Why Online Groups Are Parents’ Best Friend to Prepare for the School Year


If you’re a parent, chances are, like me, you’re frantically trying to get a head start on the new school year. To cope with the stress of COVID-19 closures, restrictions, empty shelves in stores, working from home and minimal communications by schools during the holidays, we turned to our virtual community of friends to get help.

Let’s face it, most of us probably don’t have the time or just can’t come over for a cup of tea with one of the other parents to just chat. And there are pressing things to discuss, like the list of school books that went missing over the holidays, where to find the best deal on headphones with a microphone suitable for an eight-year-old child, what brand of white sneakers will be last more than a week in the dusty school yard, or where to get the two boxes of tissues that the teacher asks the children to provide when there are none in the shops!

This is where our online friends can help.

Our digital “tribes”

People have formed tribes since the dawn of time. We are no different in this digital age. Members of a tribe usually share certain similarities, which are like the glue that holds the group together. Our online groups, or digital “tribes,” connect us based on a common interest, topic, location, or school. They include:

The pandemic has fueled the rise of online tribes as people have been restricted in their movements, locked in their homes and limited in their access to family and friends. They now rely on their online connections for information, advice, help and friendship.

My team’s recent research on online communities suggests that they are teeming with “prosumers.” Proactive consumers (“prosumers”) create and share content online, making them influential members of social networks. Our prosumer friends are knowledgeable, responsive, and supportive when the school-work-life jugglery overwhelms us.

They are people like us. The digital tribe is much larger than our real physical community. We don’t need to know each member personally to be able to connect with them digitally.

And because our lives are so digitally integrated, we no longer know the difference between our real and virtual friends. Linda Thomas, who has two children of primary school age, says:

“As a full-time working mum, I’m often unable to stay in touch with my friends in person, which can be quite isolating, especially now during COVID. Facebook and WhatsApp groups have been so important to me for maintain contact and community support by networking with parents like me.

Linda Thomas says networking online with other parents has been very important to her as a mother of two children in elementary school.
Linda Thomas, Author provided

Online marketplaces help with the budget

With the rise of online groups comes a rise in online consumer marketplaces. Facebook groups, such as Sustainable School Shop and Perth Buy and Sell, can help parents manage the back-to-school budget.

Items that are no longer needed or unused, such as uniforms, books, electronics, and stationery, are often donated, traded, or sold at a fraction of the original cost. An example is a local community group Facebook post by a mother giving away a spare laptop to someone who needs it for school.

In our research, my colleagues and I have found that not all social media user interaction has been negative during the pandemic – there has been a lot of positivity. The support, information and advice that social media users provide to each other in these online groups has been invaluable in navigating purchases in stores affected by supply disruptions.

Such positivity often reflects online brand advocacy (OBA), with online group members recommending the brands they have tried to others. This type of advocacy is authentic because it is freely given and based on the online group members’ actual experience with the brand. It’s also influential because it’s more trusted than brand-generated content, like when a parent suggested trying Officeworks to find that headset for our eight-year-old.

Interestingly, targeted advertising is also prevalent online. When you interact with content on a school-related topic, whether it’s kids’ shoes, school etiquette, tutoring, or kids’ sports, the platform’s algorithm will show you ads that reflect your commitment. Such advertising is not necessarily a nuisance as it can help us decide what to buy.

As parents, we are together in this mission “to prepare our child for school”. Online groups provide support, information and friendships beyond what we have access to in real life during these difficult times.

So, if you haven’t already, join a digital tribe! This might make going back to school a little easier.


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