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How listening to users has built Mumsnet to become a market leader

How listening to users has built Mumsnet to become a market leader

By UTalkMarketing Editor, Clark Turner.

It’s not easy being a Mum. It’s a 24-hour occupation. And just how do you know if you are approaching parenting in the right way? What if you just need some help and advice from a fellow Mum? Who can you turn to?

It was faced with the dilemmas such as these, that a sports journalist back in 2000, Justine Roberts, after a disastrous 'family-friendly' holiday with her one-year-old twins, came up with the concept of Mumsnet.com.

Together with Carrie Longton, a TV producer and friend from antenatal class, the pair set up a website where parents and parents-to-be could share their know-how on the net.

The site’s philosophy is simple: to make parents' lives easier by pooling knowledge, experience and support.
It celebrated ten years with a knees-up at Google HQ in March 2010 and today is a force to be reckoned with. The numbers speak for themselves with 1.24 million unique users a month and 25 million page impressions.

“There are a number of factors that have contributed to the site’s success,” explained Roberts. “We are essentially a collaborative effort. We realised early on our users are our stakeholders – not simply customers. They are very important and a great source of ideas to help with R&D.

“The users generate content on the site and spend a lot of time hanging out on the site for entertainment. So they are very sensitive to the look and feel of the site and any changes made.”

She added, “We think of the site as more of a community, rather then being a publication, and so don’t treat our users simply as readers. They’re more involved than that. There’s a two-way conversation going. Ultimately, we don’t tell, we ask.”

So building a huge community such as this has involved huge marketing spend, right? TV, radio, outdoor and press campaigns? Wrong! Mumsnet has never had a marketing budget as such.

Instead it’s popularity has been down to the power of ‘word of mouth’ and some invaluable PR. For the press, the site is seen as a barometer for what mothers in the UK are thinking on a range of topics.

“Mumsnet is not just about kids and parenting, there is a whole world of other interests that our users have. But most importantly we are seen as an authentic community with a genuine voice by the media,” Roberts said.

“After all these years we don’t really spend on marketing, or employ a PR agency. To be honest, we haven’t really felt we’ve needed it.”

She continued, “The key to ‘word of mouth’ is about getting the product right. We use incentives to encourage users to tell others. But the flipside its also seen as safe enclave for some users to escape to, to be honest and open in private.”

The site still sits at the heart of the brand, but it has been rolled out into other channels with books and guides proving valuable additional revenue streams.

Mumsnet’s first book was published in March 2002. ‘Mums on Babies’ was a guide to the first year of parenthood written by parents; and this was followed in January 2004 by Mums on Pregnancy.

Meanwhile 2009 saw the launch of a series of parenting and lifestyle books, published by Bloomsbury. The most recent of these was Babies: The Mumsnet Guide. It followed (logically) Pregnancy: The Mumsnet Guide and (illogically) Toddlers: The Mumsnet Guide. All three are packed with the advice of parents who've been there, endured – and survived to laugh about it afterwards.

“We first took the step when at the time it was seen as impossible to make money from the site,” Roberts explained. “We had all this great content on the side and moving into publishing seemed a good way to generate revenue.

The brand has also produced a 15-part series for ‘Discovery Health’ called ‘Mum's the Word’. Once again the parenting advice they were dispensing came from the most reliable source possible - other Mumsnetters. The site has also produced two magazine guides to the best stuff for parents.

“There’s a lot of relevant video content on the site. It’s a good way of engaging users and compliments what we do," added Roberts.

“On top of that, there’s an app in development for a new babies book and we’ve also launched a new mobile phone version of the site. It’s important to think about apps. Our users tell us it fits into their lifestyles. We’ll be doing more and more on this front as time goes on.”

There are no shortage of brands looking to work with Mumsnet and grab the attention of its users by pushing out messages, but there are rules.

The site supports the WHO/UNICEF International Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and does not accept advertising from a number of companies including Nestle and McDonald's, and for a number of products, such as formula milk and cosmetic surgery.

“We won’t take adverting from brands that we believe do not sit well with our philosophy - namely to make parents' lives easier,” Roberts explained. “But we will work with brands by letting them survey the opinions of our users, or to test their products.

“Again it goes back to asking rather than telling our users and having a conversation with them rather than pushing messages.”

She continued, “We’re not there to be a mouthpiece for brands and endorse them for payment. We are here as a trusted source by our users.

So would a Dadsnet work as well? Well not according to Roberts.

“There is a Dads forum on the site. But on a stand alone site it would be get Dads to interact in the same way. They generally talk less and in a different way to Mums. Women want to ask for advice more in their 24/7 job,” she added.

“The one thing we try to do at all times is listen to our users. They are smart, vocal and give us the benefit of their wisdom in telling us what they want.”

Justine Roberts will be speaking at the UTalkMarketing Digital Brand Strategy Summit on November 25, 2010 in London. Click here to hear more from Justine and get your ticket.


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