Building communities around a movement
In honour of International Women’s Day this month, I’m profiling impressive women who are doing work worth shouting about in the sharing economy & community space.
Let me introduce Ria Lupton, a woman who deserves to be crowned as community building royalty in her resident city of Toronto. Her achievements in the space are many; Founder of Community Builders, Founding Director of Women Who Code Toronto chapter, Director for SheWorx Toronto chapter, Community and Content Lead for Startup Open House and more, all on top of her day job commitments.
As our conversation unfolded, I began to realise the power of Ria’s innate ability to build communities around herself, which she says began as a child and continues to this day. To give you an example, she tells me that she opened a Twitter account when she moved to Toronto and every time she met someone new (be it in person or virtually), she added them to her follower list. She now follows over 4,700 people.
But building a super-sized network wasn’t even her focus. She entered the community world thanks to her academic background (a mix of computer engineering, information systems and UX Design) and a desire to explore her passion for marketing. Looking around, she saw engineering teams building products without really having a community of users identified, and failing when they hit go-to-market. It sparked a realisation;
“you can have the greatest product in the world, but if you don’t have a community, you have nothing.”
So, in an effort to move away from working on products in isolation, she embarked on a career in the world of marketing and found herself supporting the Women who Code movement, back in its early days.
So how did she build these communities to the size they are, and get so many people to join the movement?
The first thing that strikes me as a reason for success is Ria herself; she’s business-like but also open, curious and interested. In essence, she embodies the qualities needed to build a community and attract people to a cause.
During our conversation, she reflected on her experience as a community builder and had a lot of practical wisdom to share:
1. Give without expecting to get
As a community builder or founder, you need to be prepared to sacrifice with no return in the beginning — you can tell a mile off if someone is creating something for their own self-interest.
This first point embodies patience. No matter if the community we are building is for work, our social life, career support, causes, or hobbies; if you set out to quickly achieve your own deadlines, you will not succeed in getting others to follow.
2. Talk about your achievements as a group
Measure your impact! Who is your community serving? What value are you delivering? Talking about this is what keeps people around. Measurement is often overlooked as a business device, but it is crucial even in extra-curricular communities (maybe even more so). If people don’t feel like they’re part of something that is progressing, growing, or achieving its goals, motivation will wane.
3. Identify your purpose
The level of impact your community can have will be directly related to the clarity of your purpose. If you’re not clear and differentiated, people will not follow.
I appreciated Ria’s candidness about impact, telling me stories of communities she’s contributed to which haven’t managed to sustain themselves, or which she’s stepped away from. It illustrated her point perfectly; if people start to forget why they were turning up and contributing in the first place, they will quickly lose interest.
4. True communities are more than their umbrella organisation
Building a true community and building a brand are very different activities. A community should be about fostering relationships and when tested, they should endure, even if the umbrella organisation does not.
This point really resonated with me as I have worked in the commercial community space in the past. There are many businesses out there who try to connect more deeply with their customers but they never quite get beyond going through the motions. A customer’s desire to help stems from feeling part of the community, be it online or offline, and that will only emerge when you include your customers from the ground up. In other words, include them in your mission, in creating your brand and in determining what it stands for.
4. It takes a community to build a community
Don’t underestimate the importance of mobilising others to help you. Ria shared a useful tip; contact five friends and ask them to each bring someone along. When people are being relied upon, they feel more invested in the cause. Use this to build your community and open its reach wider.
It was such a pleasure to speak with Ria and hear about her community experience. Her genuine desire to build communities, to serve others and wider causes is really admirable, and I can’t wait to see where it takes her next.
Thank you to Ria for being the first interviewee in my mini-series celebrating International Women’s Day!
This blog is a personal project — while working at giffgaff inspired me to find more examples of companies that make mutual commerce work, my views are entirely my own, not of my employer.