Why Is BabyCenter So Interesting?

The image “https://i0.wp.com/beta.babycenter.com/images/logos/babycenter_beta.gif” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.After what seemed like months of email back and forth, I finally spoke with Tina Sharkey, Chairman (so the bio says) and CEO of BabyCenter.com (owned by Johnson & Johson). She was formerly Senior Vice President of Network & Community Programming for America Online and so knows social media as well as anybody. We had a free ranging conversation about the history of BabyCenter and its future direction and strategy.

From the outside, BabyCenter looks like a straightforward content destination for expecting and new parents. Although I’ve written numerous times about the “Momster segment,” the readers of this blog might not find BabyCenter that interesting on a “drive by.” But from my point of view, especially after my conversation with Sharkey, it’s one of the most interesting plays online.

Why is that? Let me count the ways:

  1. It has an established, strong consumer brand and a high degree of trust and loyalty
  2. It taps one of the most important demographics – if not the most important demographic – online for commercial purposes: moms
  3. It has a very large audience (7+ million uniques) and dominates its category
  4. The site is about to relaunch with a new platform (here’s a preview)
  5. Based on the description and functionality I heard about, the new site will offer one of the most impressive personalization (passive and active) platforms online
  6. It may become one of the most effective community sites (based on engagement) in the next year (offering blogging, photo sharing, profiles, etc.). Think of it as “Yelp for Moms” (Sharkey’s phrase)
  7. It’s building an ad network (think FM for small publishers and serious bloggers thematically tied into the BabyCenter demo)
  8. It is already a very effective e-commerce site and powerful marketing channel for brands seeking to reach the demographic (the ad network will expand its reach)
  9. It’s an email marketing powerhouse with open rates that exceed 40%
  10. It’s expanding internationally in a very aggressive way
  11. Because it’s a trusted site and because the community tools are being beefed up, it will become an even more effective WOM recommendations engine for local businesses (retail and services)

Among the things that were impressive to me are the levels of engagement and loyalty that this site has. Most local sites or comparison engines that offer reviews do so in an atmosphere of relative anonymity. But there’s a virtuous circle of engagement and participation going on with BabyCenter that’s almost unique and it’s fascinating.

As a basic matter of fact moms want to share knowledge and experience with each other. As Sharkey described, they go from being novices to mentors and advice givers to other new moms. Grateful for the help they received they want to give back. But most fascinating is that chat and other tools on the site will allow people to contact one another. Let’s say I see recommendations for a pediatrician or particular children’s toys I’ll be able to contact the reviewers and get more detail. That might well extend to digital video cameras and other “once removed” products and services. I might choose to find a local painter here rather than on a less trusted, more generic site for obvious reasons.

That sort of dynamic isn’t really happening elsewhere. If I got to restaurant review site X or product review site Y or hotel review site Z I’m reading reviews but not able to talk to anyone about what they’ve said. But on BabyCenter people will be able to contact each other and get more depth.

These tools, the trust and levels of engagement and participation make the community potentially much richer and more dynamic than 90%+ of what’s out there. And there’s an “organic” dimension to what’s being conveyed here – moms helping other moms. There’s little or zero need to offer monetary or ego-based incentives to participate. The motivation is there; the site merely serves to facilitate communication and exchange. And the community and participation reinforces and supports the brand.

Thus, upon second glance, BabyCenter sits, one might say, at the center of some of the most interesting trends online: verticals/targeted audiences, community and (potentially) local.

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Related: MediaPost reports (briefly) on a Hispanic targeted version of BabyCenter.

4 Responses to “Why Is BabyCenter So Interesting?”

  1. Why Is BabyCenter So Interesting? — ElectronicEquipment Review Says:

    […] finally spoke with Tina Sharkey, Chairman (so the bio says) and CEO of BabyCenter.com ( source: Why Is BabyCenter So Interesting?, […]

  2. CafeMom Gets Funds, BabyCenter Relaunches « Screenwerk Says:

    […] Mom-oriented social network CafeMom just received $5 million in funding and BabyCenter, which I just wrote about, relaunched the site with many more social media […]

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    […] Mom-oriented social network CafeMom just received $5 million in funding and BabyCenter, which I just wrote about, relaunched the site with many more social media […]

  4. WSJ on Pro-Niche Networks « Screenwerk Says:

    […] more emphasis on social media elements. This acquisition bolsters that strategy. Here are some previous thoughts and observations of BabyCenter after speaking with Chairwoman Tiny […]

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