There’s much to love about Heather the creator of Our Kids Mom. Heather met her husband as a 16 year old while working at the local mall’s burger joint. Her husband flipped burgers and Heather worked the cash register. The two are still happily married 24 years later. On her blog at OurKidsMom Heather provides engaging stories about her life in western Missouri. She is 3rd grade teacher turned stay at home mom with four children: Ethan (three years old) Emma (four years old), Joshua (fourteen years old) and Kaytlin (nineteen years old). She spends her free time (aka nap time) blogging about her children, sharing an occasional deal and writing about great products she’s had a chance to try. In this community spotlight we hear from Heather about how it makes her day to open an email from a reader who just won a product that they normally could not afford, and much more.

What inspired you to start your community?

I originally started OurKidsMom so that I had a place to post pictures and little tidbits about the kids for our extended family on the west coast. I didn’t start review blogging for nearly six months. One day I stumbled on a Facebook post from one of my favorite bloggers asking for a few more blogs to join a child themed giveaway hop. I answered her via private message and although I had never done anything like it, they graciously invited me to join them. That group of women encouraged me and gave me a few important pieces of advice that helped launch my relationship with brands.

Why is your community meaningful for you?

I have always been a word of mouth opinion sharer. Having the blog to post my opinion as well as photos to substantiate my thoughts has been an enjoyable experience for me. My readers have come to know that I can be brutally honest when need be but I always try to find the good points in everything as well.

What do your members value?

My members value detailed honesty. I do not and will not promote a product or company I cannot stand behind. My members also know that they can find me on a daily basis to chat on OurKidsMom’s Facebook wall.

What has been your experience engaging with brands in the past?

I have been communicating with brands and their reps on a daily basis for the past (almost) two years. I have been very aware of the storytelling I’ve done with Linqia and enjoy sharing the content.

What are your future goals for your community?

I intend to continue with sharing my thoughts through product reviews and sharing the love with giveaways. It truly makes my day to open an email from a reader who just won a product that they normally could not afford, but will genuinely enjoy. I used to enter giveaways on a daily basis and I clearly remember the excitement of a winning email and love that I can do that for my readers.

How do you feel Linqia can serve your needs?

Linqia allows me to share information about brands I believe in with a little kickback for my efforts. To date, my favorites have been Green Works and Dasani because of their efforts to clean and be green.

*You can learn more about Heather on her Facebook Page.

About the Opportunity for Communities:

At Linqia we are on a mission to increase the visibility of quality communities like yours among brands. Through Linqia brands engage with your community by providing you valuable content that’s appealing to your community members. We then recognize and reward you for doing so. If you’d like to register your community to the Linqia platform please fill out this simple form.

Marianna Nichols loves the New Jersey Devils, her iPhone, reading Star Wars novellas and all things green. A successful blogger and busy mom, when Marianna’s twins turned five months old she started investigating the products she was using. She set out on a “green journey.” She made different purchasing decisions for her family including organic, natural and toxin-free products. Marianna worked with Linqia recently to share the Green Works “Reverse Graffiti” story with her community. We sat down with Marianna (virtually) to ask her a few questions. Find out what inspires Marianna, her goals for her community, and why members keep coming back.

What inspired you to start your community? 

Being “green” is something that is very important to me and so I started in hopes to share easy tips to help others live more green.

Why is your community meaningful for you?

I love having other like-minded people to interact with. I sometimes feel like I am the only one in my little corner of CT that cares about healthy eating and green living, so being able to talk with others across the country who feel the same is pretty awesome.

What do your members value?

I think my members/readers value honesty and personal conversations. A good mix of both brand related conversations and personal conversations is important to them.

What has been your experience engaging with brands in the past?

I have been blogging for over three years now and have worked with a fair amount of brands. I really enjoy promoting a brand that I believe in and sharing them with my community.

What are your future goals for your community?

Of course I would love to see my community continue to grow, but even more importantly I want to see my interaction continue to grow. The more people jumping into the conversation, the better the conversation will be.

How do you feel Linqia can serve your needs?

I feel that Linqia can help provide interesting sponsored content to spark conversations within my community and with my readers.

*For more on Marianna visit her blog at Green Mama’s Pad

About the Opportunity for Communities:

At Linqia we are on a mission to increase the visibility of quality communities like yours among brands. Through Linqia brands engage with your community by providing you valuable content that’s appealing to your community members. We then recognize and reward you for doing so. If you’d like to register your community to the Linqia platform please fill out this simple form.

We’ve all sat in a movie theater as the same car floats around the screen. There’s that moment, “is this product placement?” You almost have a moment of, “am I being duped?” I am guilty of playing the guessing game as I watch TV and movies wondering where the product placement was.

 At the heart of the issue of disclosure remains the audience.

Content creators and the institutions who work with them all owe it to their audience to be transparent. For centuries the newspaper industry has built its reputation with a high amount of integrity. Household names are built through continued consistency, dedication to honest journalism and a high amount of ethical regard.

There’s a trust the reader puts into the hands of the writer that the facts being delivered are really facts, and that the separation between advertising and news was that of church and state.

So now as we watch the journalism industry change, we need to ensure we are operating at the highest levels of ethical standards–the same standards that made names The New York Times, Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle great. At the same time, bloggers and community leaders need to keep their coffee mugs filled up and the lights on in their home offices.


Where all around us technology has blurred lines, we need more honesty, sincerity and process when it comes to blogger disclosure so we can all sleep better at night. As more of our life moves online, as a society we need to ensure that we continue to respect our readers and the people who trust us. What’s shocking are reports that there are quite a few advertisers and agencies out there who are asking bloggers to violate FTC guidelines. One-off examples of corruption among brands, agencies and bloggers can tarnish the entire industry.

image source

Let’s take a lesson from Louis Gray who encourages, “Being genuine, transparent and truthful, despite any perceived bias, will always win. Being honest and direct and over-disclosing to the point of amusement, is always better than having to disclose after the fact.” Here are two great examples of bloggers who’ve used creative disclosures that get the message across and feel truly bright and authentic.

1. Tim Ferris, author of The Four Hour Work Week has his own style created some handy visuals [with Louis Gray] for his posts. They are in the style of Tim Ferris, and while this isn’t the best example for every blogger, for Tim it suits him, and his readership. Tim Ferris is known for being different. He inspires creativity–and it makes sense that he would do something a little funky with his FTC disclosure. He provides a great way to disclose without losing his sense of personality and individuality.Tim Ferris is known for being different. He inspires creativity–and it makes sense that he would do something a little funky with his FTC disclosure. He provides a great way to disclose without losing his sense of personality and individuality.

2. The Handmade Home + Green Works. Here at Linqia we help brands share their stories and content with really influential community leaders. One of our group leaders Ashley Malone Mills of The Handmade Home participated in a campaign with Clorox Green Worksto create awareness and spark discussion around the Graffiti Gallery story. We were so impressed with Ashley’s work who did an incredible job with her campaign.

This genuine disclaimer is clearly written in the voice of the community leader Ashley. It’s short and sweet. You can sense the trust Ashley has with her readers. As a blogger or community leader it’s important to decide what you stand for before you set out to publish. Make a checklist for yourself every time you post, and make sure you set your boundaries beforehand with the brand or agency you are working with.  It will help both you and the brand to have clear boundaries, and make for a better piece of content.

Disclosure tools include AddPost and CMP.LY highlighted by blogger Michael Hyatt. If you use wordpress you can leverage a plugin called AddPost to automate some of the process while also tailoring your messaging for your particular post. A new site called CMP.LY helps advertisers and bloggers easily comply with FTC guidelines. There are a ton of resources to help make it easy for you to disclose. And honesty makes for happy bloggers, community leaders, brands and readers. Good relationships, even the one the media has with its audience, are built on trust. Always.

Storytelling makes skeptics into believers. Storytelling makes sleepy oversaturated consumers into awake, alert and attentive listeners.

And storytelling is making its mainstream comeback.

Remember the 2012 Superbowl Chrysler commercial “it’s halftime in America?” I do too, because it told a story.

Chrysler conjures the Reagan campaign “it’s morning in America.

The auto industry struggles to get back on its feet and consumer confidence dives deeper due to steep oil prices. But the entertainment industry continues to climb (with a 12 percent increase in 2011 totaling 726 billion).

More evidence that people want to be enchanted, wowed, moved. The interruptive adverts aren’t sticking.

Noah King of the Barbarian Group talks about the increasingly compressed nature of consumer interest in a given campaign in his article Understanding Social Behavior: The Interest Graph.

king says:

At first interest climbs up and up until it reaches the top of the stairs; but then it peaks and slides down and down until it reaches the ground. This happens with every product launch, every promotion, and every new piece of content that spreads virally. The only thing that ever changes is how long the initial growth lasts, how high the overall interest grows, and how long it takes for interest to peter out to just about nothing.

Content that’s captivating and hits viewers on an emotional level will not die. These stories will continue to live in active thriving communities across the web. Stories have a much longer lifespan than an interruptive message. Stories have the potential to live in communities for months, and continue to be shared among intimate groups of people.

Image source Party USA

As Noah’s article points out, “the time part of the graph is getting more and more compressed, while simultaneously the height of the peak is getting higher and higher.”

Marketing in today’s environment demands we slow down and create meaningful content. If we do this we will find the peak portion of the time graph expand.

Brand Storytellers at SXSW 2012.

A few brands this year at SXSW took a clever approach to engaging the community at South by, and those watching on the web. One example is the AMEX Jay-Z Sync Show that generated a ton of attention via twitter, in addition to interest after the event (with almost 221,000 views to date).

A second example from SXSW was Virgin Mobile who launched a new program called “What the App!?” In an effort to gain social media credibility with the developer community via buzz, Virgin Mobile launched this contest to help up and coming young developers. The brand shows a commitment to building stories with and about its advocates.

These two brands are building new human-centric paths to community adoration, and reaping the benefits.

Fluid Enough to Adapt

Modern digital media “demands a way of storytelling that’s fluid enough to adapt to whatever medium best serves the user,” said Frank Rose, author of The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation Is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories.

Rose said, “People have always wanted to involve themselves in great stories. With industrial-age media you could only involve yourself in a limited way – you could read Charles Dickens or Scott Fitzgerald and imagine yourself in the worlds they described.”

While many of us still have a soft place in our heart for Dickens and Fitzgerald, stories need to be communicated with transmedia, in a way that considers an audience on the go.

Good marketing should mean good content. It should Inspire, Inform, Educate, and Entertain. If you do your job as storyteller, you will find your campaigns much more impactful—your efforts alive for a much longer amount of time than with traditional marketing efforts.

I go to Facebook for a few things.

1. To see what my friends are doing.
2. To make sure no one has posted a picture of me from 15 years ago.
3. To share a piece of inspiring content, a song from Spotify, or a Ted Talk.
4. To post pictures of my dog Athena.
5. To go to my running community on Facebook.

While I am a Facebook user, I’m also a marketer and a “content person.”

Sometimes as marketers, we have an “us” and “them” mentality when it comes to marketing. And while the word “user” is usually shelved for discussions about drug-addicts, this word “user” is representative of the way we treat our Facebook fans with a one-size fits all approach. Recent studies show it’s backfiring.

A recent Ad Age study—using the “People Talking About This” metric—based on likes, posts, comments, tags, and shares, reported that only 1% of Facebook fans engage with brands on Facebook. Further proof of what Karen Nelson-Field, senior research associate for Ehrenberg-Bass Institute said in the Ad Age piece.

“Facebook doesn’t really differ from mass media,” said Nelson-Field.

For all that we talk about the end of megaphone marketing, it appears we are still doing it, but with content on our brand’s Facebook pages. But it makes perfect sense to me why the same Ad Age article reported the average Facebook engagement rate from fans for brands is .36%.

Niche Communities Who Congregate Around Content

Today an article was released “How Content Is Really Shared: Close Friends, Not ‘Influencers: The Best Way to ‘Go Viral’ is Engage Millions who Share in Small Networks.”

The article says that online sharing takes place through many small groups, not via the single status post or tweet of a few influencers.

The team at BuzzFeed, a platform that captures the most viral content on the web, looked at 50 stories that had received the most Facebook traffic since mid-2007. What they found was the largest stories on Facebook were the “product of lots of intimate sharing — not one person sharing and hundreds of thousands of people clicking.” People share information when it’s relevant to the people in their own community, among their friends.

If I want to talk about running, I go to my closed running community. I trained for the SF Women’s Nike marathon last fall. I belonged to a private Facebook Group with the other East Bay Team in Training members. If I wanted to talk about anything related to marathon training, I would only post content about it in this particular closed Facebook group.

I wouldn’t burden all of my Facebook friends with these intricate details about marathon training, because they simply wouldn’t be interested.

Picture of my offline Facebook group, my coach Al (see Do the Damn Thing shirt), and me at the actual SF marathon.

The Buzzfeed team says “content goes viral when it spreads beyond a particular sphere of influence and spreads across the social web via ordinarily people sharing with their friends.”

We know this makes sense when we think of how we use Facebook, so why do we continue to throw content at the wall and hope it sticks?

Houston we have a problem.

What do you think?

Did you know that 54% of women try on at least ten pairs of jeans to find even one pair that fits?

Shopping is an emotional activity for people—and shopping for that perfect pair of jeans can be a difficult task, especially for moms who want to feel comfortable in their clothes without losing their sense of style.

Levi’s took note that one jean size in no way fits all—especially for new moms—and came up with Curve ID, a way for women to build their own jeans according to their shape, a friendlier measurement to the traditional size metric.

What is Curve ID?

Meet Sarah James, a mother of two who has an engaged community who follow her blog Whoorl where she talks about everything from beauty, to food, to raising children, and more.

Sarah’s story is relevant for a few reasons.

One of them is the fact that Sarah is a mom blogger. More and more moms are building a life for themselves from their home office—where they can keep one eye on their children while pursuing their passion and earning income.

Brands like Levi’s know they need to earn trust with the Sarahs of the world through relevant individualized products, and messaging that’s pure and honest.

If you’re like me you DVR most of your favorite shows because you hate advertising. But, this piece of content that focuses on Sarah’s story I really enjoyed watching. In fact I’ve watched a few of these different Curve ID short stories.

“Content Marketing”

What Levi’s created is the opposite of what has been termed “content marketing” as defined by David Spark of Spark Media Solutions. Spark wrote in article “Why we should stop using the term ‘content marketing.”

Spark says, “There is no “marketing.” When you create content to inform and educate, you’re providing answers that may fulfill a step in the sales process, and you may be strengthening trust of your brand, but that’s true of all content…. The name ‘content marketing’ assumes a sales pitch within the content. If there was a sales pitch in the content it would be called ‘advertising.’”

Spark has a solid point. Brands need to inform, engage, entertain and inspire. All brands make themselves attractive to the community by listening and serving its community [based on the needs of the community].

When we say “community” we don’t just mean one general group. Just like the women who shop for jeans, a one size fits all approach will not work. There are hundreds of thousands of variations on community shape. Just as Levi’s did with Curve ID, content and approach should be curved according to the needs of that particular community.

Over the past 3 months, our team has interviewed over 120 social networks and online communities across the globe. The number 1 challenge they’re all facing is monetization. Banner ads don’t work – CPM rates have plummeted – in some cases from €20 to €2, members aren’t paying any attention to ads and there’s not enough inventory to service the combined billions of page views across these sites. Sites doing well generate revenue through selling virtual currencies, member subscriptions and integrating partnerships.

Whilst we estimate there exists over 2,000 social networks and online communities, there are over 80 million groups created by members, organizations and companies.

So how do you monetize groups?

Similar to social networks, some platform allow groups to embed advertising – such as Ning. The most common form of monetization is through affiliate links and direct partnerships.

I group I belong to on LinkedIN is the 30,000+ member Social Media Marketing group lead by Michael Crosson. Michael is a LinkedIN member passionate about social media and engaging members in a variety of discussions around this topic. It’s the largest group on LinkedIn for this topic and serves a ‘go to’ place to connect with people interesting in social media marketing and learning more about this.

Michael has been smart and started integrating affiliate partners into his group. With a reach of 30,000+ people, he’s able to blast a message to all of his members guaranteeing a high percentage of attention and ‘eye balls’. This type of marketing is very different to adsense or embedded affiliate opportunities. Firstly – most if not all of the offers may not be something the members are proactively searching for now – therefor receiving a message from a trusted person addresses people are not searching. Secondly, whilst the group has 30,000+ registered members, they don’t necessarily visit the group on a regular basis – meaning that any ads or offers presented won’t be seen. The most effective form of distributing any message or offer is through email – from somebody the group members trust and will pay attention to.

Below, you will see the message I received this morning from Michael – which I spent 30 seconds reviewing:

Six key ingredients to effectively presenting opportunities to members in your group:

  1. Source opportunities or offers which are highly relevant to your members. State why the opportunity is interesting.
  2. The message must not be scripted or written in a commercial way. Write like you’re sitting around a table with your members and sharing something exciting you came across that would be relevant to them.
  3. Be transparent. If you’re receiving a commission or kickback – make this obvious
  4. Your message should not only be commercial in nature. Deliver some value at the beginning of the message – sharing some news, an article or something interesting. Append commercial opportunities or partners at the end of your message.
  5. Plan the frequency of how often you will communicate with your members. Depending on the affinity you have developed with your members, if you send too many messages you will start to loose their interest. A very close knit group
  6. Track how many people click on the links. For larger groups (1,000+) ideally you want 10% of members clicking on the links. For smaller groups 20% is healthy and indicative that you’re delivering value.

What not to do:

  1. Make it obvious that it’s an affiliate link – Michael has included the link in it’s entirety including his affiliate code. I would suggest that you shortern or disguise the URL. Whilst it’s important to disclose that the links are commercial in nature you can avoid posting lengthy URL’s

There are 100’s of affiliate programs you can access. Many groups have embedded the Amazon affiliate program, LinkShare, commission junction, tradedoubler, adjug, adroll and so on.

It’s worth testing and even speaking to members within your group to find the right balance.