How I built a community on Facebook

I merged Facebook with my personal blog world in 2010… But getting there took some work. My mom online world started many years before that. It’s something I had started on Geocities in 2002 before my son was born. By the time I was pregnant with baby number two, I had moved over to the Blogger platform to tell my mom stories. (I moved to WordPress in 2007.) To me, it just seemed right to create a new blog for the second child.

What I didn’t expect was for my daughter to be born with a left arm that stopped just below her humerus bone. No elbow. No hand. I didn’t even know that could happen. So as I tried to wrap my brain around the idea of a child with a limb difference, I started to search for community.

I wanted to hear from other parents with similar experiences. I wanted to know what they did when they had a new child. How did they move past the thoughts of cultural fear and how to raise a child without feeling damaged just because of a missing body part or parts? I found an online Yahoo chat group. It was my first life line of knowledge. The whole time, I blogged. I had been a member of Facebook for about nine months before my daughter was born in December 2005. Pages didn’t exist. I didn’t have Twitter yet. But I knew I needed to find people to talk to. As I grew more comfortable as my daughter’s advocate, I felt more comfortable sharing the lessons I learned in to my online communities and my blog. Those lessons expanded onto Facebook and eventually Twitter (which I joined in 2007). I started blending the lessons I was learning from my mom world into my newsroom and classroom. Learning to converse on Twitter about my mom world helped me learn how to transition those skills professionally as a journalist. Eventually I blended my Twitter use into hashtag conversations. One hashtag is the core of an ongoing conversation in the course I teach at the Missouri School of Journalism. I help coordinate a hashtag community of journalists.

I added that Born Just Right Facebook page in 2010 because I was about to build a new helper arm with my daughter in Chicago and I wanted something easy to post updates. The mobile Facebook app has been pretty great for quite a while. I thought a new helper arm and live posting the process would encourage people to “like” it and keep me entertained during that slow process. It worked… and slowly the Facebook page has been as much if not more engaging than the blog itself. Facebook is already a space where people comment and share, so it isn’t hard for followers to contribute thoughts and posts on a Facebook blog page. Facebook posts are a huge driver for post when I’d share a link. The combination of search and the Facebook account for at least 60 percent of the traffic to my site. (which averages 7,000 to 10,000 views a month. It’s a small, but kind space.)

Fast forward to 2012 and not only are there communities for limb different adults, children and family members of those who are limb different… There are organizations popping up in forms of websites and social network pages to share stories and support left and right. I’m doing what I can to keep up with each day for about an hour after the kids go to bed so I can help my readers see what’s happening. All of these pop up communities are a big reason why I hope the tech community can work together with the special needs worlds to find better ways to communicate. The desire to find community and connect with others is deep when you’re in a special needs world. The support I found early (when there weren’t many spaces online) are why I feel informed, empowered and able to help advocate for my daughter and others. That’s why I’m really honored to have my Facebook page nominated for an About.com Special Needs Online Community Reader’s Choice Award. It’s so cool to get some recognition after years of engaging and connecting on many different online spaces. I don’t plan to stop but I do hope to continue to get better at it. I also appreciate that each moment of success on my personal pages teaches me lessons that can help me continue to improve the engagement experience on my newsroom’s social spaces.

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