How to make the most of joining a digital community
Author: Livvy – Community Manager for Tell Me Why
With social distancing still in effect in many parts of the world, it can be difficult for us all to build and maintain the kinds of relationships that help us thrive. Now that people are online more than ever, one way of meeting new people is to join a digital community. Whether it’s an official Discord server, a fan forum or a private group of fans, online spaces can be a great way to get to know others who share your interests or make great memories around the things you love.
But it can also be difficult to bring yourself into a new space – even for the Extremely Online! It can sometimes feel like there’s a lot at stake: what if no one notices me, or what if I do something to embarrass myself?
As the community manager for Tell Me Why, the next narrative adventure game from DONTNOD Entertainment and Xbox Game Studios, one of my favorite parts of my job is helping fans connect through the games they love. Here’s some advice I often give to anyone who’s looking to get the most out of joining an online community:
If you’re anxious, remember that everyone has probably felt the same way you do at some point.
There’s a misconception that social anxiety can only happen in face-to-face, IRL situations – but it’s actually very common for social anxiety to manifest in online spaces too! Almost everyone struggles with virtual anxiety from time to time – I know I do, and working with digital communities is literally my job! – so if you feel bad or guilty for not jumping into conversations right away, just remember that you’re in good company.
Check out the culture of a group before you join. There are lots of ways to do this:
- If the group has rules, read them well. Rules can tell you a lot about a community’s values. Ask yourself how reading the rules makes you feel. Do the rules seem too harsh, or too vague, or too jokey? If a group’s rules don’t make you feel welcome to be yourself, then it may not be the group for you.
- If the group has multiple channels, look through as many as you can to get a sense of what conversations are like. Here are some questions that can help you think about what traits of a group might be meaningful for you:
- Are people maintaining positive and/or respectful conversations?
- How often do mods or officers join the chat?
- If the channel is intended for a specific game or topic, how often are people discussing something different?
If you’re having trouble finding a group you feel like you can fit in with, reach out to friends for groups that they’ve felt comfortable in – or use tags on social media asking for recommendations.
Build a foundation of positivity – brick by brick!
When you’re first joining, leave a note to introduce yourself and explain why you’re there! Here’s a script you can tweak:
- “Hi everyone! I’m [Livvy], and [this game/hobby/topic] has been a big part of my life for years now. I’m hoping to meet lots of other fans!”
Friendships don’t form overnight – but it doesn’t take much to leave a lasting impression, even in a big community. If making new friends seems daunting, make a goal to post even a couple of times a day, or to spend no more than fifteen minutes talking in a digital space that’s new to you. And if you’re not sure of what to say, a compliment or agreement for someone who’s recently posted can make someone’s entire day better.
It’s easy to let nervousness or anxiety get in the way of how you communicate. Let your messages project confidence, even when you’re feeling unsure of yourself!
- “Sorry if I’m quiet – y’all just seem so cool compared to me.” vs. “I’m still getting my bearings here, but y’all seem so cool and I can’t wait to talk more!”
We’re all going through stressful, complicated times. While it isn’t possible for anyone to always be a beacon of pure positivity, it’s important to give others a means to opt into stressful conversations.
- “Here’s an exact recap of my mental lows this week.” vs. “I’m feeling really sad and stressed today. Is anyone in the mood to talk?”
Remember that most digital communities of any size do not have the resources to help individuals manage severe anxiety or other mental health concerns. If you’re experiencing any symptoms that are interrupting your daily life, it’s really important to reach out to a professional for help. You can access CheckPoint’s list of global mental health hotlines here to find resources in your area, but speaking to your GP or family doctor is always a fantastic first step.
If you’re not sure of what to say, here’s a list of some potential conversation-starters – or reach out to us on social media with some of your own favorites! We would love to hear about the ways you like to meet new people online.
- Answer a question someone’s asked recently – even if the answer is “I don’t know.” This is a great opportunity to learn more about the community and spark conversation!
- Ask the chat for any recipes they’ve recently enjoyed.
- If someone else in the group has an icon or profile pic from a series you recognize, strike up a conversation about it!
- Share a pic of a pet.
- Ask people about upcoming games they’re excited for.
- Share a work in progress (WIP) of something you’ve been creating – whether it’s art, a fanfic, or a screenshot edit.
- Ask the community what drew them to the game, hobby or topic that the community is about; people love to talk about things they’re interested in!
While joining a community can be a little intimidating, it’s one of the best ways to actively engage in a topic you’re passionate about and make new friends online. If you’re on the lookout for more mental health resources about managing anxiety, you can check out CheckPoint’s page about anxiety here. Remember that there’s no stigma in reaching out for help if you need it.