New Social Site Tries for ‘MomSpace’

If eBay is a garage sale writ large online, and MySpace is the Net’s approximation of a bunch of kids milling around outside a rock show, what’s the digital equivalent of several neighborhood moms chatting over coffee?

Veteran women’s publisher and affiliate marketing site ClubMom hopes to answer that question with a social networking play geared toward America’s mothers.

Called The MomNetwork, the service lets women connect based on geography, life challenges, interests and the ages of their kids.

“This is taking human behavior to scale, with user generated content and community connections around the experience of motherhood,” said Andrew Shue, a co-founder of ClubMom and member of its board. “It brings in the MySpace and the About.com value propositions that moms desperately need.”

ClubMom is betting it can parlay its existing user base of approximately two million mothers into a vast digital meeting place for perhaps 20 million more. A tall order, Shue admits, but one with a big potential payoff.

“From a business standpoint, it’s a huge opportunity,” he said. “Moms have not been aggregated on the Web. They are the CEOs of America’s households.”

ClubMom, a longtime loyalty and affiliate marketing company, is no stranger to community features. The company offers content from a library of tips and “know-how” written by a combination of professional editors and site users. It also has message boards and polls. The social features serve to extend this community philosophy to include some of the functions popularized by services like AOL Instant Messenger and MySpace.

But there is a shift going on in how the company does business. ClubMom has largely killed off its rewards programs, once its bread and butter, and is replacing the transactional model with more advertising and sponsorship revenue.

The company has set up strategic partnerships with companies like Hasbro, Home Depot, HP and Prudential, creating microsites and signing up moms to blog and write articles about content areas these companies would like to sponsor.

Even so, ClubMom expects word of mouth and affinity-based content creation to provide greater marketing opportunities than traditional advertising.

“It’s less about the [ad] inventory,” said Shue. “There’s not enough inventory that’s quality to satisfy marketers that are coming to the table with much bigger budgets. We’re trying to figure out how to integrate their brand into an authentic conversation… P&G, Kraft and Hasbro don’t just want to do traditional banner advertising. They want to integrate the content they have, bring it to the table and create a real partnership.”

The MomNetwork is tapping into two trends in online media and marketing. The first involves efforts to target women and mothers online, such as P&G did with its Vocalpoint program and Kimberly-Clark with its HuggiesBabyNetwork.com.

The second is the old/new social networking phenomenon, most evident in the mind shattering popularity of MySpace, which was itself based on the principles explored earlier by AOL Instant Messenger and Friendster. Many Web sites have since added social media features to their content, in hopes of provoking their users to create Web pages and generate saleable inventory.

But will busy mothers be as enticed by the prospect of “connecting” as young people seem to be? The MomNetwork’s prospect for success hinges on the answer.

According to Shue, the glue that will hold the site’s user base together may not be so much the raw social ties between mothers as their shared challenges. He said executives at ClubMom have been astounded by the number of women willing to open up about their problems — ranging from alcohol abuse to parenting ADD kids.

“The idea of sharing the experiences and the common struggles around these challenges we believe is going to fuel the connections,” he said. “It’s not, ‘Hey I’m going to find some new friends.’ It’s ‘Hey, I want to find some new friends who are dealing with this.'”

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