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Online Communities & College Football Have More in Common Than You Think

Touchdowns aside, interacting with others and feeling a sense of belonging in a community is what it’s all about.

The way we interact on social media is evolving. Online closed groups and communities are forming and growing. More than 100 million Facebook users belong to meaningful communities, including groups that are aimed at helping users such as new parents or victims of rare diseases. As these online communities increase, the concern is how can we use what we know about well-functioning face to face communities to create similar on-line groups of people?

As I ponder this question and write this piece, it is a Saturday in September which means College Football is back. You can flip through the channels of the television today and see flashes of school spirit from game to game, from city to city. No matter if you live in a college town or if you’re an alum across the country, there is a sense of community and belonging to your university on game day that one cannot describe.

For undergrad, I went to Florida State University. My freshman year FSU won the College Football National Championship. I remember being hooked from day 1. Florida State is one of the top schools for Football and school spirit. “Sports is basically your whole life here,” says one student about FSU. A student body of 40,000 comes together for football games every fall to cheer on the seminoles! There’s nothing like doing the “chop” with an entire packed stadium. While I do not live in Tallahassee anymore, I still seek game day watch parties with people in my current town, and I am part of many FSU alum networks and online groups.

I think about this intense loyalty that we have to our schools, and it is not all about football. It is about a sense of community. People will travel across states just to return to their college town for a football game. A well-functioning community makes others feel like they belong. These communities also empower their members and they are cohesive. Bringing in these real life elements, as described in a college football fan base, into an online community can be life-changing for some people. For those who feel like they have no one to talk to, a Facebook group could be there for them. For those who feel alone in their journey, a Facebook group could be there for them. I have personally witnessed, in the closed Disney World Annual Passholder Facebook groups I belong to, people sharing their stories or issues, and others jumping in selflessly to save the day or offer personal advice.

I recently found this infographic that I loved because it really broke down “6 Key Elements of Successful Communities.” The key elements included are culture, metrics, transparency, engagement, value, and conversations. All of these elements are prevalent in a college football fan base, and also in a functioning online group. While this infographic focuses mostly on businesses leveraging online communities, these same characteristics are crucial in any community.

While so many positive situations and stories can bloom from an online community, there can also be a great responsibility that comes along with it. Some people interact differently online than they do in-person. If you have heard of the television show on MTV called “Catfish” then you know it is common that people pretend or exagerrate who they are online because they are hiding behind a screen. Because of this, creating authentic connections can be tough. Many people have their guard or wall up when it comes to an online community because they are not sure who they can trust. Many people also feel like they need to join a group for themselves, and what they can get out of it, without realizing a community isn’t about how it benefits you, but the whole group instead.

If we can harness that feeling of belonging to our alma mater, like an online community, then I believe our social media experience and interactions could be so much stronger and beneficial. Going beyond the filters and the superficial posts, and really putting the social back in social media is what it is all about.


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