Online communities have been around for about as long as the Internet. Ranging in membership from 2 to thousands, there are communities for every interest, hobby, religious affiliation, and ethnic group that you can imagine. While some have open memberships, others require (a usually free) membership while still others are available only to those invited to join. Some are very broad in focus – for instance there are countless groups for writers – while others cater to those with an interest in a specific genre, such as mystery writers.
Joining an online group is a wonderful way to network with other people who have home businesses. But, because there are so many to choose from, it is wise to take some time to do some research so that you can find the best group – or groups – for your needs. There are a number of things you should consider when evaluating online groups such as:
1. Topic. Online communities run the gamut from generalities to quite specific. For example, there are thousands of online groups for writers, and probably just as many for writers who work at home. These groups are fine for those who are just getting started or who haven’t quite found their niche, but more experienced or focused writers may be more interested in investigating a group that primarily discusses a specific genre.
2. Activity Level. Some online communities are quite active with hundreds of posts per day while others may only have the occasional message submitted. The majority of groups, however, usually fall some place in the middle. Before joining a group, decide how much time you will be able to devote to reading the messages that are posted there. If you cannot commit more than a few minutes to the group each day, chances are you will quickly become overwhelmed with some of the more active groups.
3. Requirements. Believe it or not, some groups require members to post a minimum number of entries within a given time period. Again, decide how much time you can devote to your membership before deciding to join a group like this. It may surprise you that the online world can be a small place meaning that many people are members of multiple groups. If you do not hold up your end of the bargain in one group, it is likely that you will be prevented from participating in others as well.
4. Tolerance for Off-Topic Discussion. While many groups have strict guidelines concerning off-topic discussions, others are more liberal. Decide what your tolerance for off-topic discussions is; some people enjoy venturing into areas not related to the group’s primary focus while others have very little patience for these types of discussions. You can usually learn about the group’s parameters in their homepage, however, you can also get a sense for how conversations will flow by simply monitoring the discussions for a few days (assuming, of course, the group allows non-members to read messages).
Finally, be sensible in the number of groups you choose to join. I belong to a couple of writers’ groups in which members post so often, I have to wonder when they actually get their work done! Remember, you should use online communities for support, encouragement and advice, but they should not become the focus of your day.