Community Engagement: Actual vs. Virtual - GatherBoard

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Community Engagement: Actual vs. Virtual

We still hang out with friends, have face-to-face meetings with customers and team members, run into neighbors on the block or at the grocery store, go to the gym, play games, meet out for live music… or do we? Let’s be honest here – we all engage socially on our phones and computers a lot more than we’d like to: virtual meetings, social media, texting, email, video streaming, chat rooms, grocery delivery, curbside pickup, streaming workouts, etc… For some, it’s a healthy mix of actual and virtual, and for others it starts to feel like total isolation. So, what is the difference between Actual Community Engagement and Virtual Community Engagement, and what can we do about it?

Actual community engagement refers to real-life interactions and involvement within a community, such as participating in local events, volunteering, attending meetings, and collaborating with others to address community issues. It involves face-to-face interactions and tangible contributions to the community’s well-being.

On the other hand, virtual community engagement engagement involves interactions and connections within online communities on platforms like Facebook, X, Instagram, and LinkedIn for older generations and TikTok, Discord, Twitch and Snapchat. (And we’re not even taking into account further virtual engagement like streaming fitness workouts, health and wellness groups and more.) This virtual engagement can include activities such as liking, commenting, sharing content, participating in discussions, and joining groups related to specific interests or causes, streaming services, online gaming and more.

  • Medium: Actual community engagement occurs in physical spaces and real-life settings, while virtual community engagement takes place in on digital platforms.

  • Depth of Interaction: Actual community engagement often allows for deeper and more meaningful interactions, as it involves face-to-face communication and personal connections. Virtual engagement, while valuable, may sometimes lack the depth and authenticity of in-person interactions.

  • Reach and Accessibility: Virtual community engagement has the potential to reach a wider audience beyond geographical boundaries, making it more accessible to individuals who may not be able to participate in local events physically. However, it may also lead to superficial connections and interactions.

  • Impact and Tangibility: Actual community engagement can have a more immediate and tangible impact on the community, such as visible improvements in neighborhoods, increased civic participation, increase in community mental health outcomes and stronger social ties. Virtual engagement may contribute to awareness-building and online advocacy but may not always translate into concrete actions or changes in the community.

  • Barriers and Limitations: Actual community engagement may face barriers such as time constraints, physical distance, and logistical challenges. Virtual community engagement, while more convenient in some ways, may be limited by factors such as digital literacy, access to technology, and the quality of online connection.

According to CitizenLab: “Digital community engagement can complement offline engagement, but it doesn’t replace it.” In the spirit of tech4good, we know first hand at GatherBoard that both actual community engagement and virtual community engagement play important roles in building and sustaining communities We work in the balance between the different opportunities and challenges of fostering connections, participation, and collaboration among community members, and using virtual platforms to advance these efforts.

digital image of a earth with orange planets and white water, sitting on a blank surface with five computer mouses coming out of it

Effective community engagement often involves a combination of both online and offline strategies to maximize impact and inclusivity. Beyond the GatherBoard SaaS platform, this looks like our using social media to share blog posts (like this one), highlight our different community licenses, talk about trends and pitfalls, look for leads and *hopefully* gain new customers. It also means our totally virtual platform comprised of numerous community partners’ events and hundreds of a community submissions, all in one place, with the ultimate goal of actual human connections. Our goal is to get people in to the same space together, and let the magic of human connection happen from there.

Be it actual or virtual, let’s connect!

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