As long as there have been mothers, there has been social networking. Throughout history, groups of women have gathered to exchange advice and support for raising kids, and for maintaining a safe and comfortable home. Before the Internet, social networks for moms consisted of extended families, neighborhood friends and some organized local meetings. Now, instead of just gathering at the neighbor's house or the coffee shop, moms are joining online communities and getting advice and support that reaches far beyond their local community.
CaféMom is one of several social networking Web sites dedicated to moms and moms-to-be. You can visit CaféMom to read articles, blogs and advice on topics on more than just motherhood and homemaking. You can also join the site for free to ask questions, post your own advice or create a blog or photo gallery. As a bonus, you can choose to receive free products from sponsors with a request that you talk about the product at CaféMom.
CMI Marketing is the marketing engine behind CaféMom. CMI was launched in 1999 by Andrew Shue, Meredith Viera and others in support of newly launched ClubMom.com. ClubMom included blogs, articles, and message boards, and its sponsors were in the forefront with a special purchase rewards program. Between March and May in 2007, CMI ended the ClubMom affiliate program to focus on site enhancements, and then launched its new affiliate program for its sister site CaféMom, redirecting its efforts there. Shue, along with CMI Marketing CEO Michael Sanchez, described the new site as a "no dads allowed" way for moms to come together and help each other.
Unlike other social network sites, CaféMom has a notably different advertising approach. Shue describes CaféMom as a "Tupperware party on steroids," explaining that moms can interact with sponsors' products, then market to each other through product reviews. Moms see the reviews as authentic because they are real people talking about real experiences and expressing a range of opinions. When asked whether negative reviews were an issue, Sanchez said that the company ensures it has sponsors that make good products. As a result, around 90 percent of the reviews are positive. With this different marketing approach, CaféMom can display fewer, smaller ads and some sponsored mom-centric widgets so that sponsors don't crowd out the moms as the site's focus.
Go on to the next section to read about the features of the CaféMom Web site and how you can be part of the community.
There are two ways of using CaféMom: as an information resource, and for social networking. As a resource, you can browse the site or enter search criteria to find posts and articles. The Daily Buzz tab features articles from five professional bloggers who cover topics in pregnancy, raising children and living healthy. To check out the chats between community members, browse the Answers tab for questions and responses, or the Groups tab for discussion about particular interests. You can even vote in online polls from the Polls tab without having to join the site.
As with many social networking Web sites, you have to sign up for CaféMom to contribute content. Click the sign-up link at the top to join, and complete a basic form including your name, e-mail address and birth date. You must also agree to the Terms of Service, which state that users must be at least 16 years old, and it explains your options to preserve privacy. CaféMom immediately e-mails your new screen name and password to the address you provide.
Right after you sign up, you can start customizing your CaféMom experience. You can select different themes for the site, and you can adjust the content and layout of your home page, too. In your profile, you can list information about your kids or pregnancy, and you can elect to receive free products from sponsors for you to review. For privacy, you can also hide information from certain users by adjusting the security levels for that info.
Like other social network Web sites, CaféMom has features for both sharing yourself with the community and for interacting with community members. Here is a quick summary of those features:
- Thought bubble and mood -- Update these settings on your home page; they're displayed with your screen name on comments and posts throughout the site
- Photos -- Upload and manage photos, organize them into albums, and create and vote in Showdowns where uploaded photos go head-to-head for user votes
- Journals -- Create and edit your own jounal posts, and follow and comment on other users' posts; includes an option to publish the post to the CaféMom Marketplace, a classified ads section of the site
- Answers -- Post questions on any of several categories, and respond to questions from other users
- Groups -- Find topics that interest you, whether related to motherhood or not, and join groups to participate in the discussion; some groups are members-only while others are open to all CaféMom users
- Messages -- View and send messages directly to other CaféMom users with features similar to Web mail
- Instant messages -- Send real-time messages to other CaféMom users currently logged in, or use the built-in Meebo tool to connect to accounts from other instant message networks, like AOL Instant Messenger
Beyond these social networking features, CaféMom also has a Widget Directory that you can access from the Home drop-down list in the top navigation bar. Each widget is a fun game or helpful tool that you can use in the Web site, and each is sponsored by CaféMom or by a product brand from a CaféMom advertiser.
Continue to the next section to read about the benefits, competitors and downsides of CaféMom.
Benefits of CaféMom
The benefits of CaféMom center on the fact that it targets moms and moms-to-be. CaféMom offers features similar to other social networking Web sites, but with target topics and site features that bring moms together. Moms can voice concerns, express joys, and vent frustrations in their questions, journal posts, and within discussion groups. Plus, with well-known sponsors supporting the site, the company behind CaféMom is perceived as providing established, reputable and safe online communities for moms.
Another benefit for CaféMom members, besides discussions of motherhood and family, is the online friendships and groups that reflect other common interests. For example, suppose you're an expectant mom trying to decide which car seat is best for your baby. You might start by visiting CaféMom looking for articles and product reviews. Then, you may join the site and post a question about a particular car seat that had mixed reviews, hoping to get comments from users about their personal experiences with it in a specific vehicle -- for example, a Toyota Prius. When another mom responds, you might follow up with a discussion about hybrid cars, carbon emissions, improving the environment or your cousin who works for Toyota. From there, you might discover a CaféMom discussion group about ways to conserve natural resources, or just make a new online friend to follow and socialize with at CaféMom. Some online friends even choose to become offline friends as well.
CEO Michael Sanchez identifies CaféMom competitors as the larger social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. These sites have some features for moms, but don't seem as safe or focused on what moms need. A Google search for online networks for moms shows millions of hits, ranging from small privately-run communities to mom-focused groups within larger social network sites. Some sites like TheMommiesNetwork.org, have purchased ads to make their site more prominent in these searches. Besides competing to be seen, though, the sites dont seem to be in direct competition, but instead they each offer a different user experience.
The downsides of CaféMom are similar to other social network Web sites, and sometimes more pronounced. While the site's privacy features and Terms of Service create some level of security, you still need to be cautious about your personal safety while online. Plus, as a mom, you need to be aware of any risks in posting photos and information about your kids. Because CaféMom members could provide false or anonymous information, that awareness extends to meeting your new online friends in an offline setting. For moms and moms-to-be, though, the benefits of finding friends and sharing advice typically far outweighs these risks.
For more about social networking sites and related topics, take a look at the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- CaféMom. "People." (June 22, 2009) http://www.cafemom.com/about/people.php
- CafeMom."Time for Brands to Change their Approach when Marketing to Mom, Says New Report by Razorfish and CafeMom." Feb. 2, 2009. (July 4, 2009) http://www.cafemom.com/about/release_020209.php
- Gogoi, Pallavi. "I Am Woman, Hear Me Shop." Business Week. Feb. 14, 2005. (July 4, 2009) http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/feb2005/nf20050214_9413_db_082.htm
- Hegedus, Mike. "Mike on America: Marketing to moms." CNBC. April 23, 2008. (June 24, 2009) http://www.cnbc.com/id/15840232?video=720415282
- Holahan, Catherine. "From Melrose Place to CafeMom: Jersey dads dish on their site for moms." BusinessWeek. May 18, 2007. (July 4, 2009) http://feedroom.businessweek.com/index.jsp?fr_story=72cdf11a8f0a1044b5c68a54c4d272310fe0be23
- Internet Archive. "Wayback Machine for clubmom.com." (July 3, 2009) http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.clubmom.com
- Marketing Vox. "Social Network CafeMom Lands $5M in Funding." Aug. 24, 2007. (June 24, 2009) http://www.marketingvox.com/social-network-cafemom-lands-5m-in-funding-032531/