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Online Interactions Can Be Good For You IRL

You’re about to dig into a plate of golden syrup-covered waffles. It looks so delicious that you snap a picture of it and post it online.

A friend responds, “OMG, your brunch looks delicious!” Seeing how happy it made her to share your experience only heightens your own enjoyment.

Later on, when you look back at the photo as additional comments come in, the warm-and-fuzzy memory of those waffles will envelop you all over again.

In our work with online communities, customers, and audiences, we see folks receive collaborative advice, recommendations, and encouragement from each other. In many cases, the people posting do not know each other, yet that doesn’t stop them from empathizing with one another and creating a connection in the moment.

These kinds of virtual interactions have a large impact, according to a 2021 Nature.com study. The research suggests that communicating with more people online improves mental health. This is true even when your interactions are short and you don’t know the other person well.

Asking for (and receiving) encouragement or support can also be effective online. After posting your exercise goals in a fitness forum, other members will likely cheer you on. Knowing that others care can keep you motivated to do your best.

Of course, the enjoyment of sharing an experience with others happens both on- and offline. But there are some advantages that only come from interacting online.

One such difference is described in Bu Zhong’s book Social Media Communication: Trends and Theories. Communicating through text lacks tone of voice or facial expression, writes Zhong. When talking online, we often ask direct questions and are more conscious of our word choices.

Compare that to when you meet someone for the first time in person. You’ll typically ask questions to learn about them. But online, you can usually look up the person you’re talking to. Communities have profiles and member ratings and offer the ability to browse a user’s past posts. It’s like being able to do a type of instant background check. This could be helpful before you decide to continue a conversation or follow someone’s advice.

Moderated communities take this a step further, where all of the members have agreed to follow the community guidelines. These are public posts which outline the values of the community. When a moderated community shares your values, it’s like finding the perfect match. You feel comfortable. You feel safe to express yourself and that your contribution matters.

The online world was once thought of as something separate from reality; we would often refer to offline existence with the acronym IRL (in real life). But online communication has become as much a part of our real life as any offline interaction.

So be kind, keep an open mind, and start looking out for communities where you enjoy reading the comments. That’s where you’ll find your people. Where you’ll make positive connections. Where you’ll be at home.

Want to talk to experts in communities? Whether your members interact on your website, on social media, or during live events, ModSquad can help you manage and nourish your community. Give us a call.

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