Even though she’s a successful entrepreneur in North Battleford, Sask., it’s still challenging for Tenille Lafontaine to answer the familiar small talk question — so, what do you do for a living?
Lafontaine, who’s in her 30s, works full-time as a mommy blogger. Most of the residents of North Battleford, and most Canadians, have never heard of such a job.
Yet, over the last few years, hundreds of moms across Canada have learned it is possible to earn an income sharing stories and information with other moms.
In fact, the phenomenon is now so widespread that Reader’s Digest published a list of Canada’s Top 10 Mommy Bloggers earlier this year.
Lafontaine got her start in blogging about four years ago, after her first daughter was born.
“I was doing the coupon thing and (watching) for sales and I was always e-mailing my friends to tell them about it,” said Lafontaine, who has an eight-year-old son and two daughters, aged four and one.
“I found I was sending a lot of e-mails so I condensed it all into one spot and created a little blog.”
Since her first posts on coupons and local deals in the late 2000s, Lafontaine’s “little blog” has evolved into a thriving online brand.
Lafontaine now has 15,000 Twitter followers in the United States and Canada and works with Fortune 500 companies, including Ford, Disney and General Mills, reviewing their products and services and relaying her opinions to fellow moms.
Global brands such as Disney sponsor her blog because she has credibility with other moms, she said.
“Mom bloggers are relatable. We’re not a paid celebrity endorsement. We’re not this out-of-reach, 5’ 7”, 120-pound celebrity that’s going to tell you how to feed your children…. We’re real. We’re the mom next door.”
Maureen Dennis, a mom blogger in Toronto, agreed. She said moms do their own research before choosing to buy a particular food or product, but they primarily rely on information from other mothers.
“Moms make their purchase choices mostly on word of mouth, or word of mom,” said Dennis, who runs the website weewelcome.ca and appears regularly on TV as a parenting expert for the Marilyn Denis show.
While most mommy blog posts are fairly innocuous, reviewing one-dish meals for families and providing information on kid’s clothing, last year Lafontaine and Dennis signed up for a more controversial corporate sponsorship.
The two, along two other Canadian mommy bloggers, became All Access Moms for McDonald’s.
They toured Cargill and McCain facilities in Canada to learn about the companies and the people who supply chicken, beef and potatoes to McDonald’s.
For a mom from downtown Toronto such as Dennis, who has three kids and is pregnant with her fourth child, the glimpse into food production in Canada was an eye-opener. She was particularly intrigued to meet a potato grower in New Brunswick.
“Their livelihood is de-pendent on selling these potatoes to McDonald’s … so they’re not just out there spraying pesticides for the heck of it. It costs them a lot of money … and they wouldn’t have had any potatoes this year without it,” she said.
“None of that do I ever think of, as I pull up through the drive-through racing off to soccer practice.”
Lafontaine’s followers frequently comment on her blog posts, but she said her involvement with McDonald’s did provoke a negative reaction from some readers.
For example, Lafontaine de-fended the use of growth hormones in cattle in her blog after All Access Moms visited Cargill’s meat processing plant in Spruce Grove, Alta., and a ranch in Alberta. Her comments were based on the tour.
Some of her readers said her opinions were tainted because McDonald’s paid for the tour and the related television commercials that promoted the All Access Moms.
However, Lafontaine insisted she had the freedom to post as she pleases.
“With the McDonald’s program, my posts were never edited …. I was able to say exactly what I was thinking,” she said. “My purpose of doing it wasn’t to convince people … that they should eat at McDonald’s. My goal was to get in there and understand more about the country and understand more about Canadian agriculture.”
Dennis said corporations don’t control the content, even though they directly pay for her blog.
“I only work on campaigns that give me the opportunity to share information in my voice,” she said.
“That’s what my entire reputation is based on, that I’m sharing it (information) as a mom.”
Nonetheless, there are mommy bloggers who take a different approach, Dennis said.
Some companies and organizations set up arrangements in which mom bloggers are social media ambassadors who pass on corporate messages to their online followers.
“Some (bloggers) are essentially paid to re-tweet what that association (or company) wants them to,” said Dennis, who described her job title as an influencer.
“They don’t care what (moms) want to know…. It’s a one sided conversation, so that’s basically social media advertising.”
However, Dennis said Canadian agri-food companies and producer groups need to give up control and form honest partnerships with mom bloggers if they want to connect with consumers.
“Listening to the influencers and their communities is equally, if not more important, than worrying about getting your message out there,” she said. “I want to be given the opportunity, by those organizations, to ask my questions and represent moms, in order to share relevant information.”
For instance, she said her Mc-Donald’s experience has made her more pragmatic about food production, which she has passed on to her online followers.
“In theory, I want food without antibiotics or pesticides, but from the small amount of access I’ve had, I learned that we need some of that stuff,” she said.
Lafontaine said the result isn’t always pretty when organizations give up control, but that’s the cost of honesty.
“When I visited the Cargill chicken facility in London, Ont., … when the chickens were slaughtered, I was gagging loudly … but it was important for me to note that to my readers,” she said.
“(But) the companies that care about … being real and being open to their customers, they’re going to want a mom blogger who is real and relates to their readers on a real level.”
- There are four million mom blogs in North America.
- The average age of a mom blogger is 37.
- Only a small percentage of mom bloggers has considerable power and influence, but there are moms who have substantial online followings. For instance, Heather Armstrong of Salt Lake City, Utah, owner-operator of dooce.com, has 1.5 million Twitter followers.
- Since taking off a few years ago, mom blogging has evolved into an industry, with conferences and seminars for full-time bloggers and wannabees. Blissdom, an American company, will host Blissdom Canada in Toronto in October. It is advertised as Canada’s premier social media event for women.
- Companies who used to hand out free product samples to traditional media companies now give those samples to mom bloggers. According to cbc.ca, toy companies now send 70 percent of their free samples to bloggers.