A Good Place to Hang: Choosing the Right Online Hangout as a Dental Student or Professional
After a long day at work or in class it’s nice to just kick back and browse the web. I’m usually just hopping around between different sections of reddit and my own Facebook account, but as a dental student or professional there are a ton of places where like-minded individuals are getting together. Where are your people online? More importantly, how do you decide where to go? Here are five essential things to look for when deciding on the best online hangout.
1.) Check out the Front Page
The first page of any online page, group or forum can tell you a lot about its community. If posts are ordered chronologically (in this case, most recent post at the top of the page), scroll to the bottom and see how much time has passed from the last post on the front page to the most recent post. This is a great way to gauge the level of activity from the community. If there’s a two-day difference between the first and last post on the front page, then that’s a very active community. If there’s a five-week difference, you might want to start looking elsewhere.
2.) Don’t Just Count on the Popularity of the Parent Website
Pretty much everyone you know is on Facebook, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to have the online group for you. A lot of groups and pages on Facebook that cater to Dental Students and Professionals are pretty dead, with the more popular pages and groups only totaling a couple thousand “Likes” or members. Even pages with 10-15 thousand members and weekly or bi-weekly posts have a shockingly low number of conversations or activity in general from members.
The same thing goes for the dental specific areas of reddit. The general “dentistry” section has around 5,000 members and the more specific sections have anywhere from 600 to as low as 50 members, with very low activity in spite of the popularity of reddit as a whole.
3.) What are the “Stickied” Posts?
If you’re on a forum it’s common for the moderators to take some threads and give them permanent status at the top of a page, referred to as “sticky threads,” that even appear before the most recent posts. You’ll usually see things like “Rules and Frequently Asked Questions” stickied at the top of a main page, but the best online communities have sticky threads that are more useful to the members. For the Pre-Dental student are there stickied threads with titles like, “Evolving Guide to Dental School Admission”? In general are there stickied posts that say more than, “This is how you use our website.”
4.) Are You Enjoying this Conversation?
The content, quality and tone of the conversation happening across the particular website or message board are far and away the most important factors when choosing an online hangout. Look over a few pages of recent posts; how many topics are on the personal side? Are there topics like, “How long did it take for you to purchase your first practice?” or “Marriage during dental school…” (I didn’t make that last one up, there’s a real thread about that out there)? The number of personal topics is a great indicator of how tight and comfortable the community is with one another.
As far as tone goes, are the responses friendly and conversational or distant and authoritative? Ideally, you’re looking for a community that’s able to respond to a given post in a casual way rather than sounding like a private school headmaster disciplining a student.
5.) Agree to Disagree
As with any community online or offline, there’s going to be a fair share of disagreement among members. That’s not an issue with any potential online hangout; what can be an issue is how the community handles their disagreements.
Are people identifying areas of another member’s post where they disagree, and laying out their own argument in a non-caustic manner? Are people just lashing out at the original poster without offering any kind of constructive criticism or presenting a counter-argument of their own? It’s pretty easy to spot unhealthy disagreement online, but it’s important to note that passionate disagreement isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, someone getting a little heated is a good indicator that they’re very invested in the subject matter. It’s the name-calling and anger without a purpose that are definite red flags.
There are my go-to tips for choosing the right online hangout. Did I miss anything you’d recommend? Do you already have a great spot online you’d like to share? Let us know!