Ann-Marie Burton describes herself as a stay-at-home mom that stumbled upon the social media trend.
The Burlington, Ont. woman left a career in consumer packaged goods to stay at home with her first daughter more than three years ago. But she soon found herself missing her professional life and foundedMomstown, a local group for mothers that combined real live events with a Web-based community.
“The idea was to create a more organized Mom’s group” at first, Burton says. “At first we didn’t realize we were building a social network, but we met a need at the right time.”
Today, Momstown is the “social network of choice” for many mothers, she says. It operates a business that combines paid-for memberships to access live events, meet-ups, and consumer offers with freely available content published to the Web. It has 5,000 paying members and has grown beyond its original Toronto-area suburb to a total of 18 branches – 14 in Ontario and four in Alberta.
The hobby project became a viable business thanks in part to Toronto-based Uptrend Media, Burton says. The company groups together niche content publishers and sells the aggregate page views to advertisers – passing on some serious revenue to firms like Momstown.
Uptrend’s online representatives specialize in selling Web site advertising inventory, says Jaimie Grossman, CEO at the firm. It will sell everything on its partner Web sites from basic banner advertising to sponsorships, contests, micro-sites, e-mail newsletters and more.
“We’re acting as an internal sales force for these publishers for an external location,” he adds. “Really it’s for U.S. shops that don’t want to set up in Canada, but need someone on the ground that knows what they’re doing.”When Uptrend Media and Momstown started their partnership two years ago, Burton saw about 40 per cent of her revenue come from the deal. It also boosted the site’s reputation.
“When you see large organizations and brands like Tim Horton’s and Huggies, relevant companies participating on our site, that increases our credibility,” she says.
Uptrend mostly sells for American advertisers to Canadian sites, Grossman says. But it does have American publishers amongst its 44 partners with about 200 Web sites, and Canadian advertisers too. Its Canadian content partners include the Canadian Football League – every team’s page, the league’s official page, a page for the Grey Cup trophy, and the French-language page.
But Uptrend saw the potential value in Mom-oriented sites years ago, the CEO says. It made an effort to build a network of independent Mom sites from across Canada.
“Alone these were fantastic sites with great content,” he says. “The only issue was these were small Web sites built by Mom entrepreneurs and they couldn’t attract advertisers because they weren’t getting enough impressions.”
Collect several of those sites together and sell the ad space as a block, and you solve the problem.
Burton’s Burlington-based Momstown site gets about 15,000 unique hits a month, she says. Her business remains very small – just herself, and a business development manager working at the head office.
“We just don’t have the resources to dedicate” to attract larger media buyers, she says. But recently her revenue stream has been less supported by Uptrend.
Momstown has started a licencing model that lets other Moms launch a local business based on the model and using the Momstown name. That could see new locations sprouting up in Vancouver and the Maritimes, as early as next year. It also receives a $45 annual membership fee from its 5,000 members.
“We do regional advertising and local advertising on our own,” Burton says. “Right now, Uptrend supplies about 10 per cent of our total revenue.”
Uptrend finds that the longer a content publisher stays with them, the more their revenue stream grows, Grossman says. Especially in the first few years.
“We are the exclusive seller to agencies for them, but they have the ability to get some local advertisers on the site,” he says. “We’re known as one of the places to go if you want to reach Moms that are engaged and valuable.”
The firm prides itself on its transparency, the CEO adds. It allows advertisers to customize how they are buying ads and where they are places. For content publishers, they will work with them to make sure the ads don’t come across as invasive or annoying.
Since Momstown has paying members, they’ve asked that banner ads remain static and don’t pop-out on a mouse-over, Burton says. Uptrend also doesn’t make any editorial content requirements of Momstown.
Burton’s “organized Mom’s group” might have grown to be a little bit bigger than she bargained for. But with some help from Uptrend Media, she still has time for her kids.
She has three now – ages five, three, and six months.