Seven Tips On Choosing The Right Online Support Group
Every support site is different, but every survivor is different too, and at different points in time we’re at different places in our healing journey. So there’s no one support site that would work for everyone. You need to find one that is best for you atm. And when it’s not working anymore - move on to the next one.
Running fort for a few years has taught us some insider tips and tricks to look for, when browsing through a new support site:
- Consider how big of a community are you looking for. Do you want a huge site, so that every time you’re chatting with someone entirely new, and bumping into the same person twice is an unlikely thing? Are you looking for a very small group, so that if three of them are making dinner at the moment - you have no one to chat with? Or for something in between? Think about it. Our members feel most comfortable with 30-100 active members at a time - this way you always have enough people to talk with, but still don’t get lost and know everyone by name and can keep track of their life updates, if you want. Just look at the bottom of the forums of the site you’re browsing - how many members are online right now? 3? 30? 300? 3000? Does the number seem comfortable to you?
- Where are you in your healing journey, and what sort of support specifically are you looking for? A place to vent? A place to get amateur counseling? A place to offer it? A place to socialize? A place to rant about what an unpleasant person your mother-in-law is? A place to get constructive input from people who struggle with same things you do? All of these are valid, but there’s no single community offering all of these at once, you need to take your pick. Read through their mission statement, about us page, homepage, etc. This would take some guesswork, as, naturally, no admin would say straightforward ‘welcome to our rants dumpster’, but if you see something like ‘we offer you a sympathetic ear so you can feel heard and validated’ - yeah, that’s what the site basically is then.
- Running a support site isn’t very expensive in the out-of-pocket sense, but it’s exhaustingly time-consuming: someone has to be online every single day of the year, dealing with drama, hatemail, member infractions, tech questions, etc, etc, etc - things that have very little to do with supporting abuse survivors in their healing journey per se. The natural question is - who is doing this and what are they getting out of it. Not that there’s necessarily something dark going on behind the scenes, not at all - you just need to be aware of this side of things when choosing your support group. Are admins getting financial compensation for their work? Who pays site expenses? How reliable are both sources? Beware of large buttons urging you to donate to the site, before you even joined - a small discrete link on forums generates enough funds to cover all site expenses and then some. It’s fine if admins are running a survivor site for profit, as good a way to make money from home as any other, still might be a great site for you - just be conscious of what’s happening, make an educated choice.
- Homepage is where admins are showing you what the site offers. When was it updated last? Does the site have forums? Chat? Reading material? Where’s the sitemap (list of all the pages the site consists of)? When was the last post on forums? You need to see what’s there before you join. If the homepage isn’t answering these questions - the site might be abandoned by admins. Do you want to join a community that’s running amok without a leader? Also consider the general tone of text on the homepage. Does it sound very professional but not specific enough? Might be copied from another site then. What’s the main message it delivers? If you could summarize it in one sentence, what does it basically say? Beware of generic advertisements such as ‘we are a great place’, ‘we support survivors’, etc - don’t take their word for it, you should be the judge of these things.
- Take a look at forums. Yes, the content would be hidden from you, for obvious privacy reasons, but there are a few important things you can see:
- Forums structure. How many folders are there? Are they well-organized? Named? Can you guess what material would be in each? If there’s a folder named “our thoughts on rape” it’s one thing, but if there’s a folder named ‘dark times’ - that’s somewhat blurry, what exactly goes there? Forums should be clear, organized, and easy to navigate.
- See the url of the forums, what does it say? Anything that doesn’t start with www.sitename.com/forum is a free software. Nothing’s wrong with that, every community started with free forums at some remote point in the past, but it means that either the site is very young, still learning the ropes, and doesn't have many active members - or admins really don’t care about it all that much. Free forums are full of advertisements, are often down, aren’t private, and are very hard (if not impossible) to manage. You can get a decent forums software for a few hundred bucks a year, so if admins aren’t doing it yet - naturally one questions why.
- If nothing at all is visible to you, not a list of active members online, not a list of folders, nothing at all, just a message stating that forums are only open to members, urging you to register - something is fishy. What are admins hiding here? Poor organization? Slow site? No active members? Do you want to join a community without knowing anything at all about it?
- Absolutely read their guidelines (those should be posted somewhere visible, if guidelines aren't easy to find - run) - these show whether the community has healthy boundaries, and whether admins are capable of enforcing them. Guidelines should be clear, well-organized, and reasonable. When reading the guidelines, most people do a mental check-list: will i be able to follow these rules? A better approach is - if everyone here follows these rules - would it create a good support group for me? So take a look at these red flags:
- Do guidelines consist of petty grudges against members in random order? I.e. - don't chat while drunk, respect admins, don't use ‘killer’ for nickname, dont lurk, oh, and also don't register if you're under 13? - this mess means admins don't know what do they want from you, and might like or dislike you at their whim.
- Do guidelines consist entirely of general unspecified wishes such as be nice to our members, be respectful, don't be offensive, etc? This indicates admins who aren't very capable as community leaders - they genuinely want things to work, but they don't know how to make it happen. ‘nice’ is too general a requirement, very hard to judge just what specifically is ‘nice’ and what isn't.
- Do guidelines include info on what would happen if they are broken? You don't want to be banned for having a bad day and saying the f word in chat, and you should be assured that trolls will be kicked out promptly.
- Finally, there must be something about the site that’s personally appealing to you. You have to like something about it, and want to come back. It could be a cool logo, a warm friendly tone, a funny joke on a serious page - something that makes the site personal, something that makes it different from other sites. There are many sites out there, you don’t have to settle for something that seems ok but that just doesn’t appeal to you for some reason. Follow your gut feeling - you should be liking this new site you’re about to join. Good luck!
~ Mark Twain
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