Recently, Holly Buchanan wrote an excellent commentary reminding marketers that men trust "authority," but women trust "common experience." Men value "credibility" and women value "connections." I've been thinking about this a lot lately not just because it's my job, but because it really hits home on a personal level.
I am one of those women who values common experience and connections. I am a serial researcher, constantly polling my online and IRL networks for their opinions on everything from the best cell phone to best running socks. If a trusted friend recommends a product or service, I will take a look and perhaps buy. If someone I don't know tells me what's good or what to buy, I'm instantly distrustful.
I have also always been one of those people who needed to exercise to lose and then maintain my weight. Having kids threw a huge wrench in to my former, pre-kid, 4-5-times-per-week fitness schedule, and it took me seven years to figure out how to work it back into my daily life. (Or maybe it took me seven years to not be tired enough to workout for an hour.)
Last fall, I made a huge lifestyle change. I started using C25K to help me reach my goal of running a 5K. Then a few months later, I joined Weight Watchers. My husband was my biggest motivator (and cheerleader) because he started working out and went paleo and the pounds vanished. He looks amazing.
Now, if he had told me that I needed to lose weight, the rebel in me probably would have shrugged it off. (There's that whole "authority" thing...) Not to mention the fact that I would have felt hurt, frustrated, and just plain mad at myself. But he didn't. Ever. He just started working on his personal health goals to great success and quietly led by example.
It just so happened that his "get healthy" kick coincided with a noisy and powerful fitness revolution that was playing out in social media. It seemed like finally social networking and mobile tools were available to track workouts and Twitter and Facebook provided the venues whereby folks could tell all their friends about it. And, to Buchanan's point, the friends I saw talking about it were almost all women.
I spent last summer observing the Jillian Michaels 30-Day Shred hype on Twitter. I had no idea who she was, but suddenly everyone was talking about her workout. Kristen Chase even started a blog for Shreders, and bravely posted pre-Shred photos of herself in a jog bra and yoga pants as motivation for others to join her. She has always looked strong and beautiful to me, but after committing herself to get healthier, she looks even more amazing.
"Shredheads" tweeted their progress and supported each other. Kristen and others posted to the blog, and suddenly a community was built. Around a workout! Sound familiar? Imagine what would happen if Twitter and Facebook were around when Jane Fonda was scrunching down her leg warmers. It didn't matter if you were in Palo Alto or Poughkeepsie, shred fans (again, mostly women) were connecting with each other to provide instant motivation. Following the Twitter and Facebook conversations about the 30-Day Shred on Twitter was the reason I ended up purchasing the DVD. People I knew and liked were seeing great results
Also starting last summer I noticed a running craze sweeping through social networks. People were using programs like Nike+, C25K, Voomaxer, and Daily Mile (my personal fave) not only to track their workouts online but to share them with their followers who could then comment on the workouts. My friend Abi Jones was the first person I saw Tweeting about her C25K workouts, and guess what? I like and trust her so I started running with the app too. Seven months later, I am still running 2-3 miles a day (yes, almost every single day of the week), and it's all because I saw her update on Twitter.
I began to share my own updates on Twitter and people asked me what C25K was. Sharing what I was doing made me feel like I was accountable to 4,600 of my closest Tweeple (even though 4,599 of them probably didn't give a hoot what I was doing). Actually, I do know of at least 3 women who started doing C25K because they saw my updates. I think it has less to do with me being "inspiring" than with me being a trusted virtual/IRL friend. Or, another way to put it: if I can do it, anyone can do it.
Two years ago I met the very pregnant Esther from Faintstarlite at the Mom 2.0 Conference in Houston. We had a lovely conversation over lunch and it was only later that I found out that she was also "the Weight Watchers" blogger. At the time I wasn't thinking about joining WW (I was in complete denial) but I did read her blog a lot over those two years. When I decided I had a handle on my fitness goals, I decided to tackle weight loss. The decision to join WW wasn't hard. I started the online program last December and going to actual meetings in January. I have rarely missed a one.
Over the past nine months I have watched Mamavation transform people's lives one Twitter update at a time. I have seen bloggers band together and train their butts off to run a relay for 24 hours straight, blogging, Tweeting, and Facebooking the whole way. (Next time, I promise!) I have seen bloggers commit to health and lose weight, taking us with them on every step of their journey. (And they look even more fabulous and fierce now.) I have seen morning 3Ks and 5Ks and yoga and fitness classes become part of social media conference agendas. I have seen Groupon-style daily deals for yoga or pilates classes and gym memberships, and who are those targeting? Women.
I have seen social media create strong and powerful communities of women working together to help women achieve their personal fitness goals. Maybe it's to complete all 30 days of the Shred. Or just one. Or walk a 5K. Or walk around the block. Or to be able to chase after a toddler without getting winded.
We recommend the tools and the gear. We share recipes for smoothies or low-point meals. We ask for motivation when it's drizzly out we don't feel like lacing up our shoes. We are the athletes and the cheerleaders wrapped up in one.
And, at least for me, it's working.
Nine months ago, I couldn't run for 3 minutes, let alone 3 miles.
Nine months ago, it was easier to work than to work out.
Nine months ago, I weighed almost 35 pounds more.
Nine months ago, I didn't belong to a gym and had never heard of Zumba or kettle bells.
I really believe that I could not have made these changes if it weren't for people like Kristen Chase and Abi Jones and Esther. Ladies—thank you so much for being my inspiration over these past months. My loose jeans thank you. My fast feet thank you. My strong arms thank you.
And this sounds corny, but I also need to thank the power of social media for making it possible for me to have connected with these women in the first place. There are so many horror stories about social media being used for evil, that it's nice to highlight when it's used for good (which for me is a lot of the time, and not just because this is my business). So thank you, too, Twitter (and Tweetdeck and Tweetie), and, yes, even you stupid Facebook.
And here's to the next nine months-worth of innovations and tools, and bloggers and friends who will use them to make their asses smaller, too.