One thing I love about the SCA is that it is full of communities of all sorts. I think very few of us only fit in in one spot, but rather, have a wealth of “micro communities” within the Society that have different roles in our lives at different times.
I fall into the community of my household, Shire and Kingdom. I have tangential households that I do not belong to but I know that will always welcome me. Likewise there are other regional groups in which lived in the past (or have never lived, lol), where I know many people and feel “at home” with them. I belong to an incredible group that is headed by my Laurel that includes her apprentices, as well as those of us who have been elevated and our apprentices and students.
There are also groups that have focuses on certain areas or topics. Things like guilds fall under this, where there might be experienced folks helping newer people better their skills with a certain craft (such as a spinning guild or cooking guild). We also have people who flock to the fighting field or the archery range and participate heavily in those communities at events. I will migrate to costumers, weavers, spinners at events, as well as those who are dressed in early period clothing, because we all share a common interest.
e-SCA, with all of its imperfections, is also full of communities. I will be honest that I largely find the bigger, more general Facebook groups, to have more than their share lurking trolls and malcontents that are just there to stir up drama. Over time, I find less and less value in these avenues (though can still be amazing resources for newcomers looking for advice on how to get started with various things). Where online communities really shine for the SCA is the niche groups.
I belong to a number of Facebook groups for Viking clothing and material culture, bead making, weaving, and other interests that closely match mine. Many of these are not SCA specific, but I think that is a good thing as we can sometimes get too easily caught up in our own ideas that get circulated around the SCA and it is good to see what discoveries other reenactors have made. I even belong to some groups, like one for Elizabethan Clothing, even though I will never make an Elizabethan dress, just because the group is well managed and I enjoy seeing the content that comes through my feed on Facebook.
I have also seen groups that get some occasional activity, but there are days between posts (or weeks), and in a couple of cases the group admin said they wanted to shut the group down because of lack of activity. People often do not realize you have to “grow” a group, and feeding and nurturing it is part of that. Rarely will you be able to start up a group and have it take off and flourish without at least some work.
If you are considering starting a new group, consider first whether there is a need for it. I started my Viking groups on Facebook because one of the popular groups had a few nasty people in it that the mods rarely did anything about, and the other rocked back and forth between two wishy-washy and too strict for my tastes. The subject matter is wildly popular right now, so there was definitely “room” online for another in this field.
It is also a good idea to frame out the purpose of the group from the start. There are groups for Viking clothing and groups for weapons and other gear. Many of those interested in textiles and sewing techniques do not want to drown in miles of posts about sword types, so the division makes perfect sense. Do understand that the narrower the subject matter, the fewer people will likely find it suits their interest (and that is really ok, quality engagement with like-minded individuals is far better than trying to collect overall audience numbers).
Consider also if you know enough about the topic yourself to provide assistance for others if they need it (or do you at least know where or to whom to point them). A bunch of unanswered questions day-after-day will cause the group to falter. You do not need to be an expert, and it is totally ok to start a group with the intent of learning about a topic _with_ others, just make that clear that that is the purpose of the outlet.
Hopefully you know several others who either share your field of interest that you can invite to the group from the start. If you do, strike up a conversation and invite them to share their work, research or expertise there. If you do not personally know anyone, seek out those that you see in related forums and invite them to participate. Not everyone will have time to join every group invite they get, but it never hurts to have that conversation. You do not want the group to become an echo chamber of your own ideas. We can best learn by sharing our ideas, getting feedback, and listening to the views of others.
I would also recommend that in addition to being clear about defining your group parameters (historic time and place, culture, craft, etc.), that you develop a set of clear rules for group behavior. One of my groups is very clear that if you post a photo of your work that it is open for commentary (the purpose of the group is not to blindly say “oooo pretty shiny thing”, there are other outlets for a stream of constant feedback of that sort). It is also clear in the rules that if you give feedback it must be kind and constructive. If someone questions your comments, you better be prepared to back it up with a source (and “I read it somewhere” is not a source).
Finally, be prepared to feed content into your own group. This is where the earlier examples lapsed before they complained about their groups failing. This also helps to illustrate the type of content you hope others will share there.
Group members might not have time (or confidence in some cases) to contribute original posts, but love to read posts or look at pictures. This is especially useful in niche groups for things that are less commonly studied. This is the type of thing that can inspire someone with a mild interest in your field to dive in completely. There is a wealth of things that can be shared such as artifact photos, amazing recreations, links to academic articles, lectures or publications, the list is really as endless as the internet is.
And that last actually leads me to another thought I want to share. For a couple of years I saw one person complaining over and over online that there wasn’t a Laurel in their Kingdom to talk to about their specific area of interest. There actually were a few, and there were also loads of other non-Laurels with excellent work or research in that specific field as well (plus many more with over-lapping fields), but this person was so hung up on their desire to have a direct-dial connection to a Peer that they were missing opportunity to try to BUILD a community of like-minded individuals. As artisans and researchers, networking is very, very important. Our work does not exist in a vacuum and you never know who can help you fill in pieces of your interest’s specific puzzles. Building framework for a specific community is a great way to do this. It can generate more interest in your area, which creates (eventually) more subject matter experts, and the result is that we can all exponentially grow from those connections. It also better rounds out the knowledge base in an area. The more people involved also mean that there will eventually be more classes on topics and hopefully judges better equipped to handle entries from this field in competitions. (Laurel hint here – being able to connect people with like interests is actually part of the job as I see it. As you grow as an artisan or researcher, you meet people in your field, but also those in tangential fields. You learn who does what in that way and then when someone comes to you with questions you cannot answer, you know exactly where to send them.)
My final comment here is one of thanks to those who, over the years, have helped groups online succeed, both the groups I run and those in which I love to participate. Those who answer question, provide content, who call in the admins when trolls go wild, every one of those people contribute to the overall success of an online community and I absolutely appreciate their work and inspiration.