I started this year (2015) with one thought – To do one thing which I have never done in my life before. As January zoomed by, I pondered and wondered over what I should do? It was during a random browsing activity that I came across an article by Sheryl Sandberg, FaceBook COO in which she encouraged women to create peer support communities to help each other navigate through the complex maze of managing work and life.
I thought to myself – “Why not try creating one such group? I mean I’ve never done it before in my life, and it made complete sense to me”. Simply because I personally feel that working women could significantly benefit from a “closed and trusted” group of women we can fall back / count on. And I’m not talking about “friends” here. But really a diverse, balanced well-meaning support community of women who are a sounding board to face the good, bad and ugly that life throws at you. Because from personal experience, I can say that it is no easy piece of cake for most women at work – And we all need to help us tide through the choppy waters is an acknowledgment. Or appreciation. Or re-assurances. Or validation. Or just knowing that someone is there with you. Or a neutral perspective. Or a judgment free zone to share what they really think and feel! Sometimes we need a cheer-group, and sometimes catalysts to push us on. Or a nudge that It’s all going to be OK. I speak from experience here.
So, I went ahead and created an online LeanIn circle, and as of date we have a vibrant group of some diverse, amazing and accomplished women from all over the world. We also had a real-world meet-up and it was wonderful to meet these women in person. Again, it is the first time that I have actually taken relationships from the virtual world to the real world.
On the personal front, as a mother – I am part of an online school mummy group which we use to share any questions / answers / information / insights / perspectives around the growth and development of kids. What I learn from the conversations and interactions with mothers in this group is invaluable. The one unifying bond is a commitment to invest in the growth of our kids, and that has cemented a foundation of mutual trust and respect in each other. Again, I’ve never even met some of these mothers in my life, and yet whenever I am in doubt / have a question, I post it there and someone always responds in a few minutes.
Also over the course of the past several years as a mother, I recognize the need to have a local support community of mummies, so went ahead and created one a few months ago. Again, the lessons and information we share and learn from each other is awesome – Things like summer classes for kids to suggestions for pediatricians, etc. are shared. Again, this group is very diverse – so we have doctors, entrepreneurs, mummies with corporate jobs, educators, stay-at-home moms; and this diversity only enriches the group.
Going down memory lane – For the past 2 years,I have been a member of several online groups, and have immensely benefited from many of these connections and conversations. And now as the owner of several online social communities, I can say one thing for sure – THERE IS POWER IN ONLINE SOCIAL COMMUNITIES. I have witnessed scenarios when community members have offered well-meaning life changing advice to each other, helped each other tide through difficult times of physical, emotional, mental, marital, parenting and financial distress. I have also seen live cases of a community supporting several social causes with the sole aim to make a positive difference in the world. However I have also observed that there are many communities which really go nowhere. They start with full gusto, but after some time – they get dormant! And die a natural death!
So, I couldn’t help asking myself the big WHY? Why is it that some communities die a slow and natural death, and some continue to thrive and get powerful with each passing day?
In this post, I am sharing my views on what matters for an online social community to thrive?
What is the purpose of the community?
It is fascinating and interesting to observe what brings random unknown strangers from different walks of life together to create a community. It could be anything – like where you live, your gender, your role as a mother, a love for reading, writing, music, dance, entrepreneurship, etc. Whatever it is – a common interest brings people together. But what keeps a social community alive and kicking is shared goals / vision of the future. So, the key question is “What do you want to do together?”. For e.g: Do you want to help each other achieve your fitness goals? Or do you want to share your blog posts so others can read? Whatever it is, it should be clear; and spelt out. Else, a group will not really go anywhere!
What are the rules of the community?
For everything in life – from kindergarten to a corporate job there are some ground rules, and abiding by those rules are key for order, progress and peace. It is even more important for online social communities – since you are interacting with people you don’t really know, and your words and views can affect someone else’s thoughts and emotions. So define rules, and if members don’t follow the rules – better to remove them from the group. One dirty fish spoils the whole pond!
Who is the owner of the community?
The best analogy I can give to being the owner of a social community is that of the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of a company. That is where an individual’s values, personality and leadership style come into play. As the community owner, how one nurtures a community, and helps the community navigate the path towards a shared vision / goals plays a key role in what the group evolves to be.
The everyday engagement level within the community
This is possibly the most important part in what determines the longevity and life of any online group. Let’s face it – We are all busy, trying to do a zillion things in life. So, to catch our attention – anything needs to interest us and engage with us on an individual / personal level. Hence the communities which stay alive longer and get powerful over time are those which are better engaged. And engagement is really a function of the diversity of the members in a group and getting people to share, connect and support each other in whatever way they can.
Those are my views. What do you think? Leave a comment to let me know…
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