What makes for a successful mummy blog? Sally Whittle should know. She has set up a parenting blog which ranks the top 100 mummy blogs. She talks to Workingmums.
What makes a great mummy blog? Is it humour, is it being honest, is it being forthright? Sally Whittle should know. She has been writing a business blog for years and runs blogging workshops. She has also been writing the Whosthemummy blog which lists a top 100 parenting blogs [there are some dads in the mix].
Sally has been a journalist for 10 years, specialising in Human Resources and IT. It was through being involved in creating the content for a preschool website that she ventured into writing about parenting issues. She advised the preschool that they should set up a blog, but they were too busy to do this themselves so Sally offered to blog for them.
Doing a blog about preschool issues and being the mum of a now four year old, gave Sally the impetus to set up her own parenting blog. “Writing for a business you are pretending to me them so it is a bit frustrating if you have things you want to say and cannot,” she said. Whosethemummy was set up three months ago and runs alongside her professional blog about PR and journalism, which has been going for five years.
She advises anyone thinking of blogging to consider certain issues before starting out. Should you, for instance, post photos of your children? Do you want people to know who you are and where you live? Are you going to use your children’s names?
Sally says she tries not to use photos which show her daughter’s full face because she feels her daughter has the right to decide, when she is old enough, if she wants to be identified in this way. “It’s a mark of respect,” she says. It is also worth considering the kind of issues you are going to discuss and setting yourself some guidelines. For instance, how personal are you going to get? Do you want to talk about things like rows with partners? How much do you talk about your children’s activities and where do you draw on the line on invading their privacy? Sally mentions one blogger who posted something about having a row with her husband. Six months later he was her ex-husband. Apparently he had been reading the blog the whole time.
Details such as where you live or who your children are can seep out unintentionally if you are not careful. “There can be a sort of jigsaw effect,” says Sally, “where you reveal more than you thought as people put the different information together.”
She mentions how, in her work blog, sometimes the most innocuous throwaway comment can kick off an enormous row. “You have to be careful,” she counsels, “especially as a parenting blog is more personal. If something kicked off as a result of something you had written you would be more upset about it.”
Her journalism/PR blog was set up mainly to explore ways of bringing the two professions closer together, but it occasionally touches on work/life balance type issues. In Who’s The Mummy she can talk about anything that interests her, including what her favourite films and books are. Her overarching aim, though, is to show a realistic picture of what being a parent is about.
She feels very strongly that there is too much pressure put on parents, and their children, to “get ahead” from an early age. “It’s almost as if you choose the wrong preschool you are dooming your children to sign on the dole at 17. I don’t want to give my daughter a head start. Kids should have fun and be happy when they are young. I don’t like the idea of parenting being some sort of science, requiring experts,” she says. She recalls being advised by one education expert that if she did not do letter jigsaws and talk phonics with her child when she was three she was setting her on a downward spiral of underachievement for life. “I have a masters degree and I spent my time fighting with my brothers at 4. Kids should be allowed to be kids,” she says.
When she started doing her professional blog, Sally looked around at similar blogs and became interested in finding out what made some more popular than others. When she set up Whosethemummy she realised that no-one had created a mummy blog index so she set about doing it herself. She ranks the blogs according to three main criteria. She says it is impossible to measure readership if a site is not your own, but you can measure links to the site and how recently people have linked to the site. “If people link to a blog,” she says, “it suggests the content is worth reading.” She also measures subscriber numbers on RSS feeds. The final criterion is engagement. She tracks how many people have referenced the blog on sites like Twitter and how many comments have been left on the blog.
The top 10 blogs have been fairly static since she started tracking them around seven months ago. Some are successful, she says, because they are very different – for instance, Molly Chicken is about crafting. The Times’ Alphamummy is about school issues and current affairs. The successful blogs have a strong, coherent voice and personality. She cites Single Parent Dad and Bringing Up Charlie, two dad blogs which, she says, “have an identity and a world view”. “People respond to blogs parent blogs because they are honest and prepared to engage.”
She adds that successful blogging is about being part of a community. “You have to become visible in your community,” she says. She advises bloggers to do their research and link to blogs they identify with to create relationships and “build brand awareness”. Posting your blog on social networking sites can help with this. Fortunately, she says, the mummy blog community is very supportive, unlike the journalism one which can be a bit bitchy and aggressive. “I have never had anyone disagreeing with me on my parenting blog or if they have they have done it so nicely that I have not noticed. It is a freakishly nice community,” says Sally.
She blogs mainly in the evening and does her journalism work during school hours. She has worked from home for eight years and says she feels she is constitutionally not suited to office-based employment. “I get distracted in an office,” she says. The upside of freelancing is that she has been able to diversify a lot. The downside is insecurity about work. However, she adds that the Internet and blogging has opened up all sorts of opportunities for journalists. “Research shows SMEs who have blogs on their site get up to 50% more traffic,” she says.