Small actions can have significant outcomes.
In December 2020, I wrote a LinkedIn post (before I wrote on LinkedIn often) to share my story of my pivot into tech, along with sharing developments happening in the industry and asking if others wanted help. Looking back, I don’t remember the catalyst that prompted me to write it; maybe it was a dream, a spur of the moment energy, or something spiritual. Whatever my inspiration was, I wrote and shared the piece, and what happened next, I had not expected nor had I ever experienced before; the post went viral.
People were liking, commenting, and messaging. In response to that post, over 100 people reached out to me and over 60,000 unique views saw it.
Shortly after, I had 18 back-to-back meetings connecting with individuals who were trying to pivot their careers and a queue of another 80 odd people waiting. This was a problem. I asked myself, How can I help all of these people, being only one person with a finite number of hours in the day?'' The answer? You guessed it: Community.
Community was the answer because I could recruit others to help, and the people I was meeting could help each other. Now, a year and a half later, Careers in Technology and Innovation has grown to over 600 people, with over 90 people successfully pivoting into tech. Thinking back to where and how it started, I am still honestly in shock and awe of how this community has evolved.
In celebration of this, I am sharing my 5 lessons from leading the Careers in Technology and Innovation community over the last one and a half years.
1. Don’t let content get in the way of connection
This one seems like a no brainer, yet I see very few communities get this right. When we first started with Careers in Technology, we had a one hour meeting. Essentially, we would pick a topical issue and one of our community members would present. Our attendance and momentum were strong, but something was missing. People would tune in for an hour and leave. We quickly learned two things:
- During content, you need breakouts. This both engages the community and gets them to connect. At our best events, the community spends 50% of “content” time in breakouts.
- You also need an opportunity for networking, best suited to the end of the event. This creates a space for the community to truly come together.
So what does that mean? In a two hour meeting, an hour and a half will be spent in breakouts (75%).
2. Focus on those that show up
A lot of community folks I talk to ask questions like “How do I re-engage members that have fallen off?” I was asked this question a few times and I even tried different tactics to re-engage members. Through these trials, I learned that there was higher value in doubling down on members that do show up instead. Continuing to support them, encourage them, and be there for them. To expect members to show up every week is just an unreal expectation. If you have a member or two that does, cherish them. That is something really special. They are the heart of your community. Make sure they are happy, get to know them well, befriend them.
By focusing on those that show up, you stay positive and continue to make an impact. Then by sharing your wins and experiences with the community online, people will slowly get nudged back.When you are launching your original member leadership, 90%+ turn over in 6-12 months. New community groups are exciting at the beginning, but once the novelty wears off, many will leave. But through new membership, your evergreen leaders will become clear.
3. Provide Opportunities To Contribute
Too many community managers try to do everything. And yes, the community manager is the fail safe and leader, but inviting others to contribute in meaningful ways is important. And needs to be facilitated.
What are examples of this that we did at Careers In Tech?
- Doing a brand survey
- Building a logo
- Hosting an event
- Event intros and outros
- Community Moderation
- Social Media Posts
- In-Person Event Coordination
- Technology Testing
- Onboarding New Members
All areas where having community members support not just reduces the burden on you, but actually enhances the experience. It doesn’t always need to be as grand as the list above. A simple survey asking for feedback makes members feel heard and like they contributed.
4. Don’t Forget to Think Strategically About Those Around Your Community
I learned Lesson #4 the hard way. Careers in Tech was a closed community for a long time; there was a multi-step process to join and only once you joined could you see the flavour of the community. This kept us small, tight, and close knit, which was all positive, except the purpose of our community was about helping people get out there and find and land roles. Something needed to change.
Once we opened up our programming to the ecosystem, shared our resources on social media, and started to build partnerships, everything changed. We reconfigured the community culture to be more conducive to networking. This made it easier for members to help each other. My time was now devoted to ‘expanding the tent,’ helping members get exposed to industry and vice versa.
5. Sustainability Is Key
In the beginning, people kept telling me that what we were doing was “unsustainable.” I would shrug it off because we were making an impact, but without resources (yes, monetary), the community would eventually stagnate and if a community stagnates, it will start to die.
Reinvesting resources into the community is key to continuous growth.
Our lesson was to think about the sustainability of our community on a grander scale. By inviting members into the innovation processes, we found our members more willing to embrace change and evolve alongside us. This commitment and dedication from members is what keeps Careers in Tech thriving and helps us see new horizons for our community.
So where do these lessons leave Careers in Tech? Evolving! CITI is launching a new version of itself. We remain focused on connection, building relationships with those who show up, and creating opportunities for members. Simultaneously, we’re building strategic partnerships with the innovation ecosystem to give our members more opportunity through events with speakers, ecosystem collaborations, and hiring partner programs. These tactics tie into our vision of innovation and sustainability. By providing a variety of events, resources, and networking opportunities, we can make a greater impact and reinvest in our community. We’re staying true to our roots of connection, but expanding our reach to better serve our members.
I hope these 5 tips help you build your communities.