Community Building: Replicating Face-to-Face Communities Online

Credit: London School of Economics

When you conduct a quick Google search for information on humans and community, you will likely come across the statement, “Humans need a sense of community” or “Humans are social beings.” It is human nature to be part of a group or community of people, to rely on the cooperation of others (The Cooperative Human, 2018). Online groups allow people to connect with others over similar topics and find their “sense of belonging” (Hutchinson & Hutchinson, 2020).

Credit: Social Media Today

Creating a sense of community in-person and online

I work remotely for a college-focused marketing agency that recruits, hires, trains, and manages ambassadors to promote our clients at college campuses across the United States. I have been a part-time contracted employee for nearly a year, and have never met or connected with any of my colleagues in person. We communicate entirely through Google Suite and various of our own platforms and portals. I have also worked in a team setting in person, face-to-face before, and feel I can speak about online communities that are similar to face-to-face communities.

Within a well-functioning, in this case, work community, there should always be strong leadership, trust, and clear goals (Ferrazzi, 2021). Technology can often act as a barrier for communication between group members. Not being in the presence of another person during communication can be difficult to translate. The following things can lead to well-functioning and engaged online communities, not only face-to-face communities.

Strong Leadership

Having an experienced leader in both face-to-face and virtual communities. They purposefully build relationships with their community members. They effectively communicate with members and encourage open-dialogue and transparency within the community.

Trust

The basis of trust is respect. Harvard Business Review encourages community members to share information about themselves, like their background, how they work, how they can add value to the group. This creates an understanding of another person’s life. This helps foster relationships. New hires at the organization, Delivering Happiness, are encouraged to share tours of their at-home offices with their work community (Ferrazzi, 2021).

Clear Goals

Well-functioning face-to-face communities clearly define their goals. They usually have expectations or rules that help them reach their shared community goal. Being clear with goals and the team's expectations on how to meet these goals through a technology barrier is important. These expectations may be somewhat different, but the outcome should be collectively striving towards a shared goal.

How the pandemic pushed for online communities

With the worldwide switch to remote work and lockdowns, people had to adapt how they interacted with others online. Working remote and digital social events were not as common before March 2020. The way online communities engage is incredibly different now than it was pre-pandemic. Benjamin Vaughn credits online communities with “saving the world” during this pandemic. “People are connecting with others in new and interesting ways” despite not being able to connect face-to-face. Humans are social beings (Vaughan, 2020). The graph below details survey respondents who used internet-connected technologies to cope with the pandemic. 74% of people connected with friends and family online.

Credit: DataReportal

Louise Stokes details how we can replicate face-to-face interactions through online communities! She details pre-pandemic traditional interactions and how her work has shifted for more organic interactions online for fruitful conversation and networking. Technological advances have increased our connectivity online exponentially. Stokes references this complete shift to online communication as the “Zoom Boom” (Westcott, 2020). While everyone knows of virtual drinking events over Zoom to bring people together and have a sense of normally, it does not compare to the ability to network at a conference or creating a useful connection by bumping into someone. The Digital Leaders have an online community deemed the #DigiLounge (Westcott, 2020). This platform encourages networking, as well as audience and peer interaction. It lets members sit in small groups, use social media to connect, and move freely around the “room” to connect organically with others (Westcott, 2020). Digital Leaders and the #DigiLounge are creating a space to have organic interaction that replicates the interactions people had face-to-face two years earlier.

As technology continues to improve, online community interactions will only get better.

Resources

The cooperative human. (2018, July 9). Nature. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-018-0389-1?error=cookies_not_supported&code=2437dabf-d596-405d-a5e4-8fd6dc6e9e07

Ferrazzi, K. (2021, September 13). Getting Virtual Teams Right. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from https://hbr.org/2014/12/getting-virtual-teams-right

Hutchinson, A., & Hutchinson, A. (2020, October 15). Facebook Releases New Insights on Groups Usage During COVID-19. Social Media Today. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/facebook-releases-new-insights-on-groups-usage-during-covid-19/587146/

Kemp, S. (2021, February 11). Digital 2020: July Global Statshot. DataReportal — Global Digital Insights. Retrieved January 16, 2022, from https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2020-july-global-statshot

Vaughan, B. (2020, May 14). How Online Communities Are Saving The World. Forbes. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/benjaminvaughan/2020/05/13/how-online-communities-are-saving-the-world/?sh=31c2c18a9f3c

Westcott, L. (2020, September 7). Building virtual communities: Replicating the effectiveness of face-to-face. Digital Leaders. Retrieved January 15, 2022, from https://digileaders.com/building-virtual-communities-replicating-the-effectiveness-of-face-to-face/

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Ali Cozzolino-Smith

Ali Cozzolino-Smith

University of Florida Advertising Student