they were doing as refreshing and empowering – finally women were publishing, en masse, honest accounts of their lives. A sense of community began to develop on these blogs and some bloggers began to attract huge followings. Advertisers began to take notice. In 2005, Heather Armstrong, who writes Dooce, one of the most well-known mommy blogs, announced that she would be accepting advertising on her blog. She assured her readers that she would not tone down her writing; her acerbic tone and frank talk about depression and sexuality being a large part of the appeal. She would not ‘sell out.’ 

Eight years later, the situation is very different. Most bloggers do not feel the need for these types of proclamations. It has become normal for mommy bloggers to court advertisers. Major conferences are organized yearly, which focus largely on how to ‘monetize’ a blog. However, in this paper, I will argue that there is a growing sense that accepting advertising on these types of blogs threatens the foundation of authenticity upon which this genre of social media rests. 

The reason mommy blogs become successful is because readers feel a connection to the blogger and often that they are part of a community. Authenticity and honesty are essential elements of these relationships. Advertising, in particular a new type of advertising that is becoming increasingly popular - the sponsored post - threatens the authenticity of these relationships and communities. 

This paper will examine the dilemma bloggers face when monetizing their blogs using a recent case study: the backlash Heather Armstrong has faced in recent months for writing sponsored posts. Further, I will argue that there should be a shift in how we theorize about mommy blogs and other personal blogging on the Internet. Rather than talk about them as democratizing, community building forms of social media, we should be thinking about them from a political economic perspective, in this case, specifically how ‘mommy’ blogs are commodifying (Mosco 2009) motherhood. How is the experience of motherhood transferred from something that is, arguably, extremely personal and specific to family, into something for sale? What changes in how the experience of motherhood is framed when it is designed to attract an audience? 

avatar for Andrea Hunter

Andrea Hunter

Assistant Professor, Concorda University

Saturday September 14, 2013 10:31am - 10:50am EDT
ROWE 1020

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