Women in Foodservice | August 2013 | By Julie Knudson

How to Tap Into the Mom Network

Quick-serve brands stand to gain from harnessing the power and influence of mom bloggers.

Moe's Southwest Grill uses network of mom blogs to build family customers.
Lauren Barash, marketing director for Moe’s Southwest Grill, relies on a group of mommy bloggers to help advocate for the brand. Moe’s Southwest Grill
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Legions of moms are blogging—4 million of them in the U.S. alone, says Wendy Hirschhorn, CEO of New York City–based Wendy’s Bloggers, an organization that connects marketers with bloggers. But even though these bloggers wield significant influence with other moms, quick serves have not yet used the group to its fullest potential. “They don’t get to [cover] many restaurants, and that’s something they would all love to do,” Hirschhorn says of the bloggers in her network.

The disconnect isn’t on the mom side of the equation; Hirschhorn says many bloggers she works with have already taken the initiative and reached out to their favorite restaurants. Unfortunately, those companies often fail to respond. “That’s a real letdown for them,” she says, “because these are women who really would love to be brand ambassadors.”

Partnering with so-called “mommy bloggers” affords brands the potential to leverage the exposure of influential mothers, giving chains the chance to get in front of important conversations already happening on social media. This not only ensures that people are talking about their company, but it also helps steer the discussion in a way that’s positive for the restaurant.

“What you see is my personal experience, good or bad,” says Sami Cone, a blogger and media personality in Nashville, Tennessee, who runs the popular SamiCone.com site and frequently posts observations about restaurants. “It doesn’t come across as just a sponsored post. It’s an actual experience.”

By reaching out to these social media leaders, quick serves can gain a highly effective way to reach a key family market segment.

For the launch of Moe’s Southwest Grill’s Food Mission in early 2011, the brand reached out to a broad group of blogging moms to help spread the brand’s healthy eating message. Around the same time, Moe’s also hosted an event for a handful of women bloggers that provided opportunities to sample food and chat with key brand leaders. “They were able to tweet and post pictures and things like that,” says Lauren Barash, director of marketing for the Atlanta-based restaurant company.

She says the event resulted in nearly 5 million impressions, thanks to the mom blogger outreach. Due to that success, the Moe’s Blogger Advisory Council was formed in 2012. The brand created a narrow and more strategic group of moms to blog about the chain. “We found bloggers who had a high level of influence, but who also happened to be big Moe’s fans,” she says.

Restaurant brands can turn to PR firms with experience in the blogger sphere for help finding the right moms to partner with, Cone says. “Sometimes it can be as organic as simply searching for their company name and seeing what comes up,” she says, adding that it’s an approach that supports nationwide and regional criteria, depending on how far the brand wants to extend its reach.

Referrals are also a smart avenue for seeking out the right bloggers for a concept’s latest campaign, as bloggers typically have a wide framework of connections to other people with similar interests. “There’s definitely a network of people when it comes to finding a trusted voice,” Cone says.

Sources interviewed for this story say companies must commit to putting in the time and effort to finding moms whose blogs truly fit the values and goals of the campaign and brand. Though many social media initiatives are all about the numbers—such as the amount of unique site visits and the number of likes or impressions—that doesn’t mean involving more bloggers is the best way to go.

“Even if it’s just working with three or five bloggers, that’s all you need to start,” Hirschhorn says. She says brands should start off with fewer bloggers, because this gives company representatives more opportunities to have regular, productive contact with each of the moms in their blogging stable.

Barash says treating mom bloggers like individuals, not just as members of an influential group, can help build a personal relationship with bloggers, which ultimately benefits both sides. Companies may take a hands-off stance, where they e-mail content to moms and hope the information eventually shows up in a post, but Barash says that connecting with bloggers one-on-one is a more successful method. “You can create real-life experiences, and it gives something to them that really adds value, not only for them, but also for their readers,” she says.

Just as quick serves have objectives in mind when partnering with bloggers, so do the moms who are doing the blogging. Brands that provide the tools these women need to maintain the success of their blogs are likely to see a better result from their blogging campaigns, Cone says.

“It’s something I would look at as any business person would,” she says. In addition to understanding the brand’s overall objectives and timeframe for the initiative, she looks at how the partnership will help her own efforts, such as how it will benefit readers and viewers.

Any blogging campaign must bring with it some incentive for the bloggers to share their insight with other moms, Cone says. Restaurants can start off with some common lures, such as discounts for site visitors, a gift card, or similar perks that can be given away as part of a traffic-driving contest.

But restaurants must be willing to be somewhat generous to mommy bloggers, too, Hirschhorn says. “One of the chief complaints is that the restaurants don’t comp them enough,” she says, adding that gift cards provided to bloggers need to be generous enough to not only support the mom’s meal, but also the meals for the family she’s likely to bring with her. “They shouldn’t be chintzy about this,” Hirschhorn says.