IRL Communities Have Paved the Way for Online Groups

Christopher DeMaio
4 min readSep 5, 2021
Photo: iStock

When it comes to communities, there are many different types. According to Richard Millington, there are five —Interest, Action, Place, Practice and Circumstance (Millington, 2010).

Millingon, 2010

A community can be the members of the same town who share a geographic location; A community can be people of the same race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.; A community can be a group of people who are working towards the same goal, on the same project, etc. But a community can also be a group of people on the internet — Facebook Groups, Reddit threads, chat rooms, etc.

First, I want you to think about your circle of friends.

Now, ask yourself these questions:
1. What kind of relationship do you have with them?
2. What things do you have in common?
3. Do you feel comfortable around them?
4. Do you trust them?

Now, think about some IRL (that means ‘in real life’, for those who don’t know) groups that you’re a part of — whether that be a church group, a study group, a sports team, a choir, a club, etc. How would you answer those same questions that I asked above?

Photo: Hampden Sydney College

Lastly, I want you to think about the communities that you are active on through social media. Think about Facebook Groups that you have joined, Reddit threads that you contribute to… How would you answer those questions now?

Photo: Facebook

For me, I find community in many different places. I have my work friends at Magic Kingdom, my work friends from Toy Story Land, my Stoney Clover Lane Instagram girlies, and my Swiftie Stans on Facebook. Each community is composed of different people, each sharing similar interests and ideas.

Through the relationships that I’ve formed in my real life communities — University friends and classmates, other Disney College Program participants, my school swim team, my co-workers — I have found that similar interests, attitudes, behaviors, ideas and goals have all allowed me to form bonds and connections with groups of people. Those commonalities that are shared among us are what make us a community — and those same commonalities can be applied to communities online as well.

Based on the IRL communities that I am a part of, I have found that it takes teamwork, trust and communication to build a strong community. The same can be said for online communities as well. In both IRL and online, people typically join a community to gain knowledge and learn new things, to find a sense of belonging and to be a part of something, and to connect with others who are going through something similar (Coscarelli, 2020).

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, quarantines and lockdowns have forced me to find that longing connection online. Over the past year and a half, I have discovered that online communities are a lot easier to share ideas, questions, concerns with your community. However, according to, online relationships cannot be as intimate or strong as real-world relationships (Etzioni, 1997). I have to disagree with this, because in today’s world, it’s difficult to gather in groups to form bonds and build those in-person relationships. These interactions and relationships are at our fingertips now more than ever, which is why these online communities are growing so quickly.

Photo: Spectrum Health

A perfect example of comes from the United Kingdom, where an online community was formed by Eugene Petzer, the co-founded of the aid group, Isolation Help Bexley, to help those in need during the COVID-19 shutdown. The common interest of helping others, as well as sharing ideas and stories, has brought people together and has formed new friendships amongst this community (Petzer, 2020).


Coscarelli, L. (2020, September 15). The Ultimate Guide to Building a New Online Community. Higher Logic.

Etzioni, A., & Etzioni, O. (1997, July 18). Communities: Virtual vs. real. Science.

Millington, R. (2010, November 23). Different Types of Communities. FeverBee.

Petzer, E. (2020, May 9). Coronavirus: How lockdown is making us better neighbours and building new communities. Sky News.



Christopher DeMaio

Social Media Graduate Student at the University of Florida.