Coming out of the 2022 National Conference, Leslie Green and Kevin Caroll’s presentation made it very clear:
If you are going to embark on creating and nurturing a virtual community – authenticity isn’t just needed, but required.
Virtual communities need to be built with intention.
The reality is that authenticity is harder to build online because you can’t share space and build community in simple non-verbal ways. You have to work harder, and that requires some amount of openness and trust.
When building a virtual community, it is important to try and recreate those unique in-person moments; those moments where you walk to the car after a meeting and chat a little, or rally around someone and give them physical strength when they’re down. In this paradigm, it’s helpful if group leaders start to notice folks and their rhythms – maybe they need an extra one-on-one call after a big group virtual meeting; perhaps they like to join 10 mins early and be able to greet those who join. Just noticing these habits can help others feel seen and important to the group dynamic.
Never a sales pitch – it’s an invitation to create a community
Building a community is about continuing to show up. Over and over and over. Build consistency, be authentic, and over time people will find you because people talk and have their own networks.
Also, keep in mind: It’s not that someone needs a support group – the support group needs them. Their experiences, their coping techniques, and their perspective.
Virtual conversations can change lives – even accidentally.
Let’s end with a story.
During the pandemic, a young U.K. teenager had begun having one-on-one video sessions for her limb difference. Over months, she slowly started opening up and finding her voice. (For context, her mother was speaking up for her.) One night, this girl was accidentally invited to a support group call for adult community members. Not only did she not bail on the call, but she held the floor and shared her experiences and challenges with limb difference in her country; both allowing her to hold space she had not previously held, as well as, enriching the lives of those able to be present.