When Tony and I moved our family to New Jersey twelve years ago, it wasn’t meant to last. New Jersey was supposed to be a temporary stop on our way somewhere, anywhere, else. But shortly after arriving we found our current parish, one in which we finally weren’t the only family with lots of young kids. We met a few homeschoolers and quickly connected with a huge network of other Catholic homeschoolers. Five years later, when Tony was unexpectedly laid off from the job that brought us here, we could’ve gone anywhere, but we decided to stay, thanks to the loving community that had helped us move into our home, seen us through Fulton’s diagnosis and that would continue to support us through the continuing highs and lows.
I know we are blessed beyond measure. I know of many Catholic families across the country, and globe, cut off from family and like minded friends. I hear of their struggles to find good friends for their children and themselves. Women share their stories of being the weirdo or outcast amongst their family, coworkers, neighbors, or even fellow parishioners. Often times, moving isn’t an option. The next best step is to try to organize and create from scratch the groups and relationships you need (book clubs, moms night out, playdates, etc), though I know this can be hard for some people, especially in less densely populated areas. Thankfully, we have the internet. For all it’s problems, the internet, and namely social media, is a blessing for those in need of social interaction for themselves or their families, but who can’t connect with people locally.
But maybe you don’t want to blog, and maybe Facebook and Twitter have been depressing you lately. Why not take the good and scrap the bad? Here’s seven ways to use the Facebook Groups feature to find and build your community.
1. First, why bother with a group? What’s the benefit to creating a group as opposed to say, just commenting on statuses and messaging people directly?
In a group you’re connected with a small group of people with similar beliefs, or seeking similar information. Why ask all your friends for their favorite World War II history recommendations when you can ask a group of Catholic homeschoolers? Or if you have a question about your child’s medical issue, wouldn’t it be better to ask other parents of children with the same condition rather than your high school friends? If you have a question about the faith, better to ask it amongst other like-minded friends rather than deal with comments and advice from people who try to steer you in the opposite direction.
Groups can be large or small. A dozen old friends can swap pictures, stories and prayer requests they’d prefer to keep private from family members. Experienced special needs parents can create files to share with the newly diagnosed in a private forum where everyone can share and learn.
You can discuss current events, books, parenting and anything with people who agree with you or who know how to respectfully disagree. Groups aren’t argument proof, but I find that people tend to argue, and be rude to, people they know less well. When genuinely close to someone, we think before we speak, or we apologize if we speak out of turn. We’re familiar enough with a person’s tone and writing style to not misinterpret what they’ve written. Larger groups will have more problems simply because it’s hard to have that intimate knowledge of hundreds or thousands of people.
2. How is a group different from a page?
Pages are public spaces where fans can congregate around a person, place, or thing. Interaction on the page is between the page owner and the followers. A page owner controls all the content. In a group, there are moderators, but everyone is welcome to start or enter into a conversation. An owner isn’t necessary to keep discussion going. Pages can also be liked and followed by anyone whereas a group can be private and unsearchable if the moderator so chooses.
3. How do I find groups on Facebook that might interest me?
On the left sidebar you will see Groups. click it and then look for the Discover tab at the top left of the page. Facebook will suggest groups to you based on your location, interest and friends. You can also search for groups using the search bar at the very top of the page. Public and Closed groups will show up. You can only be added to a Secret group by a member or moderator. You can request to join a group that interests you and each group will have it’s own protocol for joining.
You can also ask your friends to add you to groups that they think you might enjoy. If you don’t like all the notifications, you can select to view only some, or turn off notifications of the group all together.
If you find a group you love, you can add it as a shortcut to your left hand sidebar by hovering your mouse next to ‘Shortcuts’ and selecting Edit, then selecting the option to move your favorite group to the top.
You can also bookmark the group on your browser so you can go directly to it versus visiting your main Facebook feed and getting sucked in.
4. Create your own group and add members.
Maybe you have your own idea for a group. Double check to make sure you’re not duplicating something that’s already out there (at least publicly) and if you’re ready to take the plunge, hit the Create Group button at the top right of the Group home page. Add a few friends and start posting!
Everything shared in the group, so long as it is Closed or Secret, can’t be seen by anyone outside the group. Invite group members to add friends and be active in posting. It helps to create guidelines: who is this group intended for, what topics (if any) are off limits, what type of self promotion is permitted, etc. Being clear up front prevents misunderstandings down the road.
5. The cool features in Groups make it better than email, or Messenger, for organizing people and building friendships.
In groups you can post statuses, share pictures and videos, do a live video, create a document, ask for a recommendation, ask a question and poll results, sell something, upload a file, and create an event. If you’re trying to coordinate plans with a group of friends through text, Messenger or email, you’re limited. Group members have to scroll up through messages to find the information. People who don’t want to participate in a particular event have to endure the endless notifications and DINGS every time new information is updated. Even Yahoo Groups, for years the standard group platform, doesn’t offer the variety of options as a Facebook group. By using the Group feature to organize a community people can stay up to date without being overwhelmed with information that’s not relevant to them.
6. You can actually create real friendships with people you meet online. Yes way!
I’ve been added to a few groups through the years and one in particular has lead to the development of very close friendships. The members have met in person and we chat outside the group using Google Hangouts. Sometimes, everyone in your group will be spread out, and meeting in person will be difficult if not impossible, but other times, you’ll discover a great friend right in your backyard, or at least close enough to make an occasional playdate a possibility. In this way, the internet can help us to find neighbors we couldn’t locate otherwise. Be patient, be yourself, and chances are, in time, you’ll find your community.
7. I counted up and discovered I’m in about 50 Facebook groups. Several are inactive and I’ve turned off notifications for many more, but here’s a selection of groups I actively follow to show you the variety of people I interact with on a regular basis, most of whom live nowhere near me.
- one small blogger mastermind group
- one large group of female Catholic bloggers
- one regional group of female Catholic bloggers
- three local homeschooling groups (one of which I’m an admin)
- one large group of Catholic homeschoolers
- one large group of Catholic moms
- three SMA groups
- two Catholic geek groups (strictly for the benefit of my family)
- one orphan hosting group
- one affiliate marketing group
Admittedly, this is a long post but, I know that finding a tribe is a huge concern for many, many women. I truly believe Facebook, for all it’s problems, it’s really great at connecting people. And with a little work, we can use it to support one another online when our real life interactions are lacking.
What advice would you offer to women struggling to meet other faithful Catholics, or like-minded people? Write it down then link it up below! Don’t forget to include a link back to this post so your readers can find the rest of the Quick Takes. I look forward to reading your posts!