Magazines 2023 Jul - Aug Three practical steps to building authentic digital community online

Three practical steps to building authentic digital community online

04 July 2023 By Shannen Powell

Commodification versus community

Over the last few years, I’ve had the joyful opportunity to contribute to a women’s collective called The Well Practice aimed at helping women dive deeper into their faith through devotions, discussions and deep conversations.

It launched during the pandemic, and a vision that started as an in-person community quickly turned digital This forced us to rethink how we saw community and participation. How would we create this digitally connected community of women?

It’s a struggle most Canadians are now familiar with – how should we represent ourselves and our ministries online?

The problem is that social media and so many other online connecting tools frame human interaction as a consumer relationship. Our audience is both the item for sale and the purchaser. We’re trying to buy attention and leverage interaction.

How can we avoid falling into the trap of treating our audience as consumers rather than a beloved community? It’s tricky because we all want engagement. We want people to like what we spend so much time thinking about and creating.

These aren’t bad desires so long as our priorities online reflect the priorities of our ministry in the real world. Community over commodification. Connection over superficial engagement. And most importantly, reaching people with the Good News of Jesus, and helping them see and feel His love for them.

So how?

• Conversation over engagement.

Every comment, like, save and share is a point of engagement – and whenever possible should be used to encourage conversation. Compose captions, emails and blogs as open-ended discussions. Demonstrate a willingness and desire for discussion. This even applies to simple save the dates. Make sure the reader feels you are personally inviting them. You want to see them there! Their presence is important.

• Be an approachable authority.

Your audience is there because you have information they need or want. You add value to their lives. You need to decide what that value is. Whether you share detailed information about an event or encourage them to dive deeper into their faith, do it from a place of authentic authority. With The Well much of what we share is short think pieces to encourage women in their faith. And while we speak from a place of authority in terms of having the knowledge and insight to share, we are also approachable. We welcome feedback. We share our personal experiences and struggles, hoping to encourage others to do the same.

• Be real.

None of us are perfect in the real world, so we shouldn’t fake perfection online. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim for excellence. It’s still important to avoid mistakes, create great content and share material we’re proud of. But within all that there needs to be a realness, a willingness to be raw, and an openness to share a more honest side of ourselves and our organizations. If appropriate, introduce your audience to your team. If your goal is to create community, show them who they’re connecting with. If you want to foster community among your audience, lead the charge in forming that community.

None of us are perfect in the real world, so we shouldn’t fake perfection online.

We’ve all found ourselves watching behind-the-scenes videos. Many of us love watching celebrity home tours or interviews (where are all my Hot One fans?). We enjoy getting a peak behind the curtains into these people’s lives because we feel more connected to and invested in them when we know what colour their kitchen is or their spice tolerance. The same applies to our audience.

I previously worked for a church that had a vast digital presence. They drew in many people on a Sunday, but online is where they thrived. And although we produced a lot of great content, the most popular was a series of joke videos about what it was like to work in the office. With The Well the posts that perform best are ones where we openly share our struggles and ask for prayer.

The key when producing any content is to remember your goal. Is your audience a point of sale or a community? Are you looking to commodify their time or add value to their lives? Your community are real people who we want to know Jesus better. The way we engage and share should reflect God’s love and demonstrate the open invitation to explore what it means to have a relationship with Him.

creating lasting connection online
shannen powell
Shannen Powell is a freelance writer and the copywriter at Alpha Canada in New Westminster, B.C. Find more of these columns at

Related Articles