Previously in this series: Social media and trucking's 'image problem'
Desiree Wood may well be one of the first truckers to rise to prominence via social media -- and the story of how she got there initially is a dark one that few recruiters might point you to.
"I entered trucking in 2007 and I found the training to be really unsafe, just grossly unsafe," she said. "I was just blown away.... Everything I was seeing defies safety. That on top of the fact that they wanted me to live and work with someone I never met before."
Wood would eventually go on to become an outspoken champion of women's rights in trucking after writing a viral post on the AskTheTrucker.com web site around that time, detailing her experiences while training in an over-the-road team. Since then, her cause has been shining a light on some of the darker elements of the trucking business and lifestyle, and trying to afford protections to women in team-driving situations with men.
Wood, who some might describe as a "social media star" herself, like Big Rig Barbie and so many others, describes herself as a truck driver first. She said she only turned to social media after all else failed.
"I really wanted this job, there was no turning back for me," Wood said of her experience coming out of CDL school and starting out in a team operation. That's when she stumbled upon the profoundly disruptive power of social media. After publishing the aforementioned story about her experiences being mistreated as a female driver-trainee, Wood found herself awash in hostile messages, people trying to downplay her hardships, and even direct threats on her life.
"I found Twitter by accident, really," she said. "I was going to all these trucker forums trying to seek help and all I was getting was stalked online and death threats. I didn't know what Twitter was, and I didn't know what I was doing," but she soon figured all of that out.
In the end, though they nominally share the same mission of making trucking more accessible to women, Wood and groups like Women In Trucking have never seen eye-to-eye on how best to accomplish that task, and she frequently speaks out against them, partly through her own Real Women in Trucking nonprofit group.
Wood also takes issue with some of the newer social media stars on video-heavy platforms like TikTok. "A lot of people want to be an influencer and their way to do that is trucking," she said. Too many, she feels, care about "nothing in trucking except them being an influencer. I’m seeing people now who want to be a Kim Kardashian, and the only way to differentiate themselves from other wannabe Kims is to go to truck driving school and get a truck. I'm seeing stripper poles on a flatbed. People use it as a vehicle for them to be on reality TV. I find it very offensive."
Wood has also been bemused by trucking personalities on social media posing as experts -- after as little as a few months on the job. She laments the wealth of experience leaving the industry as older drivers retire.
But while Wood may seem a sharp contrast with others haulers who rose to fame via social media, she's ultimately also a woman in pursuit of the same goal: Telling her story.
Wood's clashes with trucking writ large -- and the WIT group in particular -- aren't some mistake or fault of hers that needs ironing out, she said. Diversity of opinion and free thought and expression represent one of the core strengths of the driving community. Wood ultimately strives to make the trucking space better for everyone.
She advised young social media stars to "use their platform for something meaningful," and ultimately didn't begrudge them enjoying their social media fame and fortune.
"When I do interact with some of these social media influencers in person, I tell them, ‘Let’s just say you did become famous because of your presence on the internet and you were invited on some big huge talk show, don’t you think that would be an opportunity to talk about something important? Like the bathroom issue or the truck parking issue? You can use your platform for something meaningful. I know that looks are fading, so what's your purpose? Whatever your gimmick is, think about what you want your purpose to be.'"
Wood today works as a consultant for everything from movies to acting as an expert witness in court cases. She's been quoted by nearly every major publication in the United States that covers trucking. A feature-length documentary on her life is in the works.
She's proof positive a driver or owner-operator can be an influence via social media, or anywhere, by staying true to themselves in a media landscape saturated by spectacle but hungry for honesty.