By Heather Greenwood Davis
From the print edition, April 2011
There are two kinds of people in this world: runners and non-runners. I’m 38 years old, and for 37.5 of those years I fell definitively and unapologetically into the latter camp. In fact I’d go even further and say I was a 14-hours-a-day-at-her-computer-and-then-dragged-to-the-couch potato. I have tried several times to get into exercise. I’ve been a card-carrying member of a gym for well over 10 years. I’ve tried personal training. I’ve tried group classes. I’ve tried having a buddy.
Nothing really worked.
Ten months after joining the flock, spurred on by a community who knew my goal, I’d lost 20 pounds and was standing at the starting line at Walt Disney World, about to run the Wine and Dine Half Marathon Relay.
Twitter, the social media site that encourages conversations with strangers in 140-character sound bites, was the reason I got off the couch and started exercising. The irony isn’t lost on me.
If you had told me a year ago that I would be waxing poetic about social media, I would’ve called you a liar and bet you my mortgage payment. When I first signed up for Twitter, I wasn’t sold. Facebook had me equally unimpressed.
“What a colossal waste of time!” I remember saying to people. “Who cares what some random person ate for lunch?”
Turns out lots of people do. And it can be a good thing when what you need most of all is motivation and support.
Lara Galloway (@mombizcoach), a business coach who focuses on helping mompreneurs, was equally unimpressed when she logged on two years ago. “I am a socializer, and online forums just seemed the antithesis of that,” she says.
But when she moved to Canada from the United States with her husband and three kids (aged five and younger) in 2007, leaving behind all of the friends, business contacts, social networks and babysitters she knew, she realized that traditional networking was going to be a problem.
“I tried it and didn’t really like it at first,” she says, “but soon I was smitten because I saw a community of like-minded people talking about things that I also care about.”
The beauty of Twitter is that the benefits aren’t dependent on your real-life personality. “If you’re an introvert, the fact that you can control conversations and interactions and chat with people on your own schedule when you’re in the mood for it is a dream come true,” says Galloway.
Women, she says, have become the dominant users of online social networks, and many of them are moms. “Ninety-six percent of online moms participate in social media—defined as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, surveys and other interactive participatory media,” Maier points out. They are work-at-home moms, stay-at-home moms and workplace moms. They are moms who’ve lost their children and moms who’ve lost their mothers. They are moms who advocate for breastfeeding and moms who believe in the bottle—whole communities of women who share the common characteristic of having no time for a regular coffee meeting, who have to rush to get their kids out the door in the morning and who spend the 4 p.m. witching hour wishing for more time in the day.
And if you are a mother, it’s the kind of community you likely crave—one that doesn’t require you to get a sitter and allows you to be a part of the group even when you’re feeling isolated (breastfeeding at 3 a.m.) or overwhelmed (you can stir the dinner pot with your other hand).
“We’re hard-wired to want to be understood,” points out Galloway, who says she regrets that she hadn’t found Twitter while she was battling postpartum depression years ago. “Who understands you more than people who’ve walked in your shoes?”
And once you’ve found your community online, it can empower you in ways you might never expect. On a work-related trip to Walt Disney World last February, Disney’s social media manager Jo-Anne Wallace (@joannewallace), author Kathy Buckworth (@kathybuckworth) and social marketer Scott Stratten (@unmarketing) dragged me kicking and screaming into the Twitterverse. My @greenwooddavis handle was suddenly being included in online discussions and meet-up plans. People I’d never heard of were offering me advice. And when Wallace unilaterally decided, and then announced on Twitter, that she and I would run the Disney half-marathon relay together in October, that community rallied.
Theresa Albert (@theresaalbert), popular Food Network host and a registered nutritionist, chimed in, encouraging us to include salba and hemp seed in our diet and then checked in regularly to make sure we did. Carrie Burrows (@carrieburrows), a certified personal trainer who runs a boot camp-style workout in Georgetown, Ont., rode us hard on days we didn’t get to the gym and cheered us loudly when we did. Lianne Phillipson-Webb (@SproutRight), another registered nutritionist, reminded us about the need to stay hydrated and the benefits of holistic alternatives like coconut water. And on it went.
People I had never known and might never meet in real life were suddenly sending me book titles, recommending running programs and suggesting sneakers. I had a community of experts from all walks of life at my disposal and willing to help. Suddenly all the mean-spirited “of course she can do it” thoughts I’d aimed at Oprah (@oprah) over the years, with her trainers and chefs and support systems, were moot. Twitter levelled the playing field.
Most surprising is how many of these online acquaintances have transformed themselves into strong real-life relationships. When the online goes off-line, the power of support is even stronger.
Maier points out that 86 percent of moms identify the moms they know online as “friends.”
After turning her nose up at Twitter initially, Galloway now counts people she has never met in person among her closest friends. “There’s such an opportunity to build an amazingly strong relationship with someone online that I can then nourish in person. I wouldn’t even have had the opportunity to meet these people in the first place if it wasn’t for Twitter.”
I get it. When the starter pistol fired that October night in Florida and a roar of cheer reverberated through the crowd of 11,000, about 20 of my Twitter pals were among them. Some of us met on Twitter, others solidified old friendships there and others were so moved by the experience of running together that they signed up once they were home.
We’re a group of normal people and include a police officer, a school principal, writers, actors and a music producer among our ranks. Most of them I didn’t know a year ago. All of them I now count as friends.
It’s been a few months since that crazy night. I’m still not a “runner.” I don’t hop out of bed, jump into my gear and hit the open road. (My morning routine is more of a triple-snooze alarm followed by an argument with me, myself and I.)
Then I check Twitter. And inevitably my virtual partners in crime are either checking to see if I’m up, suggesting I try something new for breakfast or actually exercising themselves. And then I get up and I get out and I’m grateful.