According to the 2009 Women and Social Media Study from BlogHer.com, there are 79 million United States women online. More than 50 percent of these women engage in social media activity on a weekly basis and one of the most popular communication channels is the online message board, or community forum. It is estimated that 16.8 million women participate in an online forum at least once a week.
Kristina Doss launched her blog, MyTravelingTroop.com, last year as a way to help military families who move, live and travel around the world. She originally joined BlogHer.com as a way to learn about online publishing tools but found much more than tips on Wordpress and keywords.
"I recently attended the BlogHer '11 conference in San Diego," said Doss. "My initial goal was to attend so that I could learn more about blogging, but I left with much more: new friends. I met a group of fellow military spouses who blog, who I can now turn to if I need advice, comfort or support as I grapple with life as a military wife."
"Don't join an online group if your only purpose is to increase your readership or bottom line," she said. "Join to develop friendships and a community of support. If you do that, everything else will fall into place."
Deborah Shane – author, media host, speaker, business and career brand specialist – agrees with Doss' point that it should be about community first.
"We live, work and play in two worlds now: online and in-person," she said. "Meeting people online first can grow the relationship and accelerate trust. But there's also nothing like in-person interaction – it will always be where the magic happens!"
By "magic," Shane means developing not only friendship, but also business collaboration. A regular writer for BlogHer.com's careers section, she's developed working relationships online with several BlogHer members, including its founders before taking the partnerships face-to-face at conferences or other events.
Shane sees this as an "essential way to explore business synergy and collaborate on brainstorming efforts."
So online forums and communities are not only a great way to meet people with similar interests, but also network with potential business connections. The Internet is so vast that there's bound to be an online community for your particular interest. But where to start?
Soon-to-be-brides: Getting hitched? No need to stray too far away! SheKnows.com's Wedding Community is a go-to place for future blushing brides to find recommendations on everything from wedding etiquette to themed ceremonies and -- the most important -- wedding dresses.
Travelers: BlogHer.com's online forum for travelers has four pages of conversation on travel topics like vacationing with teens, traveling abroad and recommendations for your next trip. Dates for the 2012 BlogHer Conference have already been announced (Aug. 4-5), so why not start building those connections now?
Military Wives: CinCHouse.com is the largest online community for military wives and women in uniform. Members discuss military living, relocation, deployment, career goals and everything else that comes with the lifestyle. We dig their tagline: "Where military wives and women in uniform are Commanders in Chief!"