10 Reasons Why Online Community Works: Using Secret Groups on Facebook

Group at Lower Antelope Canyon, Page, Arizona

People will join groups when there is an unmet need. The refinements of online group social media platforms like Ning, Facebook and the neighborhood platform, NextDoor have made facilitating IRL connections as in, “In Real Life,” easier than ever. Online groups also transcend the generation divide. One reason is that Facebook continues to grow in use among Baby Boomers and their elders, as well as as younger generations is that is is just so much easier to share news, photos and conversation than ever before. If you have an interest in launching an online group, such as for your neighborhood, it has now become well within reach of anyone with a computer and some basic online etiquette awareness. High tech skills are NOT required. If you set it up well initially, and if the software platform is well built, as many now are, the online group may almost run itself.

There are a large number of free and low fee online group platforms.  Examples include Ning, MeetUp, BaseCamp (for projects), Yammer (for organizations), Twitter lists, LinkedIn, Facebook and NextDoor.  There’s also a collection of scholarship that describes professional online learning communities, PLCs, and how they are organized.  For simple conversations and sharing, using a maturing infrastructure, both NextDoor and Facebook are handy choices for organizing groups with a social connection, such as those living in the same neighborhood. If your neighborhood is large enough, NextDoor is a great choice.  It comes highly recommended by group administrators and neighbors alike.  If you have a smaller neighborhood that isn’t big enough for NextDoor’s minimum size (boundary map illustration here), take a look at Facebook’s private group option.

Washtenaw Heights NeighborhoodThis year Facebook continues to be ubiquitous.  From the Facebook logo on your gum wrapper to hearing Facebook mentioned by grandma in Boston cooing over the latest grandchild photos from her daughter’s family in  Seattle, it’s everywhere.  Using Facebook as an example, here are 10 reasons why creating an online group is so appealing:

1) Invite only:  A secret Facebook group is an invitation only type of group. This has some advantages when putting together a neighborhood group. NextDoor needs about 10 email addresses to begin and requires neighborhoods to be of a certain minimum size to work. A secret Facebook page does not have a minimum size requirement and allows the membership to grow organically through an option of neighbor to neighbor invitations.  You can also invite people by email, though I think that is a bit more work.

Deb Photo Antelope Canyon

2) Has a member profile:  Yes, members do have to be on Facebook with at least a basic profile and photo, to join the group. The photo above is what I’m also using as my Facebook profile photo at the time of this post. (Photo is from recent trip to Lower Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona.)  Easy to access member profiles also help the group grow during its start-up phase, as groups are often administered by volunteers.  The network is also is useful for safety because, on the whole, most people ARE themselves on Facebook or in a neighborhood group.  Facebook tends to shut down accounts when fake account reports come in about people who are not who they claim to be.  A secret group with an administrator who knows the basics of keeping out “fake” neighbors, or is at least advised by neighbors in the group, is a good group for developing camaraderie, social connection and trust.  The photo below is one of many friends I made in my fitness community during a “girls night out.”

3) Welcoming: There’s a helpful “welcome” function in the page’s members section to help administrators manage the group as new members join.  There’s a function that allows members  to invite others who they know in the neighborhood.  In this way, the group grows through social connection, group purpose, and common interests.  The basket of tomatoes below, picked yesterday, came through an invitation from a neighbor I met virtually through the new neighborhood community I helped begin just a week ago, at the time of this post.

Neighbor tomatoes 2015 Facebook Group

4) Privacy: A key feature is that you do not need to “friend” anyone to follow the neighborhood news in the group. No one needs to “friend” you either. This means you don’t have to give access to anyone to see your protected conversations that are intended for friends and family.

“He will not go behind his father’s saying,  And he likes having thought of it so well.  He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”   ― Robert Frost

5) Participation: You do not have to participate actively in the group.  Of course, participation is encouraged because that IS what social media is — a conversation, i.e. the digital “backyard BBQ” which is Facebook.  The hope is that the group will encourage positive, friendly neighborhood conversation and community sharing in real life, assisted by a community look and feel online.

5) Membership: You can request to join and leave the group at any time.  In a secret group, depending on how it is set up, someone already in the group may be able to invite you to join.  An administrator may then need to approve you joining.

6) Guidelines: Many groups will have some posting guidelines about being friendly and respectful, honoring the purpose of the group, sharing relevant news and information, and the like.  Administrators can remove any objectionable content or even block members, in the rare cases when a problem develops.

7) Administration: You can have more than one administrator for the group, which helps the group adapt to change and stay flexible. The ease of setting up Facebook secret page has been refined over the years, so it is much easier to administer, which is attractive to volunteers.  For those who are interested, details for how to create a private Facebook group are here.

Jazzercise food pantry Dexter9) Visually appealing: It is easy to share photos, videos and links, which adds interest and fun to the page.  The way the Facebook has grown is directly linked to how easily visuals and content can be shared.  For example, almost all the photos on this page have been shared on Facebook by me.

Through Facebook and through other online connections, I’ve developed relationships with people, my own extended family, and with groups that have enriched my life and made it easy to indulge my own adventurous bent.  For example, through Jazzercise, which has many active, local online Facebook communities and business pages, I’ve made new friends, enjoyed many fun social events, helped grow the local business, and last, but not least, found myself on a cruise, parasailing and snorkeling in Key West, organized by a friend and Jazzercise instructor to celebrate her 40th birthday.

15 Sophia and the red dress birthday gang.“Laughter is sweet when enjoyed alone. But it becomes sweeter when you enjoy it together with the people around you.” ― Israelmore Ayivor

The 10th reason and my choice for why online groups are helpful is:

10: Connection: Facebook is just another method that helps you get to know someone.  A secret Facebook group allows that to happen within understandable boundaries, using the amount of time you decide to devote to it. If you are adventurous sort, you may find that you have access to opportunities or invitations that may be useful for work and play, and fun.

The four of us, Ultimate Adventure, Key West

It was thrilling to have a great Key West experience brought about through my Jazzercise connections, helped by the Facebook community.  I made a video of our parasailing experience using the same Frampton song played on our boat as we experienced an “Ultimate Adventure” day, as named by Fury Water Adventures in Key West.  This all started with face-to-face connections enhanced by Facebook conversations within a like-minded community.

Facebook does have a downside too, including bullying, cyberstalking and the like.  It is important to identify, know and manage these rare occurrences if you are member or an administrator in a group where this has cropped up.  That said, Facebook and NextDoor both serve as a strong, mature social platforms to help neighbors get to know each other.  Online groups have become our social glue of 21st century community.

~ Deb Nystrom 

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