Communicating virtually through virtual communities


As I think about the idea of communities, I think about growing up and the vast array of community-based arenas I found myself to be a part of including, 4-H, FFA, my local church affiliate, softball team, basketball team, and so on.  Each of these organizations provided me with a different community and each had different, unified goals.  But more importantly, these communities allowed me to network, coordinate, cooperate, and collaborate.  What is important to highlight is: these four qualities you can find through in-person community based situations are the same qualities that drive virtual communities, in which we are all interconnected through like-minded goals and commonalities.

virtual community

Graphic courtesy of newmediastudies401

In my previous blog entries, I have at times referred to the work I am currently doing in my organization in order to develop an internal employee blog for my Information Technology (IT) department.  This blog, in and of itself, is a form of a virtual community designed to bring like-minded professionals together in order to acquire information.  And at the crux of virtual community development is this idea of collaboration, which, as Rheingold puts it, “has transformed not only the way people use the Internet but also how information is found” (2014).
The idea for developing this internal blog as a way to improve staff communication with each other, initially spawned from the excessive time it took to develop an employee newsletter (which I was the only one writing).  However, through the development of a blog, I would (in theory) have the opportunity to invite blog authors and co-contributors on board to create content.  As a lone communications role in my department, I can tell you it is difficult to build a community of trust and engagement if you’re the only one contributing.

rheingold quote

One of the most interesting things that Rheingold discusses in his book Net Smart, How To Thrive Online, is this idea of “collective intelligence” that can be pertinent in order to make an online community successful.  The tips he provided are as following (Rheingold, 2014):

  1. In order to build trust in an online network, foster conversations
  2. Ensure there is a diversity of participants within your community
  3. Provide continual options to for all community members to collaborate
  4. Offer this community as a place to share knowledge and make it easy for people to share

As we think about designing and establishing new online communities, understanding these types of drivers for a virtual community can help us to shape the community group and to foster more of those four qualities I previously referred to:  Networking, Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration (Rheingold, 2014).

Have you ever participated in online/virtual communities?  As a participant what are some of the expectations you have in these communities?

Posted on October 24, 2015, in Blogs, Social Media, Society and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Hi Chelsea,

    I’ve engaged in online communities evaluating proposals for the Educause conference, and as a presidential-appointment for my college to a state higher education board. What was interesting between the two was that there was much more diversity in the Educause group, far more sharing, and less of the “status” awareness that often intimidates “lower-level” college staff when working with administration. The other committee was far more closed, less diverse, conversationalists were aware of “strangers” or new committee members, and tailored their interactions; in my opinion it built a “keep out of our subdivision” wall.

    What I like about Rheingold’s “tips” is that they’re applicable to in-person community building. We ALL need to build trust, foster conversations, ensure diversity, and engage in collaboration. I’ll be interested to hear how your blog goes and whether your online community takes off. Good luck!

    • Chelsea Dowling

      Hi Dana! I have to say – thank you for that response. Up until now I was very focused on establishing this internal blog as a centralized communication tool where employees could take ownership of their own work and share. But being able to also incorporate this idea of community and establishing a robust online community – while it was part of it – it really hit home when you called out that “we all need to build trust, foster conversations, ensure diversity, and engage in collaboration.” I think this is an opportunity where employees can take ownership, not just in their own work but in truly connecting with their colleagues in an online environment.

      I can say that one of the things (just short of offering prizes) is how you begin to engage online community collaboration with individuals who might now be used to engaging in these types of communities. That will definitely be interesting to see how that all plays out.

  2. Hi, Chelsea:

    One of my fellow supervisors started a “collaborative newsletter.” It’s similar to what you plan to do with your blog. She assigns (or strongly suggests that an individual provides) an article. It’s an eclectic group of articles: guides and training reviews of a specific work-related procedure, cooking tips, book reviews, a section for personal tid-bits an employee my want to share about their personal life.

    I think your idea of moving your newsletter format to a blog model is much more inviting! You can still invite contributors to provide content (like my work newsletter does), but the blog–by nature of the ability to make comments–may entice more employees to become participants, and thus foster the work community. I truly like many of the employees that occasionally write pieces for the newsletter. A blog allows there to be a “conversation.” Logging on to just read for the sake of reading, is not something that I can afford time-wise, so I rarely look at the newsletter. While I do feel overwhelmed with my other responsibilities, taking a moment to encourage a co-worker about her contribution would be something I would take time for.

    • Chelsea Dowling

      Hi Rebecca! That is definitely the hope – that this will allow individuals to more freely post and provide an article (before it was just me writing them all) but more importantly that it will engage that two-way conversation to hopefully occur. I do agree that the “time” factor is always a big question/concern that is raised. In my opinion, I also think this is where layout and design becomes extremely important (at least from my perspective). How does one design a blog to engage readership? That is one area that I have been struggling with our technical SME’s on as they think it is not as important. I think it will be interesting to see how it all does play out though…

  3. I love the advice your peers are giving you! I would hope that, while “forced blogging,” this course blog is achieving what you described as “bringing like-minded professionals [in this case, students] together in order to acquire information.” And the fact that I’ve used the same blog space for several Fall semesters means that there are more followers, even though it’s rare that they comment.

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