Taking Face-to-Face Communities Online

Updated: Nov 28, 2021

When trying to build a successful social media community, it’s helpful to look at the successes of face-to-face communities. Many aspects of a community remain the same whether digital or physical. Knowing these core characteristics about engaging communities can help us grow new ones organically by providing it the tools it needs to grow.

All communities offer:




Similar beliefs/opinions





Before gaining new members to a digital community, a place needs to be created for this group to facilitate conversation. Digital communities need the same thing physical communities need to be successful: conversation. Without a physical meeting spot, a space is needed to build relationships amongst group members.

Fab Giovanetti, writer for Better Marketing, wrote,

You can bring members closer together by facilitating communication and tightening their common bonds. You can do this by transforming a shared interest into one passionate goal, and by providing a platform for members to easily connect with each other.”

All communities have a purpose, whether explicitly mentioned or not. The purpose is the common ground that all members agree on. Face-to-face communities and digital ones can have the same purpose. Both could provide a level of friendship and acceptance, others an outlet for help or support on or for an issue.

Members of a digital community prioritize safety just as members do face-to-face, maybe even more severely. Any kind of successful community needs to establish and enforce guidelines. A community will suffer if a few members create a hostile environment. You want members to be able to freely express themselves, but do not want other members to suffer from it.

Ann Collier, writer for Cleanspeak, wrote that safety in communities is co-created by the provider and participants. Collier said a common purpose helps aide safety within these small groups. According to Collier,

“It [purpose] fuels personal and collective growth and collaboration. It tends to increase safety by eclipsing random moronic or cruel behavior with collaborative actions toward a shared goal.”

The challenge of creating a digital community through social media is the possibility of miscommunication. When reading other’s words, the wrong tone, idea or meaning could be taken from it versus if the message was delivered face-to-face. We are always communicating with body language, whether we’re aware of it or not. When communicating in an online environment you might miss important non-verbal cues on top of verbal ones, such as vocal inflections. Body language emphasizes or alters the meaning of direct language. Without it, we are left with very little discern how another person is expressing themselves.

If time is spent laying a foundation for an online community, the challenges should be less severe during its growth. By creating core qualities of a community, such as purpose, safety, acceptance, and common interest, and looking to the successes of well-functioning face-to-face communities, a similar sense of community can be created in an online environment. Though not physical, an online community can offer just as much and be as well-functioning as a face-to-face community.

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