The New West Moms Group: Finding info, support and friendship on Facebook

Chalk art illustrating the love of the NWMG (New West Moms Group) on Facebook. At almost a thousand members, the women-only group is a dynamic source of information, support and friendship in New West.
Chalk art illustrating the love of the NWMG (New West Moms Group) on Facebook. At almost a thousand members, the women-only group is a dynamic source of information, support and friendship in New West.

When my first child was born, I was the first of my friends and family to have a baby. After he was born, I found myself lost in a sea of questions about what to do, when to do it, and if I was doing it “right.” I tried the local Baby Talk program (run by Fraser Health) but I had a hard time connecting with the mothers there. I took my baby on long walks and out to playdates, but I just couldn’t seem to click with any of the mamas I met.

I found comfort in blogs like Ask Moxie. Reading the comments to Moxie’s posts about baby sleep (and lack thereof) reassured me that what I was experiencing was challenging, but totally normal, but I couldn’t seem to find anyone in New West who would admit to having any of the challenges I was struggling with. It took me over a year to find local mommy friends who I could relate to.

The latest wave of New West mamas has an advantage I didn’t have: The New West Moms Group on Facebook. The NWMG is now almost 1000-strong, and includes ladies from New West as well as those who just like to spend time here. Participants discuss everything from decoding weird baby rashes, to family vacation recommendations, to sleep training, to finding nursing-friendly clothing that doesn’t suck. Sometimes the discussion gets rowdy, as when sharing hot photos of a mostly naked Channing Tatum, asking for opinions on sleep training, or questioning why it is so hard to befriend other moms at Motoring Munchkins. But even when the conversation turns controversial, the tone remains friendly and supportive. I am sure this is in good part due to the steady hand of the group’s moderators, who have established and (importantly) enforced clear rules of conduct.

The NWMG has such a strong sense of identity that they have created buttons for members to wear in order to recognize each other around town. And group member and local crafter Allison Baird of Ribbons and Threads has produced and sold custom T-shirts for NWMG members. The buttons and shirts are often available at fellow NWMG member Alicia Mahoney’s business Shnoo And the Pachooch (a boutique toy store at River Market).

I asked some of the mamas to share what they like about the group, and here are some of their answers:

“I love the community that the NWMG provides. Laughs, support, provisions, information, you need it, it’s here. As a first-time mom at 30, I was more than a bit nervous. But all through my pregnancy, I had resources, supplies, support and advice right at my fingertips.” – Jen ‘Jazz’ Phillips

“What I like about NWMG is everyone has a way of making me feel normal…. Whether I’m losing my mind over my kids, husband, or family in general, I find I’m not alone in feeling that way. Someone else is always going thru it too, or has in the past.” – Shannon Holt

“This group reminds me that I am normal. And also gives me an outlet that I can get opinions on the not so normal and not have to worry about being overly judged. I also appreciate the bold honesty that comes from some. It may not be what I WANT to hear, but it is what I NEED to hear!” – Stacey Sweet

“Being new to NW, this group helped me become part of the community. I feel I belong here now 🙂 – Julia Klymenko

“This group is the opposite of mommy wars. It’s amazing how supportive everyone is of each other even when we don’t necessarily agree on the best way to raise our littles. One of the most frequent comments I see is, ‘You know your child best.’ Awesome!” – Jocelyn Smith

“I love being a mother to my two boys, but it can be isolating at times, especially since the bulk of our friends and family are out East. As the saying goes, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ NWMG, I think, has become ‘the village’ for many of its members. I don’t know what I would do without that village!” – Diane Duflot

 

For me, I have found so many rich opportunities through the group. Questions get answered, complaints find sympathy, cries of despair win gentle words of support, and – my favourite part – new doors open. For me, I have already found a few moms who share my interest in community activism and politics, a few more to sing with, a few to write with, and a whole bunch to swap recipes with in the spinoff group I created, New West Cooks.

The NWMG is probably just one of many interesting semi-private groups on Facebook. Do you know of any others?

New West Hyacks the Web

A Twitter search for #NewWest
A Twitter search for #NewWest

A little less than two years ago, I went looking for an online community of New Westminsterites online. The virtual version of New West was a pretty lonely place back then. I found a few bloggers. A few more on Twitter. A handful of Facebook groups.

I was thinking of launching a blog about life in New West, but when I saw how little local activity there was, I wondered whether anyone would even read it. Then I found an active local photography group on Flickr, which was encouraging. Will and I decided to go ahead with the blog, just for the fun of it.

We created the first incarnation of Tenth to the Fraser on Blogger, where it’s easy (and free) to start a blog – and even easier to abandon it if you lose interest. But the more we wrote, the more fun we had and the better connected we felt to our community. We started making new friends, shopping at more local businesses, and taking more time to learn about local issues. We started to see New West in a different way. As we slowly started to meet more people online and we got involved in more civic events, we became not just residents but active agents in a changing community. We became empowered.

I created alerts for Twitter and Google for New West, and I reached out to bloggers and Twitter folk who wrote about our city. A few of them ignored me. But a lot of them became readers and some even became contributors to our blog. I learned that I had been mistaken. It wasn’t that New Westminster didn’t have many people online. It was that the people who were online didn’t identify themselves as being part of our community. The more that people Tweeted and blogged about New West, the more people started owning up to living here.

We wrote a lot about New West, and gradually we saw other people do the same. We started using the #NewWest hashtag on Twitter, and then our friends did too. Then their friends did, and their friends. Now the local newspapers do too.

There is a perception that blogging is passive. But through the last couple of years I’ve seen how it can be used to inspire change. Cheekily, we said the goal of Tenth to the Fraser was to “Hyack the Web.” By that, we meant to chivvy New West to hurry up and become a more digital city. What we didn’t foresee was the offline change.

Today, there is not only a parallel digital community in New Westminster that lives on Twitter, Facebook and blogs, but also new offline friendships and activities that would likely never have existed were it not for #NewWest.

A few examples:
@duckbeaver and @weskoop were inspired to become part of their resident’s association, and have live-tweeted council meetings. Both have also volunteered their skills to benefit local organizations.
@jenarbo changed her mind about moving to Vancouver Island and instead bought a house in New West. She also became the market manager for the Royal City Farmers Market – a job she likely wouldn’t have even known to apply for if she didn’t write a blog (and through it become a TF contributor, then friend).
– If I had never started Tenth to the Fraser, I would never have called together the committee that organized Summerfest in Grimston Park.

#NewWest is bigger than one blog, of course. We got the ball rolling, inspiring more people to represent themselves as New Westminster aficionados online. In the chain of events that followed, there were a bunch of cool things that happened because of what we did. But it’s even cooler that people no longer have to find Tenth to the Fraser to find #NewWest.

Today #NewWest is a vastly different place than two years ago. One big change is that there is now an institutional presence in social media.
City Hall and both local newspapers are active on Facebook (The Record) and Twitter (The Record & The Newsleader). Two councillors are tweeting (Jon Cote & Betty McIntosh), several comment on local blogs and Facebook pages, and many more at City Hall keep tabs on what #NewWest voices have to say about New Westminster.
– A number of local reporters are starting to use #NewWest for story leads.
– Local businesses and organizations like the BIA are also experimenting with using social media to connect with their customers.

Best of all, if the last two years are any indication, #NewWest’s online community-building chatter will inspire more people to get involved offline.

Blogging Basics – advice for starting a blog

Last night I presented a two-hour program at the New Westminster Public Library called Blogging Basics, to help people get started creating their own blogs. We had a great turnout, with 60 registered and only a few empty seats in the auditorium.  It was a very lively crowd, full of questions and comments – I barely made it through the presentation in those two hours!

Hopefully I was able to answer some questions and even inspire some folks to start blogging themselves! We also disussed using Twitter and Facebook to promote blogs. 

Here’s the presentation file, for anyone who’s interested:

And here’s a Twitter tip sheet I put together:

Thanks again for coming out everyone! Please let me know when you launch your blogs!

Speaking at blogging conference Feb. 21

I am delighted to announce that I [Briana] will be speaking at Northern Voice (the blogging conference in Vancouver) on the topic of hyperlocal blogging. The title of my presentation is Passionately Local: Blogging about your own backyard.

Here’s the synopsis of the talk:

Blogging may be an opportunity to reach a worldwide audience, but with Tenth To the Fraser, we’ve narrowed our focus considerably to cover only issues and ideas that relate to the city of New Westminster. 

In this talk I’ll share the benefits of hyperlocal focus to both blog authors and the community, how to make hyperlocal coverage interesting, the role of placeblogs in the media ecosystem, and how to use Twitter, Facebook and other tools to connect with other locals and grow your audience. 

The conference is Saturday, Feb. 21, 9am-5pm. My bit is scheduled for 11:30am. The conference is, unfortunately, sold out again, but if there is enough interest I’d be happy to arrange another presentation here in New West. If any of you are going, please come up and say hi. I’d love to meet you in person! 

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]