Creating A Community Online

I attribute most of my personality to the fact that I wasn’t cool in high school. I wasn’t “popular” by any means. I didn’t go to parties or football games on the weekends. I had a tight circle of close friends I’d eat lunch with in the theater classroom every day. And I loved the internet.

I wanted to make friends who thought like me and had the same emotional capacity as me.

I started making YouTube videos when I was in 9th grade and was slowly but surely introduced to an online community of “uncool” internet-obsessed kids just like me. I spent my weekends binge-watching vlogs from small creators my age, and trying my best to tailor witty responses in the comment sections. Though my parents were wary of me talking to people on the internet (and for good reason), all I really wanted was to connect with people I seemed to have so much in common with. I wanted to make friends who thought like me and had the same emotional capacity as me—something I found extremely hard to find at my own high school.

To this day, I am still good friends with some of those once-awkward teenagers fumbling their way through the internet. Like my friends, Theresa and Micah, both of whom I met in person after years of internet friendship and eventually worked with on a project called Polychrome. It was through these first couple of blossoming internet friendships that I learned how to make friends safely and meaningfully online.

The best way to make friends online is when it’s safe, polite, and meaningful for both people.

Now that Instagram is a thing, it’s easier than ever to make friends on the internet. A quick slide into the DM’s and you could have the beginnings of a life-long friendship. If there’s anything the internet is good for, it’s connecting like-minded people who would have otherwise never had the opportunity to meet. However, as I’ve learned from cultivating friendships through the online space, the best way to make friends online is when it’s safe, polite, and meaningful for both people.

So, how does one make friends on the internet?

1. Take it slow

The best thing to do when you’re trying to pursue a friendship with someone on the internet is to allow things to fall together naturally. Like any other friendship, internet friendships develop in their own time, on a case-by-case basis. There have been times when I’ve been following a person for months before sending the “Wanna hang out?” DM. Other times, I run into the person at an event and we end up hitting it off right away.

I also often get stuck in an Instagram DM tag of sorts, where the person and I go back and forth for weeks trying to make plans, but nothing ever sticks. Don’t get discouraged if you’ve been following someone you want to be IRL friends with for a while and still haven’t solidified plans with them. If the chemistry is there, it will happen in due time.

2. Be Yourself

Sometimes, when you have an internet crush on someone, you may feel pressure to project certain personality traits or interests on social media as a way to get their attention. Big no-no! It’s easy to make it look like you’re someone you’re not on social media, but this is especially not helpful if you’re trying to make friendships that last. Being your authentic self online will actually help you attract more people who are like you. Similar interests, sense of humor, and even taste in fashion are just a few things that have led me to some pretty cool people online. These authentic points of common interest are often what leads to a connection in the long run.

3. Take a hint

I’ve been left on “seen” in the DM’s enough times to know that sometimes, they’re just not that into you. And that’s okay! Often times, it’s nothing personal. People have extensive lives beyond their phone screens, and sometimes replying to your DM isn’t exactly at the top of their priorities. Other times, the person may simply not be interested in starting a friendship with you. After having sent one or two direct messages without a response, it may be time to give it a rest. Being overly persistent in someone’s DM’s can be seen as rude and inconsiderate. At that point it’s best to just continue liking their content from afar.

4. Be Smart

Should you get to the point of actually setting up a meeting with someone you’ve been following online, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. (With COVID right now, it’s okay to keep the friendship entirely online for the time being!)

If you’re ever feeling uneasy about an encounter with someone, it’s more than okay to cancel plans.

How long have you been messaging this person? I usually like to chat with someone online for a considerable amount of time before actually meeting in person—especially if we’re meeting one-on-one.

Where are you planning to meet? Meeting in a public place is absolutely the best option when meeting with an internet friend for the first time. Public events, if they’re safe and available, are also a great place to meet with someone for the first time.

I believe that gut feelings are incredibly important. There have been a few times where I’d planned to meet with someone, but felt weird about the whole thing leading up to it. If you’re ever feeling uneasy about an encounter with someone, it’s more than okay to cancel plans. Remember, you’re not obligated to say yes to hanging out with someone, or even following through on plans you’ve made with a person. Your safety is ultimately what’s most important.

5. Get out there

While the internet can be a great place for finding friends, it’s no substitute for actually going out into the world to find meaningful connections. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve often run into internet friends at art shows, concerts, and other events (consider attending virtual events this year with people in your circles).

Sometimes, this pleasant surprise offers a smoother transition into real friendship than a planned first meeting, which can feel like a lot of pressure. Making sure that you’re pushing yourself to attend fun events that interest you is a great way to meet people with common interests, whether you recognize them from the internet or not!

I’d love to hear any stories you may have about friends you’ve met online. Feel free to share them in the comments below! 💞

Celeste M. Scott is a contributor at The Good Trade. She is a writer and photographer who is passionate about film and Internet culture. She can often be found sifting through the racks at her local Savers. You can find her work on her website and Instagram.