McDonald's Courts Mom Bloggers

McDonald's is using social media and mom bloggers to reach people it considers to be "influencers." It's developing an invite-only community for the most influential bloggers — inviting them to behind-the-counter tours, visits to headquarters and trips to farms that supply the restaurant chain's food.

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McDonald's announced plans yesterday to make the Happy Meal healthier. French fries, we're told, will come in smaller portions, and there will be fresh fruit in every kid's meal. The company says it is making these changes because it's been listening to customers. But which ones?

NPR's Allison Aubrey reports on one of McDonald's strategies: connecting with moms, even those who are not McDonald's best customers.

ALLISON AUBREY: If you happen to transport yourself�into the California home of Stefania Pomponi Butler, aka City Mama blogger, you'd likely be pulled into a scene of domestic bliss. Monday, she was canning spicy nectarine�pickles. After posting a beautiful photo on her blog, she wrote: I whipped up these this afternoon with the girls - as if this is something all of us moms do.

Ms. STEFANIA POMPONI BUTLER (Blogger, City Mama): We love to cook. We love to have parties. We love to eat, and none of that has changed just because I'm a mom.

AUBREY: You might expect that this foody mama would have nothing to do with fast food. But turns out, she finds herself in McDonald's every once in a while.

Ms. BUTLER: I mean, it's definitely not an everyday occurrence, but, you know, it serves a time and a place. I think it's more drive-thru than anything.

AUBREY: And she says she always orders the apple dippers instead of french fries for her girls.

Ms. BUTLER: They hate that caramel apple dipping sauce thing, so they just eat the apples and they're fine.

AUBREY: So why do McDonald's corporate executives in Illinois care what this California mom says about their food? Well, because lots and lots of other moms are listening to her. About 30,000 read her blog each month.

Mr. RICK WION (McDonald's): Mom bloggers are a very tight-knit community, and they're very, very networked. They're very linked in, and they spread information very, very quickly.

AUBREY: Rick Wion is director of social media for McDonald's, so it's no surprise�he's tweeting and Facebooking about company news, such as healthier Happy Meals. But it doesn't stop there.�Last year, when the company wanted to launch its new oatmeal, where did it go to test the waters? To the BlogHer conference, a huge gathering a women bloggers.�Stefania remembers tasting the oatmeal there.

Ms. BUTLER: I have to say, you know, McDonald's oatmeal was delicious. It had fresh chopped apples and raisins and cranberries, I believe.

AUBREY: And Stefania was only one of many, many bloggers to try the oatmeal, which has�now become a big seller.

Now, bloggers don't always dish-out complementary�things about McDonald's. In fact, often, it's quite the opposite. Moms are resentful about the bombardment of advertising towards their kids. They rant about ingredients and toys with movie tie-ins. Some moms have even sued McDonald's over these complaints. But Wion says his goal with mom bloggers - who he considers to be key influencers -is to court them.

Mr. WION: Moms listen to other moms more than they do lots of other folks.

AUBREY: And with this authentic voice, they sway one another.

In an effort to build on his relationship, Wion's team it taking mom bloggers on field trips to its corporate headquarters and to farms that supply McDonald's foods. They're even starting an invitation-only community for the most influential bloggers.

So is this something that City Mama would want to do?

Ms. BUTLER: I would probably say I would have to think about it. I would say the focus of my blog is a little big different, perhaps, of what they actually would want to target. But I would be open to hearing more about their initiatives and what they're trying to do.

AUBREY: And Rick Wion and McDonald's says he's happy to have a conversation with Stefania about joining his community.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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