During Yomego’s sports event at SMW Glasgow, there was one amazing moment that couldn’t fail to both move you and show you the amazing possibilities of reaching people through social media.
Towards the end of the week, we ran an event looking at how sport and social interact. We had three digital and sports experts presenting, one of which was Sue Gyford, from Scottish Athletics and Jog Scotland.
This story concerns Sue, and how her work in social media really helped one woman to change her life.
During Sue’s presentation, she told us about her work with both Scottish Athletics, and grassroots jogging club Jog Scotland. In this, she explained the interaction you see above – where an anonymous tweeter had reached out to ask for advice on getting fit.
The tweeter (now much less anonymous) was Elaine aka @therace4mylife – not a member of Jog Scotland, but a (in her own words) “very overweight 40-year-old” looking for help to turn her health around. With Sue’s help via Twitter, she did just this. During the presentation, Sue was clearly moved by Elaine’s story. And when Elaine turned up at the event to finally meet Sue and thank her in person, the story was complete.
Here are Elaine and Sue’s stories of the encounter. First up; Elaine:
"I’m a geek. I’ve always been a geek. I love technology, gadgets and computers and I need to know all about, if not have, the latest “must have” thing. So when I say twitter’s been around for six years now, you’ll not be surprised to hear I’ve been part of most of it, I’ve built a wee following, and I’ve even made new friends in real world 1.0 through it.
However, I’m also very overweight and I wanted to get fitter. But I was embarrassed about starting it given my size and really didn’t want anyone to know what I was about to attempt, in case I was mocked, ridiculed or as would be most likely…. I failed. Why wouldn’t I fail? I’ve failed at every other keep fit “fad” I’ve tried. This latest attempt at weight loss began with training to walk the race for life in June, which I eventually did in 63 minutes. This gave me a huge boost and I wanted to keep it going. So I set up a separate twitter account (@therace4mylife) and set about following fitness type tweeters. I knew about @jogscotland through work, so I followed them too. Little did I know, that was about to be the most important step.
Living in Scotland means….well, let’s be kind and say “rotten” weather a lot of the year, and dark nights from around mid-October. I didn’t want to let the progress slip, by allowing the weather and dark nights to become an excuse not to exercise, so I started tweeting folk asking advice. I tweeted @jogscotland, who appeared to be a six foot brown dog, asking about maybe joining early 2013 as I felt I wasn’t anywhere near ready to run yet. Thankfully I didn’t get barked at, I instead got a lovely reply from the person I now know as Sue. Sue convinced me that they would be delighted to see me at my local club at Chryston. Despite this positive reply however, my complete lack of confidence meant that it would be another week before I finally worked up the courage to walk along. I spoke to the group leader, who was lovely also, and discovered that the next 10 week block started in three weeks
I made up my mind; I joined up, and can now say it was totally the correct decision. jogscotland have been absolutely brilliant. I’m not at a stage where I can follow their suggested starter plan yet, so they have very kindly created one especially for me. I’m loving every minute of it, yes even in the rain, and I’m now in the second week of theSECONDblock of 10 weeks.
None of this, however, would have happened without the anonymity the twitter contact gave me. I was able to contact @jogscotland without revealing who I was, what I looked like, what size I was. Never in a million years would I have walked along to the gym on spec and asked in person.
Sue continued her brilliant and very welcome encouragement, through the very tough first few weeks, and I was honoured when she said she’d been asked by @yomego to take part in #SMWGlasgow and was considering using my story as an example of how Social Media can help.
I had been going along to one or two events myself, and arranged to get along for the end of the session Sue was speaking at. Despite conversing online for weeks, we’d never met until #SMWGlasgow and it was really lovely to put a face and a personality to the username. It’s genuinely not hyperbole to say that I wouldn’t be where I am in my fitness journey without her, jogscotland, and of course… twitter!
And here’s Sue’s story:
Our @jogscotland tweets are informal, friendly and encouraging. I chat with people about where they’ve been exercising, give them shout-outs and cheers for their runs and share relevant links and articles.
One day in July I fell into a Twitter chat with someone called @TheRace4MyLife. She wasn’t a jogscotlandmember – though she hinted that she’d like a bit of help with her running. When I looked at her profile, I saw she was, in her own words, a “very overweight 40-year-old”, who had decided she needed to get fitter and lose some weight. She was blogging and tweeting about it all anonymously, as she jog/walked on her own.
I gave her some gentle encouragement to join her local group, but she replied: “I'd really just be keeping them back at this stage & embarrassing myself, but thank you for the offer, I will defo be in touch.”
It was a big message in a little tweet - those of us who sit in the office atscottishathletics all day surrounded by sporty people tend to think of jogscotlandas being very open and accessible for beginners, away from the world of competitive athletics. It was so important to be reminded that there were some people who felt that even jogscotlandwas too much for them.
I wasn’t sure I’d hear from her again, but a week later @TheRace4MyLife tweeted back to say she’d signed up with her nearest jogscotlandgroup. I was amazed and delighted.
Since then, she’s kept in touch, amazing and inspiring me with her commitment and enthusiasm. When Yomego invited me to speak at their sportandsocial session during Social Media Week in Glasgow, the first thing that sprang to mind was our ongoing chat. It’s a great example of how the relative anonymity – the “ambient intimacy” - of Twitter allows people to connect meaningfully without feeling too vulnerable.
It’s really easy when you work in social to get caught up on big numbers - how many followers do you have? How many Likes did your latest facebook post get? How many hits on your website this month?
But our little exchange showed me that just one interaction can have huge value - it can help someone completely change their life for the better.
@ARaceForMyLife – or Elaine, as I discovered she was called - was happy for me to use her Tweets in my talk. By this time she was well into her jogscotlandprogramme and friends and family had started to notice her weight loss, so she thought there was no point in trying to remain anonymous.
Best of all, she nipped out of work and popped along to the end of the Yomego session so we could meet for the first time.
It was brilliant to see her – I felt like I knew her already, and bounded over to gave her a big hug. We chatted away and I introduced her to some of the session’s organisers and audience, who were all chuffed to meet the “anonymous tweeter” I’d been talking about. We still talk a lot now on Twitter and email, where I’ve launched my next campaign of gentle persuasion - to convince her how much fun it is to run right through the Scottish winter. I’m not there yet, but I think I’ll win her over.
If you're interested in joining Sue and Elaine, then here's the blurb: Jogscotland provides sociable, supportive jogging groups across the country, aimed at people of all levels. More than 400 groups are run by volunteer Jog Leaders, with participants ranging from people who have never run a step to marathon runners.