Though they could all be considered neighbors, the women met using online social media networks like Twitter, Facebook and “mommy blogs,” or at conventions and gatherings that promote such tools. While their stories vary, each declares that social media has helped connect her to the community and navigate the challenges of motherhood and family life.
“I started blogging because my husband and I were living overseas, and I wanted a way to keep family updated without sending a million e-mails every day,” says Katie Dillon, mother to a 3-year-old daughter, founder of LaJollaMom.com and writer for the La Jolla Neighborhood Examiner. “Then it just grew from there.”
Noël Ehlers started her blog, Bird Rock Fabrications, as an extension of her crafting hobby.
“Then I started to capture things around the neighborhood and the business district, community events I enjoyed that didn’t seem to get much publicity,” she says.
Ehler’s daughter attends Bird Rock Elementary School.
Lauren Hirsh, director of San Diego Buy With Me, Inc. at BuyWithMe.com and mom to a 4 ½-year-old daughter who attends Gillispie School, said she knew “absolutely nothing” about social media.
“But I quickly realized its power for business,” she says.
Michelle Silverman has worked as a realtor for 20 years, specializing in coastal La Jolla properties, and has two grown daughters.
“I didn’t have social media while they were growing up,” she says. “But I knew my industry was changing, and I wanted to change with it. When I decided to get involved with Facebook and Twitter, my kids thought I was crazy.”
A national study released by The Retail Advertising and Marketing Association last year showed that stay-at-home moms dominate social media compared to other average adults.
“Women need that connection,” Hirsh says. “I would hazard to say that post-partum depression has decreased. Early motherhood is hard no matter where you are. With this network, you don’t have to be lonely.”
As a mom to older children away at college and law school, Silverman didn’t have social media while raising her daughters. But she said it still helps her tackle the “empty nest” phase of motherhood by keeping in touch.
“I know that if I want to get a quick response from my daughters, I have to text rather than call,” she says. “I’m so technologically-illiterate, but you have to get with it. You can’t be left behind.”
Out of all four women, only Silverman’s husband uses Twitter.
“And half the time, I manage his account for him,” she laughs.
“My husband doesn’t get it either,” Dillon says. “But it’s an outlet. When I’m having a hard time putting my daughter to bed, I can step away for two seconds, look at Twitter and mentally recharge.”
“It’s a way of sharing these struggles that we all go through,” Hirsh adds.
As for the online community in La Jolla specifically: “It’s still pretty small, but it’s growing,” Dillon says.
Ehlers adds that La Jolla’s tight-knit community could prove to be an asset to its online presence.
“Lots of small business owners are actually behind these social networking accounts, as opposed to PR people,” she says. “That makes La Jolla unique, because the locals are really involved.”
The women unanimously name Twitter as their online network of choice, with Facebook a close second and some lesser-known sites as runners-up.
“I also like Four Square,” Ehlers pipes up.
Suddenly, the table erupts with gasps. “I can’t believe we haven’t checked in!”
Each woman retrieves a smart phone from her handbag and logs into foursquare.com, a location-tracking site that allows users to earn points and collect “badges” in exchange for visiting local businesses. Often, vendors offer incentives like freebies or discounts to users who “check in” frequently.
“It’s a game, but it’s also a way to show support for local businesses,” Ehlers says. “You’re promoting your visit and adding insider tips.”
Supporters of social media claim it opens up a whole new world of opportunities to connect, while critics say those connections are only imaginary. They add that users live in an increasingly isolated fantasy world based on distractions and over-stimulus.
“I meet more of the moms from school on Twitter than when I’m there in real life,” Ehlers notes. “Same with my neighbors. But it’s nice because we communicate online and then when we see each other in real life, we already have this history.”
“Maybe you meet on Twitter, but then you become friends and suddenly Twitter is just an element of your friendship,” Hirsh adds. “I’ve gotten to know incredible, fun, talented women all over San Diego who I would not normally have met.”
And what if social media were to suddenly evaporate, forcing neighbors to once again introduce themselves by knocking on doors with baskets of muffins?
“We’d be fine,” Dillon says. “We would always find ways to connect.”
The group nods in agreement.
“I don’t think the old way of interacting is gone,” Hirsh says. “Social media and the online world just complement real life.”
OUR FEATURED MOMS:
Katie Dillon: @lajollamom
Noël Ehlers: @Birdrockfab
Michelle Silverman: @MichelleRealtor
Lauren Hirsh: @BuyWithMeSd