Why You Need To Embrace The Power Of Online Communities

Why You Need To Embrace The Power Of Online Communities

In this guest column, the Cancer Council’s online community manager Kate Fenerty (pictured below) gives her advice on how to build a meaningful online community…

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that around 135,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Australia in 2017, with that number projected to escalate to 150,000 by 2020. We know that people affected by cancer have unmet support and information needs and may be unable to access services and/or resources due to cost, geography, illness or other barriers.


It is estimated 82,000 newly diagnosed people will search online for information each year, with approximately 42,000 visiting an online support group forum at least once. An online community, which can provide organised, helpful information, peer support and compassionate context, is a powerfully valuable solution for those individuals.

Cancer Council NSW launched a community in 2009 to meet this challenge and have evolved and improved it over the years since. It’s open to anyone that is or has been affected by cancer, regardless of the cancer type and welcomes people with cancer, cancer survivors as well as family members, friends and carers.

Here are the ingredients that make it a success:


People don’t need to obey opening hours. The community is available 24/7 for support and information platform with forums and discussions, groups and blogs for all cancer types. It is mobile first and available on all devices. The community is free to join. Anyone can view the content (you must be a member to contribute), in case there are some who are less comfortable joining, but still get value from the discussions and information.

High value content

We’re not talking marketing fluff. The community is filled with evidence-based information and resources created and curated by professionals. Content created and shared by members is responsibly organised. And the community complements other services offered by Cancer Council NSW, with pointers to additional sources and resources throughout.


Moderation is always a necessity for a community to succeed, but in a community where people may be at risk, in crisis, or experiencing traumatic situations, it’s non-negotiable. Our site is managed and moderated by qualified health professionals to add a further layer of safety and support. There are easily accessible calls to action if someone feels the need to contact a health professional or a support service.


Privacy and anonymity in communities is critical for people to feel comfortable sharing their stories and engaging in the space. Members can choose a nickname upon registration, rather than using their real names. Personally identifiable information such as email addresses should never be displayed, and closed groups can be provided for especially sensitive issues. Cancer Council’s Online Community consists of over 5,000 members and was recently the recipient of the inaugural Lithium Not for Profit Award for 2017. The Online Community can be accessed at www.cancercouncil.com.au/OC

Kate Fenerty is Cancer Council’s Online Community Manager and will be presenting at Swarm 2017 Australia’s Premier Community Management Conference. Swarm will be convening at the University of Sydney on August 30-31.

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