How to Build Your Online Support System

Instagram and other platforms based on visual content make it easy to find people who share your interests, from mental health advocates to art and food feeds to level up your cooking game. You can find your people using hashtags, and then develop your relationships as you follow, comment, and interact with others who also follow your favorite Instagram accounts.

Instagram also lets people know who you are and the services you offer. I post photos of my life along with tips for writing. It’s connected me with other writers, keeps me in touch with my clients, and also brings new clients to the writing mentorship group I created.

Services like Reddit, Quora, Slack, and Discord offer semi-curated spaces covering a huge range of topics. You can ask questions or search through past posts to see what fits. The responses aren’t as immediate as real-time social media, but the answers you get will often be from professionals or amateurs with real-world experience.

Another benefit of message boards is that they can create spaces for marginalized communities bound by common interests. People post on Reddit’s Trans or Coming Out boards to share photos and funny stories or to ask for serious advice. The Nomadness Travel Tribe Facebook group represents the needs of travelers and influencers of color and “to show the world that travel has no racial, gender, religious, economic, or interest limitations.”

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You won’t always know who is posting, though, as many people use burner accounts. As with everything else, do your research to make sure the information you find is valid, and if you feel someone is trolling you, step away.

Private messaging in smaller groups on Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, or Slack and Discord is an excellent way to deepen relationships with people you’ve met online and know you can trust.

I met Lola Akinmade and Lily Lebawit Girma through online traveler networks. When we realized we all wanted to write books, we created a Whatsapp group for daily accountability during National Novel Writing Month. Since that month ended, we’ve stayed in touch, and every November we reconnect to write new books, like this one.

Ask for Help and Be Generous

Yes, the online world can be a time suck. It’s also a wonderful place to share your experiences with others and learn from their experiences as well.

When you offer your own advice and ideas to others, you make connections. In addition to my writing group, I also found my first editing job and met my agent through a mutual love of Trevor Noah.

Not everyone cares what you have to say, though. That may feel crappy, but it’s actually a blessing. Those who resonate with you and support your interests are worth your energy. You can ignore everyone else. And remember, never ever fight with people online. It’s not worth the time or effort.

A series of studies at the University of Rochester suggest that familiarity builds connection. Connecting with people in a friendly and non-creepy way is an excellent way to get to know people before you approach them. So by the time your job application or request for advice lands in their mailbox, they already know your name. While it won’t seal the deal, it will make your email stand out.

Set Clear Boundaries

Boundaries are crucial online if you want to protect your time, your privacy, and your emotional energy.

Start by evaluating every interaction for how much value it adds to your life. The writing group I mentioned gave me feedback on a book proposal. Their input helped me create something that my agent loved enough to sign me on as her client. Our weekly meetings encourage me to try new things with my writing. The benefits of our group are obvious to me, and to the other members, but that doesn’t mean the way our group works would work for everyone.

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