Community seems to be everywhere right now. In every Twitter chat, Instagram caption and online conversation, the importance of online community is on everybody’s lips. At this year’s Blogtacular, community was a running theme throughout the talks, all the way to the ‘My Tribes Loves My Vibe’ goodie bags.
I, for one, believe wholeheartedy in the importance of online community for those of us pursuing a creative life. Whether you’re a designer-maker, creative entrepreneur, digital influencer or just a human, it is an essential part of the way we live and do business now.
The nature of work has changed more in the last two years than it has in the last fifty. No longer do we have to work in traditional roles, nor, crucially, in one place. Remote and home working in digital roles are increasingly becoming the norm, and women in particular are going further, taking control of their earning power and building businesses and careers on their terms, based around the internet.
As part of this expansion of traditional work, it becomes more vital to surround ourselves with people that get what we do. Our traditional support structures, like family and friends, may not altogether support our choices and decisions, or they might not understand fully what you do, its value and how the money comes out the other end. Either way, digital entrepreneurship can be a lonely place
Surrounding yourself with people who get it, who you don’t have to explain your business to for half an hour, who respect and believe in you as a peer, is a lifeline. More than before, they are the ones who can tell you everything will be ok, and you’ll believe it because you know they understand you.
Our online communities are also our new office mates, the ones we bounce ideas off and the ones who club together to achieve something big. My Instagram Pod mates are a shining light in my day, sharing ideas on creativity and composition, suggesting tweaks to images and giving suggestions to boost each other’s performance. We also moan about our unfair ‘boss’ (the algorithm), having a little whine at the imaginary water cooler and swapping ideas on how we can impress him.
Our community also becomes a ready source of collaborations, whether these result in products between makers or simply finding information and opinions for blog posts. Your community is your free focus group, ready to provide insights and tips to help you grow in a meaningful way. And, just like tradiotnal professional networking, your online community can help get you sales and clients that grow your business in the way you want.
So how do you leverage this community?
Create support networks
Instagram Comment Pods get a bad name, and if done badly they can be pretty gross and have a negative effect. There are services that match people together, but in my experience this does not a happy pod make. I’m a member of two ‘organic’ pods, all full of creative ladies whose days I enjoy to see. I started a pod of the people whose posts I loved to see and who were my Instagram friends.
My advice for setting up a pod is to start with the intention of chatting. With my Happy Podders (shout out), we all were feeling a little adrift and uninspired, so the creative communication was a key motivator in founding the group. When inviting your online besties, make clear that it’s not just a comment pod, it’s a place to share and chat.
If Insta isn’t your thing, you can join community support networks elsewhere. Facebook groups are having a bit of a surge in the creative world as they are annoyingly convenient, and there are plenty of excellent existing ones you can join. Similarly, Twitter chats can be a great way to connect with your tribe, particularly as many in our industry (#blogtacular, #theinstachat, #ethicalhour) are aimed at solving creative dilemmas and talking shop.
Engage and interact
You can be in all the support networks you like, but they won’t work unless you talk to people! If the idea of that gives you the heebie jeebies, then you might find this post on Instagramming for Introverts a good starting point to get your confidence up. The good news is that the online creative community are without exception a supportive and positive bunch
You won’t reap the benefits of community, nor build up your community, without being an active member. If you’re not sure of what to say, ask questions – ask something that’s been bothering you, ask what others a struggling with, ask what kind of flower they used in a photo. Questions are an excellent way to get a conversation started, and also to keep one going – just like real life awkward meetings. Answer the questions that you’re knowledgeable about too, and rapport will quickly grow.
In order for a community to thrive, it has to have valuable members. An online community where everyone just self-promotes instead of genuinely engaging will be a very short-lived one. There are two clichés to keep in mind here: give as much as you get, and do unto to others as you would have done to you. If someone comments on or interacts with your content, comment back on theirs in a genuine way. Join in conversations (people don’t mind) and answer other people’s questions.
Being a valuable community member will lead to more genuine and meaningful relationships, and therefore a more genuine and meaningful business.
If you’d like to learn all about building a community, you can get my free ebook, How to Build Your Online Community here. It has everything I know from the professional marketing world and the blogosphere, plus it’s super pretty. You just need to sign up to my Monthly Mail to get it free.