How To Build A Sense Of Belonging on Zoom

Author: Kate Nightingale, Community Manager at Finimize

It’s no secret that the pandemic forced a relatively new form of socialising — video calls. With Zoom being the leading platform for virtual meet-ups, we’ve seen communities thrive by being able to access new members from all over the world.

At Finimize, we have our own Ambassador Programme, which is a community of 52 volunteers from around the world who host virtual conversations on hot topics for retail investors with industry experts and thought leaders. These conversations are available to the wider Finimize community for free via Zoom. Members can listen in or get involved by asking questions or simply introducing themselves. These valuable sessions wouldn’t be here without our community of committed Ambassadors, who meet as a group once a month on Zoom and regularly engage with each other on WhatsApp to share experiences, tips and encouragement. Our Ambassador community is totally virtual and has been greatly successful — they have hosted over 1,000 events and secured almost 200,000 RSVPs, with the shared goal of increasing the net worth of our generation.

With that said — can a virtual environment create the same sense of community belonging as groups who meet in person?

What Is Belonging?

A feeling of belonging is an emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. It’s known as an ‘inherent’ desire to belong and be an important part of something greater.

Is It More Difficult To Build Belonging Over Zoom?

There are some great benefits of building a community on Zoom. For instance, you can access a wider network of people from all over the world. Not only that, but there’s arguably less friction for new joining members — allowing you to tap into those who may not feel as brave to go to an in person meet-up for the first time.

So — with people having more access to join online communities than ever, does the virtual setting impact the ability to build belonging?

If belonging is defined as feeling like an accepted member of a group, you may face the following challenges online:

  • Zoom allows you to turn your camera and microphone off at any time. If most members chose to do this during a meet-up, it will make it difficult to connect with others and feel accepted by the room.
  • A total contrast to that is far too many members to speak at the same time, making it difficult to hear each person, and again, leaving members feeling ‘unheard’ or ‘unaccepted’.

Don’t let this discourage you — building belonging over Zoom is possible, but it requires structure, planning and consistency.

When I was managing a global virtual community of students, I started niche communities of shared interests, one of the most successful being the ‘Girls Room’. This 1 hour meet-up would run twice per week with women within the student community. New members were always welcome, and 70% of members were retained beyond 6 months.

Belonging was one of the keys to that retention. I would make it a priority to always start the Zoom call by checking in with everyone. This meant that each member individually had their moment to turn on their microphone and camera, and be heard by the group by saying how they were feeling today.

From the first few community meet ups, I calculated belonging each week via a 0–10 scale survey (0 being I don’t feel like I belong in this community and 10 being I do feel like I belong in this community). In the first month of meet ups, the belonging was understandably around the middle mark of 5, but by the second and third month, the average was around 8.9. Building a highly retentive community is therefore absolutely possible over Zoom, but does require consistent and intentional efforts by the group moderator.

8 Steps To Build Belonging Over Zoom

1. Have a group leader or moderator

Having someone moderate the conversation and agenda is key. Ideally, that moderator would have made a connection with each community member individually before the event, so there’s already a familiar face on the call.

2. Make everyone feel seen and heard within the first 5 minutes

A member will quickly understand the culture of the group within 5 minutes of a Zoom call. If you can get each member to individually unmute and speak within the first 5 minutes, they’re more likely to engage for the rest of the call. So, whether that’s doing introductions or a quick icebreaker, your goal should be getting everyone to unmute at least once within the first part of the call.

3. Create a shared naming format

Ask all members to rename themselves on Zoom to their Name and Location. This way, you avoid usernames that are difficult to read (like a compilation of letters and numbers), and it also opens the floor to questions about the countries everyone is calling in from.

4. Send an agenda beforehand

As moderators, it’s important to set an agenda for the call, so members know what to expect. It also makes individuals feel more relaxed knowing what’s expected of them in the call and what they’ll be doing for the next hour or so.

5. Get members of the group to interact with each other in a meaningful way

An example of a virtual community is a monthly book club. Here, a group of people are gathering around a shared activity (reading the same book), coming together to share their thoughts. The way to build belonging here is to make the latter part personal, so that their thoughts are individually heard by each member of the group.

By giving each community member the chance to speak, you can make them feel heard and accepted by the group simply by encouraging the other members to react with emojis, write in the chat box, and respond with their thoughts once that person has finished speaking. As a moderator, you can structure it by asking each person these questions:

  • Is there a character you related to in the book, and why?
  • Is there a part of the book that’s similar to something you’ve experienced in your life?
  • Would you change the ending, and why?
  • Which character did you empathise most with?

This way, every single person in your Zoom room feels heard and accepted by other members listening and encouraging their open and personal responses.

6. Have a call to action

When are you next meeting? Ask the members to bring something for next time — in a virtual setting, it could be to find the best Zoom background that relates to this book.

7. Set up a way to keep in touch

Create a WhatsApp group or communication channel for everyone to stay in touch between now and the next meet-up, and keep it active!

8. Track your progress

Some key metrics for tracking belonging over Zoom are:

  • Repeat attendance;
  • The lifetime value of a member;
  • A 0–10 belonging poll you can launch at the end of the event with questions like: 'To what extent do you feel like you belong in this community?'; 'How well-connected do you feel to the community?' or 'Do you feel accepted by this community?'.

What’s The Bigger Impact Of Building Belonging Over Zoom?

By focusing on building belonging within your community, your members will become more loyal, engaged and emotionally bonded to the shared needs and values of the group. Members will likely be more willing to help and invest their time and energy in strengthening and nurturing the community. If your community members are also customers, you may benefit from improved customer loyalty and retention, brand awareness and overall growth.