The welcome panel of the sold-out Mom 2.0 Summit, which came to Austin for the first time last week, was packed. The session was aimed at first-timers to the eleventh annual three-day conference, but judging from all the raised hands when the moderator asked who had brand sponsors for their Instagram accounts, blogs, or YouTube videos, most of the women in the room were far from social media rookies. In a generous tone that was part parent support group/part business think tank, the high-energy moderator invited us to approach Mom 2.0 with “an abundance mindset,” to be elevator pitch-ready for the many corporate sponsors setting up in conference rooms throughout the downtown JW Marriott, and, when needed, to take a nap.
I found myself sitting next to the Cha Ching Queen, also known as Rachel from Austin, whose blog about parenting on a budget is pulling in sponsorships from Mercedes and Chewy.com. “I’ve come for the connections,” she said. “It gets lonely always blogging by yourself. Plus, you get real business advice here. It’s not just ‘mommy bloggers’”—she made finger quotation marks around the term that, I had already learned, is considered dismissive.
“The name ‘mommy blogger’ was probably coined by a man who doesn’t take seriously the online media empires that women are creating—and getting paid six figures for,” said Laura Mayes, the Austin-based co-founder of Mom 2.0, whom I talked to a few days before the conference. Her smile was big and spirits high, despite the fact that she was planning a conference for 1,100 participants with 120 panelists and had only slept a few hours the night before. “You’re not my kid, so don’t call me mommy.”
The Mom 2.0 Summit (called just Mom2 by veterans) travels from city to city each year and has a cult following among plugged-in social-media influencers on the east and west coasts. But even though it was founded in 2009 in Houston by two Texas women, Mayes and Carrie Pacini—with Texan sociologist phenomenon Brené Brown as their first keynote speaker (she was back this year)—it has been surprisingly under the radar in Texas.
I’d never heard of it. Perhaps that’s why I was expecting to hear more about breast pumping and postpartum depression, which is certainly a part of the conversation (WaterWipes was there launching its new campaign against the gooey messiness of parenthood). But, I soon found out, the prevailing language here is one of ROIs, influencers, startups, and how to monetize your social media platform—not diapers and head lice.
Big ideas and sound advice were zinging around the forty-plus breakout sessions faster than I could write them down. In a panel titled “From Production to Getting Paid: Everything You Want to Know about Podcasting,” for example, I learned that sponsors should pay between $18 and $25 CPM, or cost per mille, which means a thousand downloads—and you definitely need a pop filter to soften the ‘p’ sound on your microphone. In the eye-opening panel called “The Value of Being LGBTQIA+ Inclusive in a Heteronormative World,” not only did I relearn why the word ‘cisgender’ applies to me (if you don’t know what that means, check it out), I also wept side by side with an editor from Romper.com, a parenting website “for millennial moms,” as we watched a Honeymaid video about how all types of loving families are wholesome.
“This conference is special,” says KJ Dell’Antonia, a contributor to the New York Times whose recent book, How to Be a Happier Parent, is one the most useful parenting books I’ve read. “It’s the people that come. For whatever reason, people who have a big network, or influencers, if you want to use that word, this is where they end up. You can sit down with anybody and learn something, you can teach them something, and you can walk away feeling like you really gained. I marvel every year at how much I learn.”
The conference is also an incubator and launching pad for big new ideas. Back at Mom 2.0 in 2013, Dove debuted its powerful Real Beauty Sketches campaign in which an artist drew portraits of women using only the terms they used to describe themselves. (This year, the Dove showroom was set up with interactive displays about representation and diversity in advertising; they also offered blowouts using their new line of dry shampoo.) The now widespread embrace of body positive messaging—where ad campaigns represent real women with different looks and body sizes—hit Mom 2.0 before spreading to the rest of the public.
“At Mom 2.0, we were talking about the Me Too movement six years before it found the mainstream,” Mayes says. “And podcasting? Back in 2011, one of our panelists said, ‘Guys, podcasts are going to be huge.’ And we were like ‘What?’ Back then only your weird uncle had a podcast. But it totally is the thing now.”
Mayes, now 48, launched Mom 2.0 with colleague and fellow tech-savvy parent Pacini, now 44, after they hit it off at a technology event in Houston, where they both lived at the time. “The event was mostly men, so I gravitated towards Carrie,” Mayes says. “So here is the importance of representation—seeing someone you can identify with. And then we were like, “Oh, you know what Twitter is too?” Mayes, with a background in communications, and Pacini, who oversaw a team of computer programmers at Hewlett Packard, knew the importance of social media in the lives of mothers and wanted to create a space for the conversations to happen. So they launched the first Mom 2.0 Summit in Houston with 175 attendees; it has grown steadily since and is considered by every attendee I spoke with to be the best of its kind.
At that 2009 Summit, Brené Brown, the University of Houston sociologist whose five New York Times best-selling books have been translated into about thirty languages, was on a panel that she referred to at her keynote this year as “How to Self-Publish if No One Wants to Publish Your Work.” “At that time, I could have wallpapered this room with rejection letters,” Brown said on Friday as she sat on a stage in conversation with Mayes in a huge ballroom packed with mom influencers tweeting and posting her every word. The year after that first Mom 2.0, Brown did a TEDxHouston Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability,” which rocketed to millions of views and now is one of TED’s top five talks.
But before all that, Mayes and Brown met when their children attended the same Montessori school. “When she said what she did for a living,” Mayes told me, “I said, ‘You’re a shame researcher?’ I come from a background of entrepreneurship and marketing, so I’m like, ‘What do you do with shame research? What’s your end goal?’ And she says ‘Well, I want to start a global conversation about shame resilience.’ And I’m like, ‘OK, Crazy, I want to be an astronaut ballerina.’ Like that’s loony.”
Now Brown’s global conversation about shame resilience is happening. She flew in to Mom 2.0 Austin from New York, fresh off a press tour for her much buzzed-about Netflix special that had been released just the week before. While clearly an astute manager of social media herself, Brown’s closing message, though, was not like the other speakers I heard. It was not about how to engage followers. It had little to do with the rousing message of another excellent Mom 2.0 keynote, Cindy Eckert, the woman who sold her company that manufactures a drug dubbed “female Viagra” for more than a billion dollars and is “on a mission to make women really rich.”
Seeking followers and money is just fine, Brown said, but “you need to know your end game,” or else you’ll be devastated when you get there and it’s not what you wanted after all. When Mayes asked her what was next, she said she wants to research and write. “I’m a slower, closer person,” she concluded. “Not a further, faster person. Sometimes success is knowing when is enough.”
Next year’s Mom 2.0 will take place in Los Angeles on May 6-8. Early bird tickets are already available.