Companies like General Mills are finding that connecting with blogging moms is a great way to reach customers and generate a buzz about a product.
Christina Brown started her Northern Cheapskate blog about two years ago. As a stay-at-home mom with three kids, Brown had two goals. Do something that kept her focused on stretching every dollar so she could stay home with her kids, and keep her brain from turning into mommy mush, as she calls it.
From her home in Balsam Township, 95 miles northwest of Duluth, Brown writes about coupons, giveaways, money-saving tips, and living frugally. The folks reading her blog are the kind of people food companies covet.
"My audience is probably 75 percent women," Brown said. "They've got kids. They're trying to make ends meet."
Brown has reviewed General Mills' frozen Chinese food, yogurt, cereal and other products. She says she only talks up things she believes in.
"You have to think about your own values and what you're willing to promote and what you don't want to promote," she said.
Brown is one of some 3,000 bloggers -- mostly moms -- General Mills has recruited to be part of the food company's MyBlogSpark network. Bloggers get products to review and give away, but they're not compensated in any other way. General Mills says it has always asked bloggers to acknowledge General Mills gives them products free of charge.
“Blogs are where people go to have conversations about what they like and they don't like.”Elisa Camahort Page, BlogHer
That has not been a universal practice on the Internet. Last October, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that bloggers who endorse a product must disclose connections with the seller of the product or service. That includes getting free products for review.
General Mills hopes bloggers' reviews are positive.
"For us, it's really about building more direct relationships with consumers," said David Witt, General Mills' public relations manager.
Witt is General Mills' senior manager for brand public relations. He said bloggers help build a community of consumers who believe in a brand and will be advocates and counselors for it. It's part of what Witt said is "social branding," nurturing a community of people who like -- or love -- a brand or specific product.
Witt said it's hard to beat the promotional value of consumers who rave about your products.
"Consumers will consistently say they value what other consumers say, more than advertising," he said.
Witt said bloggers and their readers have helped General Mills tweak products and create new ones. "They started giving you comments," he said. "It will eventually make our products better because we're hearing from consumers as to what they want."
Witt said blogging moms have figured prominently in launching several General Mills products, including Progresso Light soups, gluten-free cake mixes and, most notably, Fiber One bars.
"We knew it was a great product," Witt said. "You put it in the hands of consumers, and they're going to talk about it. That's been one of the most successful products we've done in a long time."
There are thousands of mommy bloggers and their combined audience is enormous.
"About 42 million women in America read, post comments or write blogs every single week," said Elisa Camahort Page, a co-founder of BlogHer. The California-based company has assembled a network of more than 2,500 blogs written by women. They discuss parenting, food, relationships, entertainment and other aspects of their lives.
BlogHer connects advertisers with women bloggers and their readers. BlogHer boasts its network of sites draw some 20 million unique visitors a month and the company's been able to attract the attention of the likes of Ford, Proctor& Gamble, Kraft and Sprint, which buy ads that appear on BlogHer sites.
Camahort Page said women turn to blogs to seek and share advice, especially about household purchases.
"Blogs are where people go to have conversations about what they like and they don't like; what they use and don't use," she said.
Bloggers are realizing their growing influence and power.
Christina Brown at Northern Cheapskate thinks bloggers are big bargain for companies pushing their products.
"They get a lot of press for not a lot of money," she said. Brown wonders if bloggers like her deserve something more for connecting companies with her readers.
"Your blog is some valuable real estate, especially when you've started to build a decent size audience." said Brown. "And there's some things where it's just like, I deserve a little bit more than just this tub of yogurt."
Brown is hoping bloggers' growing influence will lead to growing income for her.