Networked: What Women Want and Why You Should Care" was the title of the panel I moderated at this year's Activism+Media+Policy Summit to talk about how and why media, policymakers and politicos should be paying attention to the largest and most active group online to advance their goals. I put together what I thought was a great group of experts who represented three different types of online communities -- Kelly Wallace of iVillage, Be Blogalicious Community founder Stacey Ferguson, and the Communications Director of Blue Star Families Stephanie Himel-Nelson.
Sadly, much of the mainstream media attention women online receive are in stories that stereotype them as just "mommy bloggers" looking for free product for giveaways and maybe a junket to a theme park every now and then. Even at the AMP Summit -- an annual conference for thought leaders and policy makers -- several of those in the audience for the panel kept asking about how to reach "the mommy bloggers."
Even in that setting, it was evident that organizations see women in general, and mothers in particular, as a source of easy advertising, rather than as potential partners and effective influencers in their communities.
That's a costly mistake.
One of the main points we wanted to get across was this -- some brands and marketers have successfully figured out effective and authentic ways to engage with women online that benefit both the brand and the blogger, so why are politicians and policymakers lagging behind? Many lawmakers on Capitol Hill think they have the social media engagement item on their to-do list checked off if they have a Twitter account and a staffer to push a few tweets a day, missing the point that most people don't respond well to having messages and requests pushed out at them without getting some real interaction in exchange. There are definitely some who do it well, reaching out to women online who engage with communities who want to hear what those elected officials are up to.
Panelist Stacey Ferguson wrote in her Mom Crunch post about the takeaway we all hoped the attendees would hear:
...[T]here was a general consensus that, in order for political candidates to capture our attention and use us a vehicles to support their platforms, it is critical that they engage with us, listen to us, and connect their campaign issues to those that affect us personally. Those of us who live in the social media space are anticipating the upcoming election to be very different than the last. The candidates, lobbyists and other interested parties will no doubt be going full force with their social media strategies to win votes. The question is: will women play a larger role this time around? Which campaigns will be smart enough to tap into our powerful spheres of influence?
Someone finally asked if it was OK to refer to mothers online as "mommy bloggers." We tried nicely to suggest that many of us prefer something like "women who write online." My hope is that we were able to get past the desire to focus on the world of moms because the panel was structured to be about so much more. As the wise Stephanie Himel-Nelson, aka Lawyer Mama, reminded us, "Don't forget -- we were just people first before we became mothers." Yup -- people who had, and still have, many interests aside from raising our children, so a good way to approach women online is to keep that in mind. True engagement and partnership will come a lot more quickly when that happens.
Fingers crossed that a couple of people heard us.
Of course, if you want to know more about what women are saying about politics online (and yes, they ARE talking about how issues impact them), check out my book Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America! Someone I know at one prominent magazine for women says it's "smart and on the pulse of our times!"