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Pandemic parenting: How Parents.com is pivoting its digital strategy to serve readers in a time of crisis

April 9, 2020 | By Esther Kezia Thorpe – Independent Media Reporter @EstherKeziaT

As schools close around the world and a growing number of people are having to juggle home working and childcare, parents face unique challenges in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, the Meredith Corp. brand Parents.com has responded with a radical shift to serve their audience.

Julia Dennison is the Executive Editor at Parents.com. She and her now fully-remote team have pivoted their digital strategy to provide advice and resources to parents during the coronavirus crisis.

The crisis has come on so quickly that just four weeks ago, the team were debating whether to even cover coronavirus. “We try to stay in our beat. We have a sister site Health.com that we syndicate content from,” Dennison explained. But it quickly became apparent that this would need Parents.com’s own input.

“Our initial thinking was that this was going to affect a lot of people. So we looked at search trends to see what terms we could answer from a parenting-resource point of view.”

The content pivot

Looking at search trends and responding is something the Parents.com team are well-practiced in doing. It has helped form a more strategic response to the content they have now produced, which has three primary areas.

The first is a comprehensive guide to coronavirus for parents, covering everything from how the virus is affecting pregnant women, to basic tips around sterilizing thermometers. This was the initial content strategy the editorial team focused on, and have been updating ever since.

“We’ve been really trying to just watch the trends and respond to them with informative content,” Dennison explained. “More than ever, parents need a reliable, trustworthy, and relatable source. We’re really trying to lean into our specialty.”

The second area is creating content that is supportive to parents. “Parents are going through the hardest test of parenthood they’ve probably ever gone through,” said Dennison. “It’s testing everything about parenthood to its limits.” In response, Parents.com have been working to create resources to help parents feel less isolated. This ranges from tips to how to cope with childcare to how to discuss the crisis with younger children.

As part of this, Dennison has been documenting her own experiences as a daily video blog on YouTube. Like many parents today, Dennison is juggling childcare with working from home. “I wanted to document that and show the world that I might be the Executive Editor of Parents.com, but I’m finding this just as hard as everybody else is.”

As video rises in popularity during the pandemic, the Parents.com team are looking out for ways to produce more content remotely, including having Editor in Chief Julia Edelstein read stories over Instagram Live.

The final strategic area involves creating entertaining content for both parents and children. “We’re trying to focus on heartwarming stories to lift people’s mood, and to keep them positive,” Dennison said. From a neighborhood drive-by to celebrate a birthday, to more practical resources around the best educational apps for children, the aim is to both help parents keep their children entertained, and also uplift the parents themselves.

Driving online growth

The swift digital pivot is paying off. By the end of March, views of articles in Parents.com’s ‘Fun’ section were up 40% week on week. There was particular growth within the section of articles on activities and printables (up 89% and 88% respectively). And entertainment content has seen a massive 110% spike in views.

The video blog has also had a “tremendous response, according to Dennison. “People are just grateful to see that other people are going through what they’re going through. I’m a mom, and we have a few moms on our team. I know how hard it is.”

This relatability, coupled with keeping a close eye on search terms has helped the digital team avoid some obvious topic traps. “We could easily have leaned into creating elaborate schedules for parents to put their kids on, and that homeschool setup,” she said. But that wasn’t the right approach for their audience.

This has resulted in a surge in positive responses to the brand on social media. “People appreciate just being told that they’re doing the best job they ca. And we’re here to help them do that,” said Dennison. “Parents are having to step up and perform the impossible. And so how, as a brand, can we be there for them?”

A post-pandemic lens

Many of Parents.com’s plans for upcoming content have had to be adjusted. They are shifting perspectives on a planned spotlight digital issue for the International Day of Maternal Health and Rights in April, looking at how America can improve birthing.

“We’ve been planning that for months. All of a sudden we’re having to pivot and see everything through this post-pandemic lens,” Dennison explained. “We’re seeing hospitals banning partners from being in the delivery room due to Covid-19. It’s a really scary time to be giving birth, and in this context it’s only going to get worse, so we have a bigger duty than ever to produce this content.”

In the longer term, Dennison is particularly interested in the crossover between parenting and education. She’s also thinking about what the impact will be for parents who have to continue working full time while also looking after their children. “We’re looking at what we can do in terms of resources to lean into the educational side of things, and how parents can keep their kids going even if they can’t go to school,” she said.

But for now, the team is keeping a sharp eye on the search terms and listening out for what their audience want. “It’s a matter of seeing how this goes, and responding to it,” Dennison concluded. “On the digital side, it’s easy as we can be pretty responsive.”

“Life will be different after this. All these things we thought mattered at one point don’t. And then all of these new topics matter, so it’s recalibrating what we’re covering, and putting it through a post-pandemic lens.”

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