During this period of uncertainty, we need to keep in contact with each other, however that is possible.  If we want to keep an extended circle of people in touch, making sure that there is at least one link that exists where we can reach out to each other is vital. Remember that a telephone call, a text message or an email can be as useful and important as any of the more complex means of staying in touch with each other.  

There are lots of free ways to set up a group chat or shared message system, but none of them will be useful unless we can also maintain our basic connections with each other.

We could think of means of keeping in touch as being like a pyramid.  Some of us will be involved in online networks via social media such as twitter or facebook or through telephone or email contact.  These are the basic ways of keeping in touch. Checking in with each other this way is important and also vital if we want to be able to share other ways of being together online.

Choosing the right digital ways of keeping in touch

The most basic forms of communication are the building blocks of making sure that people know how to join other more involved forms of keeping in touch.  Sending someone an email or a text message, or even leaving them a voice message, with details of how to join larger chats, video conferences, whatsapp groups or more specialist ways of keeping in touch will help to create opportunities to join with others.

The next level of keeping in touch is through chats, whatsapp groups, messenger, forums, chat rooms or other means.  These are ways that we might in small groups discuss with each other in real-time or near to real-time, mainly sharing typed words or messages.  Sometimes this might be one-to-one, other times it might include more people. This can be vital for feeling together with others, even if it doesn't involve seeing or hearing them.  Many Disabled people and people living with mental ill-health, trauma and distress already make use of digital communications in this way.

The final level of keeping in touch digitally might involve video conferencing or other real time interactions.  These are ways that a number of people can be with each other online all at once. Some people will be very experienced in this, and already have their devices set up to do, but others may need help and support to take part.

Different people will have different preferences, different levels of experience and different digital devices.  It might take a time of trying different ones to find one that works for everyone with whom we want to stay in touch.

We'll be updating these pages as time goes on, so please get in touch to share your stories and experiences of using technology to keep in touch with each other.

Small groups

Whatsapp groups, skype groups and messenger groups are all good options for smaller groups.

Here's a guide to setting up a Whatsapp group: https://faq.whatsapp.com/en/android/26000123/?category=5245251 

This is a guide to setting up a skype group using the skype desktop app: https://support.skype.com/en/faq/FA34799/how-do-i-create-a-group-chat-in-skype-on-desktop 

And here's a guide to setting up a group chat using the Skype mobile and tablet app: https://support.skype.com/en/faq/fa34726/how-do-i-create-a-group-chat-in-skype-on-mobile-or-tablet 

Here's how to set up a group conversation on messenger (Facebook messenger): https://www.facebook.com/help/messenger-app/1428015930791367 

The most significant drawback of group chats is that everyone is notified about every message.  In a large group chat like a big whatsapp group this can be overwhelming and difficult to keep up with.  

Applications like slack, which can be accessed online, through apps on a computer or through tablets and smartphones, make it possible to set up channels for different topics so that people can choose which topics or discussions to subscribe to.  Slack is most often used as a business collaboration tool, so it's more complicated to get used to and may not be appropriate for everyone.  

This is a beginners guide to slack https://slack.com/intl/en-gb/help/articles/218080037-Getting-started-for-new-members 

Video calls and more

This guidance from MIT Media Lab is a good place to start for considering how to start using online meetings instead of face-to-face ones.  Obviously, in most situations it won't be possible to guarantee that everyone has a great internet connection and a microphone headset, but more people than ever before probably will.  

Zoom has advantages in video chat because you can set up a room with its own weblink.  You could use this to hold meetings at particular times. This is a beginners guide to zoom: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/categories/200101697-Getting-Started 

Remember that a quick search with a search engine for any questions you have will throw up a range of video and written tutorials.  

Coming together in friendship and support

When you do set up a group chat, facebook group or any other form of collective channel where members will be sent all messages in a conversation, be clear about for whom and for what the group is intended.  

Try as much as possible to remember that our group conversations may be the things that people are relying upon for comfort, companionship and human interaction.  Don't, if you can help it, use them to share every piece of breaking news as it happens. Most people will be following these news alerts anyway. Many of us will have had the experience of having to unsubscribe from a group chat or thread for our own wellbeing.  We can't support each other if we are just clogging up our channels for keeping in touch with each other with a barrage of shared news stories and social media posts. This is particularly important to bear in mind if we are looking to make sure that these channels of communication are available for practical and emotional support.

Always be aware that any communications you share on a group chat might be experienced by someone who is also a member of the group as a series of notifications popping up on their phone, tablet or computer.  Not everything is appropriate for sharing in a chat. Be aware of others. While some of us may really want to keep up to date with the latest breaking news, others may be looking for a respite from it. Always think about whether it is vital to share something with a group chat and whether sharing it might cause distress or worry.  A group chat set up for mutual support can't work if those most in need of support feel they have to leave for their own wellbeing.

These are unsettling times.  Being there for each other is important.  Using technology to do so may seem different and new, but the basic rules of community haven't changed.  Concern, kindness and responsibility to others are the building blocks of any community.  

Read more: Coronavirus Tech handbook

NSUN will be adding new guidance and support for being online together for mutual support and companionship over the coming weeks.  Please share your tips, experiences and suggestions with us.

Read more here:

NSUN: Covid-19 Update

Covid-19: General Information 

Covid-19: Mental Health Information

Covid-19: Advice for User-Led Organisations and Groups 

Covid-19: Mutual Aid 

Covid-19 and Human Rights

Covid-19: The Coronavirus Bill

Covid-19: NSUN blog and video series #NSUNCovidLife