You’re close with people in your Facebook group. You’ve traded cooking techniques; offered congratulations for weddings, babies, and anniversaries; and commiserated about personal struggles. But you haven’t met IRL—in real life—yet.
Hosting an IRL gathering for your online friends can actually strengthen your sense of community. It’s an opportunity to authenticate your bond.
Here’s how you can make it a success:
Think About Other Shared Interests
Just because you’re in, say, a canoeing group doesn’t mean you have to host an event focused solely on canoeing. For instance, if a post about wine garnered a lot of likes, a day of canoeing and wine-tasting might be a hit. The event should “feel true to your group and provide an opportunity to discover additional commonalities,” says Matt Plank, co-founder of the Minnesota-based event-planning company GetKnit Events. “That can lead to more-authentic relationships.” Keep tabs on community events your group could attend together, he suggests, which can help keep your planning efforts and costs to a minimum.
Get Buy-In on a Budget
Once you identify a few event ideas, Plank recommends gauging how much the members want to spend. Propose a dollar-amount range, along with a brief description of what the event entails. “It could be as simple as posting, ‘I’d love to plan a meet-up for our group. Knowing that we’d have food, drink, and activity for X number of hours, would you be willing to pay $25-$30 to attend?’” Plank says. This approach should give you helpful feedback.
Divide and Conquer
Planning any event takes effort, so the key is to delegate. After you create a list of tasks, “post on the wall, and ask who can take care of what,” Plank says. “You’ll also get insight into other passions group members may have.”
Lighten the Mood
There may be a tinge of awkwardness initially. “That’s normal, even if you feel like you know the person well from your online interactions,” says Tai Mendenhall, an associate professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. A fun icebreaker can help loosen things up. Instead of doing traditional around-the-room introductions, encourage everyone to share one interesting quirk. “Most people end up tuning the boring questions out, which can hinder engagement,” he says. “But people will remember quirks!” And that way everyone will know something new about each other. Your canoeing group will get closer!