Eight Criteria to Look for in an Online Community

By Helen Hirsh Spence

Although the meaning of a “sense of community” has undergone a dramatic shift since March of 2020, being a member of a community is as important, or more important, than ever before. The ups and downs of the pandemic, with all its implications economically, socially, and health-wise, have contributed to greater isolation, increased loneliness, solitude, and a decline in mental well-being. Being a part of the right community can be a lifeline to both the young and the old-er.

The term ’community‘ refers to a group of individuals who share common beliefs or values, who support and encourage one another, who advocate for a common purpose and consequently experience a sense of belonging. Positive communities enable their members to discover their individual and shared strengths, promote self-awareness, and harness the synergies of the collective; they are safe places where differing opinions are tolerated and respected. Positive communities work to foster a feeling of authentic connection among members by providing plenty of opportunities for interaction, learning and, possibility, to achieve a goal.

’Online communities‘ have sprung up everywhere, but not all online communities are equal! There are those that spring up on social media where groups with common interests share ideas and even a purpose. They communicate using the internet; they tend to be more casual about their involvement in the group.

Others, such as communities run by organizations (sometimes referred to as “branded” communities) consist of those who choose to participate to contribute, invest in the purpose, want to grow personally and/or professionally, and to engage with others who share their interest.

Although they, too, communicate on the internet, they also have different expectations with regards to rules of engagement. Communities run by organizations, such as the Dialogue Series Across Generations, “We Need to Talk”, run by Top Sixty Over Sixty, have control over membership, more security, use data collected for improvement or refinement, and usually have a host or moderator who facilitates the groups’ engagement.

Look for communities where:

  1. Sessions are structured for learning, engagement, growth, and support.
  2. Interactions are as fluid as possible, where all participants feel comfortable voicing their opinions.
  3. Certain rules of engagement prevail, such as no use of profanity with the expectation to remain respectful when voicing a dissenting opinion.
  4. Groups are diverse and bring multiple perspectives to the table.
  5. Participants willingly share their expertise, experience, and skills with others.
  6. Connections among members are rooted in shared purpose, and shared growth and support.
  7. Moderators are used to ensure comfortable, enjoyable, open, and safe dialogue. These members of the community need to understand how to balance giving all participants the opportunity to speak while maintaining order and staying on point.
  8. Data is collected and used for various purposes including improved future sessions.

Although online communities run by organizations may not always start out as true communities, they have the potential to become one if their members are committed, engaged, and believe in open communication.

Have you discovered a sense of purpose that brings you together with others in a new community?  If not, try Top Sixty’s “We Need to Talk”.  All ages are welcome and will benefit from the shared experiences. See our Events page for details.