Editor's comment: The mum of all focus groups

I am almost scared to enter into the debate about Mumsnet.com, the networking site for parents. This is because over the past few weeks I have seen it described as weird, prescriptive, bullying, childish and vitriolic. However, it has also been described as powerful on several occasions.

Indeed, the next election has been pitched as the 'Mumsnet election', with politicians vying to participate in web discussions with its members (see our analysis on page 17). Who would have thought that a website aimed predominantly at mums could attract so much attention? Certainly not the publishers of parenting magazines.

The not-so-flattering depictions of Mumsnet and its users are not important to Marketing. We are more interested in how powerful this kind of website could be for brands. It clearly isn't for every mother, so neither is it the site for brands looking to target the 'housewife' demographic. Mumsnet has a middle class, opinion-forming member-base that other parenting magazines and websites simply do not. While regular parenting magazines may offer advice, this site is full of debate, reviews and advice offered by peers.

As a group, its members guard their commercial value intently, and will not allow themselves to be exploited. Mumsnet will not carry advertising for baby-milk formula brands, or, for that matter, McDonald's, but this does not mean that brands cannot engage with its users. It may have attracted the headline 'I hate Mumsnet' in the Daily Mail, but several agencies tell us that their clients have had real success conducting a dialogue with Mumsnet members - not least because they are very opinionated and honest. This is obviously the sort of partnership its founders want to encourage and Ford is the latest brand to enter into an agreement with the site. Other brands will surely follow in its tyre tracks.




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