The BlogCatalog Interview

I really wasn’t going to bring this up, because I didn’t want to promote this particular BlogCatalog post in any way. It now seems appropriate and relevant since I have experienced something similar with the LA Times.

Here is the story.

I was approached by Julia Kelly by DM on Twitter, who asked me to be a part of a “BlogCatalog” spotlight.  Here are our exchanges, which take place on Twitter & email.  I do not have text from my DMs back to her because they go weeks back, but I do have copies of her DMs to me that were in my gmail archives.

MidwestMoms (Julia): Amy, I write spotlight pieces for BlogCatalog and wonder whether you’d like to be interviewed for a piece I’m writing to go up next week. (twitter)

MidwestMoms (Julia): (cont) I’m interested in your thoughts on blogging and corporate relationships. Also, I’m intrigued by Mom Made That! and blog promotion. (twitter)

MidwestMoms(Julia): If you’re interested in the spotlight piece, would you email me? my address is *removed*. Thanks! (twitter)

Amy: Hello!  I would love to hear your ideas, shoot away! (email)

Julia: Thanks, Amy.  I’ll try to send interview questions over tonight (the afternoons of a mom are busy!).  If you could have a look and send me your answers before 5 p.m. on Monday, I’ll put together the post.  Ideally, it will highlight both MomSpark and Mom Made That.

Amy: That would be great!  I’ll try to get it done right away when you send the questions over.  Thank you. 🙂

Julia: Thanks, Amy.

Here are the questions for the piece I’m writing.  Honestly, I’ve been searching for a way to approach the issue of mom blog/product review overlap, and MomSpark is a great blog to highlight specifically for that issue.  Please feel free to work in any MomMadeThat information that you want to.  It is so interesting to see that you are not just working with corporations, but also to help promote other moms.

I also know you were more or less at the center of the nestle firestorm on twitter.  Please feel free to bring in lessons from that experience, but also know I will edit out any specific criticism of individuals.  I want this spotlight to be honest, but constructive.  It probably goes without saying (and I know you were very responsible during some quite ugly behavior from others), but in the interest of disclosure, I wanted to mention it.

Okay.  Here goes.

1.) Tell me about MomSpark.  How and why did you found it, and how has it grown and changed over time?  What is its primary mission?

2.) I understand that MomSpark is a team-written blog.  Tell me a little bit about your team and how it was formed?  How do you manage multiple writers to ensure quality content without overlap issues?

3.) Lately, many mom bloggers are turning to product reviews — either by incorporating them into their main blog or by establishing companion review blogs — as an alternative to advertising.  What are the ethical issues involved in reviewing products for MomSpark? How do you balance your role as writers with the product review role while maintaining the integrity of your blog?

4.) What are your thoughts about the recent FTC guidelines regarding disclosure and truth-in-advertising?

5.) You, personally, are on mom-blog PR panels for several products.  Which products, and how did those opportunities come about?

6.) Speaking specifically about the recent twitter controversy involving mom-bloggers invited to a PR event at Nestle Corporation, can you speak to the specific responsibilities you take on when becoming involved with or being sponsored by a corporate partner?

7.) How is your role different than that of a corporate blogger whose salary is paid for by the corporation?  (or is it?)

8.) What insights have you taken away from the #nestlefamily controversy, especially regarding social media?

9.)What role does promotion play in blogging?  What tools do you use to promote MomSpark?  And can you tell us more about MomMadeThat!  ?

10.) What are your favorite blog reads?  Whose writing inspires you?

11.) What three posts would you most want a complete stranger to MomSpark to read?  What would give new readers a real idea of what your blog is all about? (provide links please)

12.) And now some silly questions to help me keep things entertaining…

What is your favorite fall activity with your kids?

What is your guilty pleasure junk food?

If you take one big risk, what would it be?

What is your one favorite piece of clothing?

What do you read when no one is looking?

Thanks for doing this, Amy.  I appreciate the opportunity for BlogCatalog readers to know more about your blogs.

Take your time with your answers — I don’t need them until Monday afternoon.  And I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

– Julia at Midwest Moms

After I emailed the answers to the interview questions:

Julia: Dear Amy,

Thank you for your responses to my questions.  In all honesty, I will make the post alot less linky than your answers were — the piece is meant to be substantive and to inform rather than to just be a promotion piece.

It is my practice to edit answers for length, not content.  But I may incorporate your interview answers into a longer issue-based piece on mom-blogging, product review, and corporate relationships, with proper attribution and links to MomSpark, of course.  If you are comfortable with that, please let me know.

Thank you for the time and care you took in crafting your answers.

Best,  Julia Kelly

Amy: No problem whatsoever.  Thank you. (big mistake)

Here is the finished article.

Are you are perplexed as I was?  Granted, there were questions in the interview on the FTC, product reviews, sponsored events, and the like, but I didn’t feel my answers were truly represented in the article.  I also felt quite insulted that my Clorox review & giveaway was used as Julia’s comic relief.  Duped, again.  Fun stuff.

Yes, I told her the interview confused me, to say the least.

So…  For those of you would like to read the actual interview, a.k.a my “spotlight”, here it is:

1.) Tell me about MomSpark.  How and why did you found it, and how has it grown and changed over time?  What is its primary mission?

Mom Spark is a blog for moms that covers ALL issues and topics related to moms and blogging.  One day may be devoted to one of our “No-brainer Recipes“, while the next may cover “What is Your Mom Blogging Status?”   We also conduct product reviews, giveaways, and share videos.

I originally created Mom Spark as a way to connect with a mom community from home.  At the time of its birth, in July 2008, I was a tired, SAHM of a difficult infant and REALLY needed emotional support and a creative outlet.  Mom Spark became my therapy, and my readers became my best friends.  I was amazed by the response Mom Spark received and the passion I would create for blogging and social media.

Mom Spark was first set up as a community blog, where any mom could jump on and post.  This worked great for a month or so, but when we started getting up to four posts a day, I decided change the format.  I invited five or so friends as “contributors” and started scheduling one post a day.  Mom Spark has grown from a mere 20 subscribers, to over 1,100 in a eighteen month time span.

Mom Spark‘s primary mission is to share and connect with moms.  No topic is off the table.

2.) I understand that MomSpark is a team-written blog.  Tell me a little bit about your team and how it was formed?  How do you manage multiple writers to ensure quality content without overlap issues?

Mom Spark currently has fourteen contributors, including myself.  Wendy, Donna, and Ali have been with me from the beginning, and Jenn, Kim, Kris, Beth, Meg, Kimberly, Kasandria, Desiree, Kim and Colleen just teamed up with us a couple months ago.  My contributors are made up of completely different personalities, skill sets, and writing styles.  I love that.  Managing my contributors is easy, because I work with amazing women.  If I need a Wordless Wednesday post, I can turn to my photographers, Desiree and Kim.  The same goes for our No-brainer Recipes, Ali is always there with amazing ideas.  I am truly blessed to have them.

Each contributor saves their posts as drafts, and it is my job to schedule each one. I try to schedule a new post each day of the week, while also balancing out the topics so there isn’t an overlap.

3.) Lately, many mom bloggers are turning to product reviews — either by incorporating them into their main blog or by establishing companion review blogs — as an alternative to advertising.  What are the ethical issues involved in reviewing products for MomSpark? How do you balance your role as writers with the product review role while maintaining the integrity of your blog?

As moms, products are a part of our lives.  Many of us are also responsible for the majority of house cleaning and shopping.  Because of this, I feel it is natural to feature product reviews on Mom Spark.  At times, we have little reviews on Mom Spark, and other times we do several.  I believe that our reviews are always balanced out with other forms of writing and topics, and one doesn’t take over the other.

It would be unethical, in my opinion, to write a false review in order to receive compensation.  I do not practice this behavior, and I monitor this closely with my product review contributors.

4.) What are your thoughts about the recent FTC guidelines regarding disclosure and truth-in-advertising?

Quite honestly, I can see both sides of the FTC issue.  On one hand, it seems unfair that mom bloggers are expected to disclose every detail of their dealings, yet celebrities, who have more influence that us, are not required to do so.  On the other hand, I can see why it is important to let our audience know when we have been compensated, whether in product or cash, when conducting reviews or attending events.  Overall, I have nothing to hide, so it doesn’t matter to me either way.  I have recently added a disclosure section to my review and event posts.

5.) You, personally, are on mom-blog PR panels for several products.  Which products, and how did those opportunities come about?

Although I am a member of Mom Central, Mom Select, and the One 2 One Network, I receive most of my review opportunities from various PR companies that personally contact me.  I honestly don’t know if I am on a master list or database, but I am contacted several times a day with various requests.  The brands I have reviewed in the past include Yummie Tummie, Bissell, Frito-Lay, Clorox, Baby Einstein, and many more.

6.) Speaking specifically about the recent twitter controversy involving mom-bloggers invited to a PR event at Nestle Corporation, can you speak to the specific responsibilities you take on when becoming involved with or being sponsored by a corporate partner?

My only responsibility in the past, as far as a sponsorships or partnerships go, is to be honest and true with them and my audience.  Surprisingly, most of the brands I have worked with, like Nestle, do not expect a thing in return for attending an event.  Also, for a conference sponsorship, I have never been forced to wear a t-shirt or hand out swag, it is entirely up to me.  Saying that, I want to do an outstanding job for the brands I work with and believe in, so I will go beyond what is, or is not, required of me.

7.) How is your role different than that of a corporate blogger whose salary is paid for by the corporation?  (or is it?)

I do not currently earn a salary from blogging, and I’m not sure that I ever will.  I see myself as sole proprietor, working for myself, and occasionally contracting out my services.  Personally, I prefer the control and freedom of working this way as opposed to being a corporate blogger.  I can choose which campaigns or reviews to participate in, and, in my opinion, that is worth not having a salary.

8.) What insights have you taken away from the #nestlefamily controversy, especially regarding social media?

I think the #nestlefamily controversy confirmed my assessment that social media is extremely powerful and viral.  I also believe it opened the eyes of companies, like Nestle, who will now move forward with more respect and consideration to influence of social media.  Although I did experience some hateful behavior during the controversy, I was blown away from the support and love that social media provided.

9.)What role does promotion play in blogging?  What tools do you use to promote MomSpark?  And can you tell us more about MomMadeThat!  ?

Promoting a blog is a fine science-you always have to balance doing too little or too much.  I rarely purchase advertising space for Mom Spark, and instead use social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and other various social networks to share blog posts and links. Mom Spark also has devoted subscribers who keep coming back for new content and conversation.

MomMadeThat.com is a site I created last December, which was inspired by a holiday guide I worked on for Mom Spark.  It is a place to list, shop and support mom businesses and blogs. Moms are the most innovative creators, writers, inventors and business owners I know, and this site is my way of showcasing their amazing products, ideas, blogs and services.  Currently, we have over 100 mom businesses and blogs listed on Mom Made That!, and that number keeps growing.

10.) What are your favorite blog reads?  Whose writing inspires you?

This is always a tough question for me to answer because I read SO many different blogs, and don’t necessarily hit the same ones over and over again.  I try to read new blogs every week, but I mostly visit close friends and family blogs, which have private domains.  I also love the humor and writing of Mom-101.com and Dooce.com.

11.) What three posts would you most want a complete stranger to MomSpark to read?  What would give new readers a real idea of what your blog is all about? (provide links please)

Wow, another tough question to answer, especially since Mom Spark covers so many different areas.  I would have to go with these to start off:

What is Your Mom Blogger Status? – http://momspark.net/what-is-your-mom-blogger-status/

What is Your Mom Blogger Status? – A Follow-Up. http://momspark.net/what-is-your-mom-blogger-status-a-follow-up/

Managing it All – http://momspark.net/managing-it-all/

12.) And now some silly questions to help me keep things entertaining…

What is your favorite fall activity with your kids? We just love being outside during fall.  It is one of the few seasons where it isn’t too hot or cold to spend quality time outside.

What is your guilty pleasure junk food? Milk chocolate!

If you take one big risk, what would it be? Hmmmmm….  Going to the grocery store WITH my kids?

What is your one favorite piece of clothing? My Converse shoes.  I’m not sure which pair, though.

What do you read when no one is looking? Oh, snap.  Radaronline.com.