People behind it:
Name: Siobhan Freegard
Siobhan Freegard, a former marketing director of Keith Prowse Hospitality, set up NetMums with Sally Russell in 2002. It has just under 500,000 registered users, and an impressive list of sponsors and advertisers. But Freegard stresses that the site’s raison d’être is to offer mums (and dads) contact and advice from their peers in their local areas, and advertisers are given firm guidelines about making sure their ads are relevant to members. As yet, the NetMums founders have resisted selling the business, having failed to find a partner who would respect the site’s core ethos.
NetMums was set up by mums to exploit the networking opportunities offered by new media. New mothers can be vulnerable to depression and loneliness, and need support networks – but modern life and the fragmentation of the family have broken down these traditional support systems. Social networking can help replace them. NetMums was never intended as a marketing vehicle: the needs of its members outweigh the needs of marketers who want to use it to get to them.
From zero to 500,000 registered users in six years may not sound like much compared to the likes of Facebook and MySpace: but NetMums members are committed, not fashion-driven. The cell-structure of the site also helps, with slow but solid organic growth driven by the establishment of local “chapters”. BT, Nick Jr, Sainsbury’s and Robinsons are backers of the site, and Sky Media sells ad space. However, advertisers are only allowed to promote approved products.
How it fits
While NetMums offers marketing opportunities, brands are carefully screened. The social support element of the site has recently been recognised by a £500,000 grant from the Department for Children, Schools and Families to support online counsellors and health visitors. Freegard points out that the site had been spending £4,000 a month of its own money on providing support to women suffering from post-natal depression, abuse and so on.