Will Mumsnet get consumers ‘social shopping’?

Ruth Mortimer is Marketing Week’s editor and a prolific blogger. She won a PPA Award for her forthright and insightful columns on marketing.

Parenting forum Mumsnet has launched a new “social shopping” service. It has created a new section of its site – Mumsnet Swears By – where users can see the products or brands that other people are recommending to each other and click through to buy them.

Mumsnet says it has created the service based on how users behave already on its boards. The site’s users, termed “Mumsnetters” are already swapping details of everything from shoes to pushchairs with each other, asking for recommendations on which to buy. A weekly email based on user recommendations already exists but this will now become a whole section within the site.

The Swears By section will initially feature 10 categories of products, including clothing, cosmetics, kids’ products and fitness.

It’s an interesting move for an online community that is very sensitive about commercial arrangements. The Mumsnet boards are very outspoken whenever the site features advertisers that its users feel are inappropriate. Although the Mumsnet team tends to poll its users whenever it is considering featuring brand advertisers (such as McDonald’s), there is still much discussion on the site about the suitability of featured products and marketing.

This will bring commerce further into the heart of the Mumsnet site. I can see why it works for brands – after all, peer-to-peer recommendations are one of the most effective forms of advertising. Sites like Tripadvisor are built on this model; I certainly don’t book a holiday without first checking out the Tripadvisor reviews and thinking: “Hm, that person likes similar things to me and they love this place, so it’s probably worth booking” or “Wow, that person is entirely mad about stuff, I must not take this review seriously”.

So this kind of service will probably work well for the brands featured. It should also work well for Mumsnet, whose chief executive Justine Roberts says: “We’ve also been working with retailers to secure discounts on the items we feature. And it works – if we feature a product that people love, hundreds fly off the shelf within hours.” As a free-to-use site, Mumsnet must obviously find ways to generate the revenues to keep running and this social shopping service is a way of monetising its operations (I’m assuming it is not pushing consumers through to retailers out of the goodness of its heart alone; do tell me if I’m wrong, Mumsnet).

Will it work for that famously critical Mumsnet audience? I think it probably will. After all, it very cleverly harnesses the very outspoken nature of its users. This isn’t a commercial service based on the Mumsnet team picking out items for their users; it’s people recommending items to each other. Since it is something they do already, it’s a smart idea.

The only potential problem will be that in order for this to be a genuine peer-to-peer experience, it will have to be tightly policed to ensure that it is established Mumsnetters recommending items, rather than cheeky marketers logging on without being regular forum users to try and push people to brands. However, the forums are already very sensitive to any media using the site without declaring themselves as such and are quick to report such suspicions to the moderators, so this may not occur or be quickly weeded out.

What’s your thoughts?

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