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We’re living in an ever more isolated society with one in four older Australians living alone.
If meeting new likeminded people in your community isn’t as easy as how it used to be, how about creating your very own social group where people with shared interest can meet you in real life?
Metaxia Tsibidis had been frustrated with her parents’ and her own unhealthy lifestyle for a long time.
Those feelings were intensified after the loss of her parents and her own battle against breast cancer.
It was then that she decided to set up the Melbourne Greeks meetup group to encourage a healthier lifestyle amongst fellow Greek-Australians while promoting her business.
“I really didn’t know who would join. What I am noticing though is a lot of people in the group are actually scared to attend the events. They are hesitant. In many cases, they’re just watching to see what the group does. However, there are some that are actually coming out and meeting together. It’s actually from that 30 something bracket right through to our eldest member who’s in his 60s.”
It took Metaxia a while to get up to speed with hosting and running the online group with the help of a colleague.
On and off for over three years as she fought cancer, the Melbourne Greeks Meetup group has grown to around 200 members.
“It’s a platform where people can come together. We used to take that for granted as children because our parents had a lot of social gatherings that they had taken the time to create through their associations and community networks but that seems to have eroded as time has progressed and I believe this platform will give an opportunity for people to come together and reignite our Greek heritage as well.”
There are numerous ways you can set up your own social network via online platforms according to digital and social media specialist Mel Kettle.
“Through the Meetup website. There’s setting up a group through a Facebook group. There’s setting up a LinkedIn group which tends to be more for professional groups and there’s creating your own events and running it through something like a ticket-selling site such as either Eventbrite or Sticky Ticket.”
Around 35 million worldwide users connect via the popular Meetup platform, bringing people with shared interests together who are outside of your existing social media networks.
But Kettle suggests firstly asking yourself questions like why do you want to start a group before making the commitment.
“Is there already a group established that you could join instead? Do you want it to have an educational purpose? Do you want it to be about networking? Do you want it to be social? And then, when you create your group, how are you going to bring people together? What kind of event will you run? Will it be going to see a movie and then having dinner afterwards? Will it be doing something physical like maybe going for a hike or a walk or bush walk? And then you need to think about who should join and why? Do you have the time to actually lead the group and be of responsible for everything that’s happening? How often do you want you group to meet?”
Meetup charges an administration fee starting from around $17 dollars a month depending on how many events or groups you host.
Even though not all online meetup groups charge a fee, Kettle recommends that you still need to factor in all the costs associated with running a group.
“Every event has a cost whether it’s providing tea or coffee for people or some catering and so you need to work out what are you going to do to cover those costs. Are you going to pay for them yourself? Are you going to charge a registration fee? Could you find a sponsor? So they are just a few of the things that you need to think about.”
Putting yourself out there in the digital world involves risks especially for older internet users.
Statistics from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found that the over 65 age group experience the highest level of online scams.
Dr Vidy Potdar is an information security expert at Curtin University.
While he warns that too many restrictions could limit the social reach of your group, he also encourages taking steps to protect yourself online.
“Keep the bare minimum information that is required to set up the groups. When you create an online account, I will just use a pseudonym just to make sure that my privacy is maintained. You could have invite only groups so you could say people can apply to be part of the group but you can be selective on who you accept or not so that is some kind of way to filter out who you will be socialising with.”
In Dr Potdar’s case, technology has allowed his visiting parents from India to meet likeminded people in a different setting.
“My mum is a good singer so we said that the event would be about singing or chanting Indian music and we got, I think, around 12 ore 13 people interested to come. Seven or eight people did come up and it was a good social experience for them in a different country.”
Most Melbourne Greek members are aged between thirty to mid-fifties - a prerequisite Metaxia Tsibidis set for joining the group.
Many share the same passion in keeping their Greek heritage and language alive through their gatherings.
As she surveys the members, the purpose of the group has also broadened from what she initially had in mind, and she’s excited about how the journey will unfold.
“It’s needed because there’s a lot of isolation amongst our community especially the younger generation who are sitting behind technology and don’t necessarily understand the concept of community and coming together and then there’s the other extreme where you’ve got the older people who are looking for a way of maintaining their heritage and community in a space where they’re coming together to meet again but these people from both age groups are obviously accessing technology to do so.”