Not that long ago I wrote a post about the problems with virtual communities.
The biggest issue with most online communities today is that they rarely surpass superficial relationships. We join online groups in hopes of finding a community that fills a void.
We may be lonely and need other moms to connect with.
We might struggle with breastfeeding and need some support since we can’t find it in person.
We may even be apart of a professional group geared towards our degree or profession.
There are hundreds if not thousands of groups we can join ranging from parenthood support, to spirituality, fitness and careers, etc… In all of these groups we are looking for something that ties us together with other people. Something that we can receive and offer support for. Usually something that we are lacking in person.
As mentioned in the previous post, virtual communities are filled with a host of problems, yet, there are some benefits.
Virtual/Online communities are not all bad.
I have learned how to follow baby led weaning methods when my daughter was 6 months old through a Facebook group. I would have never been confident enough to feed her real food had I not been apart of that group and given the tools and resources I needed to succeed. That group served an educational purpose.
I have networked and received professional advice in the few military related groups that I participate in. It’s difficult to find a group of Active Duty Women or dual military women in person, so Facebook once again met that need. Note: Concerns only arise when advice is sought after that doesn’t involve what we have in common. For example, when women come to a career focused group and ask for marital advice, they receive advice from people who have different foundational beliefs than them. Can you see how this might go wrong?
I have also grown exponentially in my blogging endeavors by joining certain blog groups. I have made friends that have surpassed that “superficial level” simply by getting to know them. By showing up and putting the effort even though I might not ever meet them in person.
Virtual communities can 100% serve a purpose and meet our needs. I had a wonderful bible study group in England. A group of ladies all associated with the military. As goes with all military friendships, we ended up moving away. Instead of letting the group die, we created a virtual bible study group. We decided on a plan (currently reading through the Bible in a year), and now we link up on Marco Polo to discuss the readings. This group started in person and made its way into the virtual space. We know each other on a personal level, we share the same foundational beliefs thus we can hold each other accountable. That is key for any community.
Things to keep in mind when participating in a virtual community
Stick to what the group is meant for. Don’t ask for diet advice in career focused group. You won’t get the best advice. Just like you wouldn’t ask for parental advice in a primarily single group.
Just because it says Christian doesn’t mean it aligns with your beliefs. This could/should be a post on its own. There are SO many facets of Christianity. Just because it claims to be Christian doesn’t mean that 1) it is and 2) that they believe the same thing. This is why you NEED in person community that goes beyond the superficial level and actually strives to be vulnerable and know who you are.
Can you meet this need in person? If not, how can you take it to a deeper level? I mentioned a few groups above that have met important needs for me. These groups would have never been possible in person. There’s very few active duty or dual military women around me. Same with blogging. I have managed to take it to the next level by investing in a few relationships I have met online. You need to take it to the next level for an effective virtual community.
What purpose does it serve? The group/community needs to serve a purpose and you need to validate whether it is actually serving you how it’s supposed to. Is the group for educational purposes? Is it for moral support? Is it meeting those needs? When I first started blogging, I joined many blogging groups. After a few months, I left many of them. I had to identify what I needed from them (education, network, only blogging/writing advice) and if they didn’t meet those needs then I left the group. It was as simple as that.
Do you participate in virtual communities? If so, how do you ensure they are meeting your needs/serving a purpose?