Losing it in Ottawa: co-founders Karen and Lara reflect on the success of their Ottawa blog

Lara Wellman (blogTwitter) is a wife, mother, and social media lover/freelancer. As co-founder of Kids in the Capital and Losing it in Ottawa, Lara loves to build online communities that translate into real life communities. Karen (Twitter) is a wife to Matt, mom to Brandon and works full time at an awesome social media job she doesn’t talk about online. She is the author of Karen’s Chronicles and co-founder of Losing it in Ottawa.

So, tell me a little bit about the history of Losing it in Ottawa.

Karen & Lara: Losing it in Ottawa hatched from a post Karen wrote on her personal blog last summer in which she discussed her need to get healthy and lose weight. Lara commented that it would be nice if there was a community in Ottawa that supported that purpose. From there, we brainstormed and found four other women who agreed with us. Everything about starting Losing it in Ottawa was easy and flowed well. As a group, most of us hadn’t met each other prior to coming together for the blog and we became fast friends.

Karen, Ottawa blogger at Losing it in Ottawa and Karen's Chronicles

The community has grown incredibly quickly – why do you think it has been so successful?

Karen: Weight and body image are universal challenges. Even people who are a healthy weight can relate to the need to lose a few pounds every now and then. We have followers who are down to their last 10 and others who have over 100 pounds to lose. The challenge of making the right choices can be equally difficult for the person who is almost at their goal weight as it is for the person who is 20, 50 or 100 pounds away.

We also offer a safe place for people to go to talk about their challenges. Most contributors have published their weight and other measurements in updates. That could leave a person in a vulnerable position, unsure of the response. Will you be judged? Will people make fun of you? The Losing It community has been nothing but supportive and open with every single contributor. Some followers write about their weight loss journey on their own blogs. When you know that you will receive support and reassurance, it’s easier to discuss delicate topics with complete transparency.

Lara, you mentioned that one of your favourite things to do is create online communities and turn them into real communities. Can you talk a bit about that, with respect to Losing it in Ottawa?

Lara: Online community shifted for me about a year or so ago  from being worldwide to suddenly being really local – I was meeting people online that lived in the same city as me and I could get together with them in person.  With the growth of the Ottawa Twitter community, this soon became something that I did regularly, mostly with other moms, and I saw an opportunity for building more community by bringing people with like interests together – specifically those trying to lose weight with Losing it in Ottawa and people with kids on my other blog, Kids in the Capital.

Losing it in Ottawa started because of relationships already formed on Twitter and the incredible support and interest we saw from the first day (over 700 hits to the first post on the blog!) definitely came from the Twitter community.  From there it’s snowballed as people tell their friends and share the information on Facebook.

Social media really is an amazing tool!

Lara, Ottawa blogger at Losing it in Ottawa, Gliding through Motherhood, and Kids in the Capital.

Karen: When we started Losing it in Ottawa, half of us had never met anyone else in our group. We formed a quick, tight bond that hasn’t wavered. Our group of six made the conscious decision to plan activities with each other so that we could connect in real life (IRL) and support each other. The friendship we’ve developed comes through on the blog and when you see our interactions on Twitter and Facebook.

It’s one of our goals for 2011 to build an even stronger and more active community, starting with the addition of eight new regular contributors to be announced shortly. We’re participating in the Weekend to End Women’s Cancers in June and we’ll likely do some other events, such as Run for the Cure and the Ottawa Road Hockey Showdown, as we did in the fall. Doing work to benefit the greater Ottawa community is a bonding experience we’ve come to enjoy.

To build community beyond the group of regular contributors, we’ve reached out and asked followers to share their own stories through guest posts and blog hops. A blog hop – for those unfamiliar – is when a host (that’s us) adds a link to their site so others can share the link to their post. We’ve all connected with many of our followers through Twitter, Facebook and on My Fitness Pal – a calorie-tracking site. And soon we’ll be announcing a date for the upcoming Losing it in Ottawa meetup and clothing swap. We’re all looking forward to connecting with even more of our followers in person.

How has this project impacted you personally?

Karen: There is a certain comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. That you have people around you – even if they are silent – who care that you’re accomplishing goals. They’ve become our cheerleaders, rooting us on when we’re doing well. And when things don’t go so well, they are right there still, encouraging us to keep going and not give up. It gives us confidence in our abilities to succeed. And when you have a taste of success and know how good it is, you want more. That’s powerful motivation.

Lara: Beyond the fact that I’ve lost 23 pounds and started exercising regularly for the first time in many years, Losing It has been amazing because of the friendships that I’ve made. These supporters (both the actual bloggers and the people who are actively taking part in the community) are there for me in my weight loss journey, but also when I’m having a rough time with my kids, or am looking to get out of the house, or am wanting career advice. They are real and true friends and I feel lucky to have them in my life.

How are you hoping your project will affect the Ottawa community?

Karen : We’d love for this to continue growing into a widespread movement to get Ottawa healthy and a community-based support system that isn’t dependent on a particular kind of diet or exercise. Each of us follows our own prescribe plan to achieve our goals. Some like running, others don’t. Some like resistance training, others don’t. The point isn’t what we’re doing so much as doing it in a supportive environment and achieving our goals through healthy changes to our lifestyle. That kind of change is lasting. One day, we’d like to have a community full of people maintaining their weight and doing fun things as part of the process.

How can Ottawa folks get involved?

Read our blog, make comments, share on Twitter and Facebook or anywhere else they’d like to spread a post they’ve enjoyed. Most importantly, we want to hear other people’s stories too. Send us an email (losingitottawa@gmail.com) with a guest post. We love reading about the journey – even if it’s not on Losing it in Ottawa. Let us know if you post to your own blog. We’ll read it, support you and share your story with our readers through Facebook and Twitter as well.

This community is not just about the contributors on the blog. It’s about everyone who is working to achieve health goals.

Any advice for Ottawans thinking of starting their own blog?

There are countless resources that give step-by-step instructions for setting up a blog site. So, I’d say that with every word you publish, be true to yourself. It may take time to find your voice – it’s rare for anyone to start blogging and not change or evolve in some way. Don’t be afraid to share your blog with others. This can be nerve-wracking and vulnerable in the beginning, but this is how you grow a community. You share a little bit of you and through comments, followers share back. And probably the most important piece of advice is to follow other great blogs. Blogging is one piece of a large conversation. When bloggers read and comment on other blogs, they are showing that they care to connect with others. Finally, it’s important to think through the ramifications of sharing information on the Internet. Find your personal comfort level and share within your personal boundaries. There is also a series on Kids in the Capital called Social Media Mondays. There are several blog posts all about starting a blog and joining Twitter and the value of doing both.

Have you had success bringing the people of Ottawa together in a unique way? Send us a note and tell us all about it!