Gorkana Insight & Analysis Team
At a recent Gorkana breakfast, Siobhan Freegard, founder of popular parenting site Netmums, revealed all about engaging with brands, how the team loves working with PRs and why the site has more clout than many glossy mags.
Netmums was founded in 2000 and has become the fastest-growing parenting organisation with more than 1.2 million members and three million unique users each month. It's a network of more than 150 local sites covering the UK with each site offering information on everything from where to find play groups and how to eat healthily, to where to meet other mothers.
Before becoming a mum, Siobhan worked in marketing. It was after she gave birth and returned to work that she realised she didn't want to work full-time, but being at home with a baby was not what she expected and she felt very lonely. She didn't know any other mothers in the area, but when she found other mums who had gone through the same experiences as her she decided there must be a need for a forum for mums to meet.
Mums very quickly flocked to the site and Siobhan found they wanted to share a lot more than where they could go with their baby, but also how they dealt with life as a mum. It became obvious that mums as a whole shared so many of the same experiences and were keen to share them with others.
There is now 150 local websites, with a national home page to enter the site. There are 400,000 generated comments each month on the site's various forums. Netmums also has a government contract, which provides professionals to the site who can help mums with more serious problems.
There are also opportunities for brands to connect with mums via the site. Brands have run clinic weeks for their product and sent experts in to talk to mums about how it will benefit them. A recent example was the Kellogg's comms team working with Netmums to feature its MD doing a week-long Q&A with mums.
The Netmums editorial team sends out a weekly newsletter to 900,000 mums each Monday. The site is built on a sense of community so the team encourages people to become members and sign up to the newsletter which includes local, national, and news stories, with a couple of brand messages. There are two paid-for slots on the newsletter each week and the team is happy for approaches from PRs with ideas of what to feature.
Mums are very eager to engage online - 40% of the site's use is about what’s going on locally and 40% is the forums with mums sharing their daily lives. The other 20% is the editorial content which can range from how to guides to surveys.
The team doesn't see it as its job to be a gatekeeper when it comes to choosing what brands to feature on the site. There are one or two brands they can't/won't work with, for example formula milk companies, because it is seen as too much of a political issue. The team also won't work with Nestle because it is seen by too many as a controversial company. They also tend to avoid junk food brands.
There are lots of different ways for PRs to work with Netmums - some are free and some are paid for. The site has a large competitions section and the team is always happy to receive ideas for prizes - the most popular to date being a shower unit. Competitions will run for a month on the site and will get an average of 3,000 entries. Electrical goods, holidays and beauty products are also always popular.
Users love surveys, as mums like to be asked their opinions. The Netmums audience can be used for a survey for a fee, with a guarantee of 1,000 participants, quotes for a press release and a slot on the website.
Netmums gets more than double the site hits compared to glossy online magazine brands like Red and Vogue and Siobhan was keen to draw this fact to the attention of PRs when considering where to pitch. They also attract more hits than mumsnet which started at a similar time. The two sites are quite different in content, with Netmums trying to keep the site as positive as possible. Something like abortion would only be allowed to be debated to a certain point, whereas mumsnet believes it's right for the debate to go as far as it needs to, which Siobhan thought was a good thing for them, but not so much for Netmums users.
The Netmums reader reflects the demographics of the country - a third are from low income families, a third from middle income and a third from high income families. A third stay at home, a third work part time and a third are full time workers. She also said that while Mumsnet tended to attract the Waitrose shopper, Netmums brought in the Tesco shopper mum.
The newsboard is a very active part of the site and Siobhan said the team loves receiving press releases.
The best way to get in contact with the editorial team is firstname.lastname@example.org. Every single email is read and checked by Netmums' editor-in-chief Cathy Ranson and the team will definitely be in contact if it’s of interest. The team also has 50,000 Facebook followers and around 45,000 followers on Twitter. They will always retweet a brand message and will engage if the story is of real interest.
Netmums also does a lot of work with bloggers and has a network of more than 2,000. Siobhan said that it’s a "funny type of world" as bloggers tend to read other bloggers blogs, whereas those who don’t blog don't usually read blogs. That’s why the team likes to pull these blogs into Netmums.
Siobhan is undecided on where mummy bloggers will go in the future, but some have worked with brands through Netmums in the past. One example was Volvo which asked 10 bloggers to test out a car range and write about their experiences. Bloggers for Netmums are also paid a small fee by Netmums.
The team does not need a fully blown pitch from PRs. They like to be talked to like you would to someone in the office. They want more news stories, competitions and products to review and Siobhan stressed that PRs should not overlook the site when considering where to send stories. The monthly stats and demographic of the reader speak for themselves. Celebrities have been used before, but they need to be right. Myleene Klass is a Mum but wouldn't resonate with NetMum readers, whereas someone like Natalie Cassidy would.
Siobhan is a big fan of PRs. She sees the future online landscape as unclear and it’s still difficult to get free coverage. PRs will tend to come to them with great ideas and no budget, while media buyers will come with great budgets and no ideas. She thinks that if both these teams could work together, content could be produced that benefited the reader, the site and the client.
Netmums was approached by Walkers, which wanted to promote its new product. The PR team came up with an idea to create a guide to family fun, which is exactly what Netmums mums want to know. Readers were asked to send in their ideal day out and they were flooded with responses. A coffee morning was arranged to decide on the best ones and from that, a downloadable guide was created. It was run on the Netmums and boosted sales of Walkers products.
The recipes section is a big part of the site. The team has worked with companies like The British Egg Industry Council and the Dairy Council, which have both provided recipes to be featured. The health section is also very popular. The team is most keen to feature healthcare products that can change the lives of mums.
The Woman channel is new, but already doing very well and is about the woman behind the mum. They will also be launching a best of brand and beauty reviews, as well as a video gallery. Siobhan welcomed receiving related product samples.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are the busiest days for the website, with the weekends the quietest. The quietest time in the year is Christmas week when traffic drops significantly. Live web chats tend to take place at 11am, when smaller children will either be napping or at pre-school.
The team does a lot of work on campaigning, and have worked on causes like food labelling before it hit the national press. They have been known to start big national conversations first.