Face time counts: Building virtual communities

According to the Oxford Dictionary the word  "community" derives from the Old French comuneté (currently "Communauté"), which comes from the Latin communitas "community", "public spirit" (from Latin communis, "common").

Prior to the widespread use of the internet, communities were most often place-based with people sharing a common interest, religion, ideology or set of values.

How do you build communities when you no longer have access to a physical venue or when its members are spread across multiple geographies? 

But how do you build communities when you no longer have access to a physical venue or when its members are spread across multiple geographies?  

This was the dilemma I faced when creating a social enterprise called Advantages of Age back in 2016, with the aim of challenging the national media narrative around ageing. Its fundamental belief was creating a positive voice about ageing with twin objectives of wanting to find a mechanism to present an alternative way of thinking about ageing and to discover whether there were others who were aligned with our way of thinking.

Ironically, using media contacts, we attracted attention from the very press who, would have been dismissive, but where attracted by our alternative and novel point of view. And subsequently, with Arts Council funding, we ran a number of themed activities around style, taboos surrounding ageing and death.

Then in May 2017 without much thought or strategy, we created a Facebook group to bring our supporters on an online community. The group - Baby Boomers & Beyond - has grown to 3,500 people, mainly in London with the remainder are scattered across the UK, Europe, US and Australia. We are unified by our fun and feisty attitude, who enjoy calling out ageism when we see it but also posting positive news story about older, inspirational people, harnessing opinions, creating social connections and much, much more.

As highlighted by the Centre for Ageing Better in their recent report, Doddery but dear? Examining age-related stereotypes (opens new window), there still a significant amount of ageism in the way older people are portrayed. We need to get away from images of holding a walking stick, wrinkly hands etc. On a positive note, our Facebook group, and also social media generally, shows that older people embrace technology. Indeed, setting up a virtual community has enabled us to build new and maintain our existing social networks and stay connected.

However, creating and managing a Facebook group takes time and effort, but with thought out strategies and the right tools, it is an investment well worth the effort.

For more information about how to get started, here’s a helpful resource (opens new window).


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