Tina Sharkey, CEO of BabyCenter
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Now the social network allows moms to create profiles, upload content from existing social-media accounts such as Flickr or blogs, and create private groups.
"The moms who are just now having babies in their 20s are using Flickr instead of Shutterfly, and social-networking sites built from ground up as opposed to sites ... that have social networking as [one] of the many things you can do," said Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst at eMarketer. In a recent report, she estimated there are 35.3 million moms online this year and that the number will grow 12% by 2012.
Because BabyCenter previously couldn't create groups, users were heading to places such as Yahoo Groups as children aged and moms became more interested in forming local, private communities,said Ann Crady, founder of Maya's Mom. A Yahoo vet, she was influenced heavily while working with Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr, and said some of the most active groups on Yahoo are the 80,000 mom groups.
The social features should be a traffic driver for BabyCenter, which faces the same challenges as other web stalwarts: When you have near full penetration for your target audience, how do you increase the time those people spend on the site? During the past year, some newer sites have outpaced BabyCenter's traffic growth. Female traffic to the social-networking site Café Mom, for example, has increased 135% to 2.8 million unique visitors. BabyCenter's traffic has grown 12% to 4.7 million.
BabyCenter, which is owned by Johnson & Johnson but managed separately, and counts marketers such as Kimberly-Clark among its advertisers, hopes the social network will goose what it can do for marketers in two ways: Improving target advertising by getting better data about its audience, and allowing BabyCenter to identify influencers and solicit feedback on behalf of ad clients.
In Ms. Williamson's recent report, she cited an NPD study that said Generation X moms, those between the ages of 32 and 43, rely more frequently on word of mouth to get advice and information about products for their children, while Generation Y moms, ages 19 to 31, tend to use blogging or chat tools.
BabyCenter has already done some of that. It called on a panel of moms to help develop the creative for a Fisher-Price product and has run surveys with moms to figure out how to position the retro kids' clothing brand Garanimals.
"Marketers can get impressions in so many different places, both online and offline," Ms. Sharkey said. "Insights are the new media."