“There are many ways to identify a bubble. The one I like best is to eyeball the self-importance of its participants and their tendency to congregate in cultish packs; make inflated claims about the revolutionary nature of their ideas; and assume that anyone who criticizes it “doesn’t get it.” — Heidi N. Moore, “We Have a Social Media Bubble,” New York Times
There’s an old saying about how the only people who made real money in the gold rush were the people who sold picks and axes. I’ve heard that claim bandied about by people looking at mommyblogging as a business, and though I’ve always felt there’s a little bit of truth to it, I am hesitant to dismiss the significance and business potential of building a large following online. It seems to me that, if you know what you are doing, anybody can turn a good amount of attention into a profit. It just takes a little ingenuity and talent, and for many people I think there could be a solid future in building that type of business.
That said, it’s getting harder and harder for me to not view the enthusiasm and faith in social media in general as being a reminiscent of an economic bubble. And if social media is susceptible to a bubble, then it seems to me that mommyblogging for cash is in even worse shape, what with the fact that most participants cannot continue in it longer than they have young children about whom to write.
The central argument for social media (in general) being a bubble at present concerns the ridiculously high valuation of a privately funded company that doesn’t disclose financial records (Facebook), and its trickle-down effect on other related social media start-ups that have not demonstrated any value to speak of. That venture capital can be thrown at social media companies left and right, using Facebook as a model for what social media might become, is really familiar: it’s what happened with the dot com bust in the late 1990s. Google emerged from that bubble an extremely powerful and valuable corporation, but many of the others who were strongholds back then are now gone. Who is to say the same thing won’t happen now, with Facebook at the helm and everyone else out of business?
This inevitably makes me think about mommyblogging and its monetization. There are a few entities that have proven track records when it comes to driving commerce, and there are pockets of influence where working with (I think mostly smaller) brands seems to have actually worked for all participants. But for the most part I’m wondering how long this can last — how long can sponsored posts be placed on barely trafficked blogs for pricetags in the thousands of dollars? How long will companies feel they need to pay “ambassadors” for information about what moms like, when they can just collate the information available from the thousands of blogs that are out there already? And how long, most importantly, will companies keep paying “social media consultants” to tell them how to engage with their consumers, particularly once they have figured out the landscape themselves and hired far more proficient people to serve as their in-house social media advisors?
I’ve started to think there might be a little bit too much faith in the traditional means of making money through mommyblogging — sponsored posts, brand ambassadorships, display ads, conference and event planning — all of these things have a short shelf life and a questionable future for people who are moving into their post-childbearing years. Are you going to be hired as a Lansinoh mom board consultant when your kids are starting to have their own children? It seems unlikely.
I think the only safe way to make a living — using social media or otherwise — is to figure out the thing that you are best at, that nobody else can do, and figure out a way to market it. And the thing about being a mother (or parent) is that it is the opposite of that — it exists as a coveted demographic precisely because nearly everyone (in some shape or form) can do it.