In 2005, as floodwaters broke through New Orleans’s levees, Emily McKhann wondered if there was a more direct way to assist Hurricane Katrina survivors than just sending care packages down South, where they’d likely sit, undistributed, until relief workers could sort them. So she took to her nascent blog, where she connected with other women, mostly mothers, who posted what they were looking to donate: extra baby clothes and diapers, blankets, airline miles, computers, even beauty-parlor chairs they could send to affected salons. It was the first time McKhann, a longtime public relations professional, harnessed the power of the internet for good, and an idea was born. The Motherhood, Inc., founded by McKhann and her friend Cooper Munroe, was launched in 2006 as a digital marketing agency that taps the influential mom-blogger community to discuss and share content that makes a measurable impact. NationSwell recently spoke with McKhann about the way moms use the internet.
Why do moms specifically need this forum?
Before the web, motherhood could be very isolating. Whether women are working from home or the office, as soon as children are in their lives, they’re so busy. They have so many obligations. Mothers, in many ways, can feel like they’re shouldering the burdens of the world: They’re taking care of their job, their family, their community. On the web, women connected around issues or problems they faced. For example, discovering there’s some health crisis with your child. You wouldn’t necessarily bring it up on the park bench. Your friends around town wouldn’t necessarily understand what you’re going through and offer you even the shoulder, much less the resources you actually need. Finding other women who are going through something similar and hearing someone say, ‘Oh, honey, I’ve so been there,’ or ‘Hey, have you tried this resource?’ or ‘Here’s how things unfolded for me’ — that kind of one-to-one connection that the web allowed was transformative for mothers.
Politically, how does the internet help mothers be heard?
In terms of their role in the community, women — and men, too — are really looking for ways to make things a little better every day. Let’s say you have a 2-year-old and a newborn at home. You’re probably not going to drive to your state’s capital to get your voice heard. But you could put your kids to bed and spend 45 minutes online, find other women who care about the same thing, and suddenly you’re being heard and something’s happening. That collective action is really powerful and affirming. We are going to look back on this time when the web came to the fore as the time when women’s voices came to the fore. It’s changing public policy and the way women see themselves; women online are a powerful crew.
You’ve written before that you think it’s no accident healthcare made it onto Obama’s agenda, because so many women were blogging about the hardship of not having insurance. What’s the blogosphere buzzing about this election that might be on the next president’s agenda?
Gun control. We’ve all seen the violence, and many of the voices you hear are women’s, and mothers’ in particular, because they’re worried about their children going to school or a movie theater. They’re worried about the safety of their institutions. The numbers are so frightening: 33,000 people every year are killed by guns. It’s an epidemic.
Who are some of your favorite bloggers?
I love Asha Dornfest at Parent Hacks; the writing of Liz Gumbinner at Mom 101; Chrysula Winegar’s posts at Global Moms Challenge; and Gabrielle Blair at Design Mom.
Looking to the future, what innovations are you most excited about right now?
Live video, all the way. For those unfamiliar with it, the point is not just that somebody is on video, it’s that they’re interacting with their community in real-time in the comments. The level of engagement and connection in video is different from the written form. It’s not going to be like highly produced network news, but people at home or in the street, wherever they are, who have something to say. We’re going to see people become live video stars, hosting shows at set times during the week. It’s going to become an entirely new medium that we really, at this point, have no sense of yet. And it’s going to cause a great, big shift in how other social platforms are used.
Where do you find your inner motivation?
When we started The Motherhood, we created a way for large consumer-product companies to interact directly with their No. 1 customer. This was one-to-one, a program where 50 bloggers meet a large consumer. Several things happened. For one, we elevated the voice of women: This is what they really think, not what someone thinks they think. That has changed a lot about how causes and brands approach women. There’s tremendous value in that, for all of us. Anything we’re doing where we’re becoming more authentic, more truthful, is good for all of us.
What’s your proudest accomplishment?
I’m really proud I’ve gotten to know and work with so many amazing women. We’ve created incredible programs together. That’s what I’m most proud of: just getting to be a part of this world-changing community of women online.