Marketing to Mombloggers: When brand advocates become unpaid saleswomen and then call it quits

As a "mommy blogger," I'm on the receiving end of lot of marketing pitches. As a consultant, I sometimes find myself developing the pitches and broader outreach efforts. I understand that clients want numbers, they want measurable results. But there's a line between developing brand fans and "hiring" bloggers for free advertising.

Late last year, I was invited to a party to learn about a piece of at-home fitness equipment that is used in conjunction with a popular family gaming platform. Just as Walt Disney asked his employees to "plus" their ideas, to make them bigger and better, this brand was proud to release its "plussed" version.

The party was wonderful. A Word-of-Mouth (WOM) firm engaged a local blogger as hostess and she invited a fabulous group of women. Attendees learned about and got to try out the product in a fun, low-pressure setting. There were delicious snacks and drinks and we enjoyed ample time to play as well as talk. A good time was had by all, and, in the end, each attendee was given a product to take home and enjoy. They plussed it!

I held off on opening my product until the holidays, but we've been using/playing/working out with it ever since. Just as the WOM firm would hope, I've been chatting the system up online and in real life. I think the "plus" product has a lot of great improvements over the initial release. A true brand advocate, I was also getting ready to post on my search-friendly PR 5 blog (that would be this here blog).

But while that post was sitting in draft, the WOM agency asked me to take a survey. Given my very positive feelings about the event and the product, I dove in. Feedback on the party? No problem. Questions about my knowledge of and experiences with the product? I'm game.

But then they started asking about the social networks in which I'm active. Um, well okay. Then they wanted to know about my fans/followers/readers. Hmmm. It didn't let me bypass those items, so I entered numbers that I felt were extremely high, you know to mess with them and make myself look cool.

Then the survey asked how many people had played the game with me, how many conversations I'd had about the games and the like. I made up numbers there, too. Low ones this time (or maybe I made up low numbers about my social connections and high ones here because it sounded fun to say I'd talked with over 9000 people about this game).

I understand how word of mouth works. I understand they invited me to the party and gave me a free unit in the hopes that I would love it and tell my friends. And I willingly did that.

At least I did that until the WOM agency made it all too clear that I was merely their tool.

In the space of a few minutes I went from being an genuinely enthusiastic brand advocate to an unpaid salesperson.

And then I quit.

I'm still using the product that shall not be named, but there will be no blog post, no more tweeting, and I'm zipping my lips.

I've gotten different reactions from friends who also took the survey. Some wanted to sound positive so they will be invited to future events. Others answered the questions but felt a bit awkward about it (were they worthy?). And still others wondered why the agency didn't collect social network information on their own, possibly even prior to the event. (Obvious answer, because they'd have to pay someone to do it.)

I think there's a line between being a brand fan and a cheap marketing tool. Do you? How do you draw that line as a blogger? What might a brand do that makes you feel valued, or on the flip side, what might a brand do that kills your buzz?

Edited 1/26/10 to add: Spurred by this blog and the rich discussion in the comments Jennifer James put up a post today that's a must-see. Click to read "Why PR professional shouldn't ask mom bloggers for stats."

And while you're clicking, taking a peek at my old post, "Moms, show us your stats"

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