Building a community | brand ambassadors
When considering how to build a community you’re immediately faced with a chicken and egg problem. You can have the most exciting ethos in the world, but if no one considers themselves part of the group then no one else is going to want to join.
What you need is people who closely aligned themselves with your core values. In our case, these were people who drew energy from trying new things, meeting new people and building a network around the things they loved. In essence, we were looking for sociable, outgoing people who wanted to spend their time creating hangouts and communicating our mission to Amsterdam and it’s fabulous inhabitants.
For a business built around connecting others, our first challenge was to make some connections of our own. Late in 2019, we found the first person capable of taking on the role of brand ambassador: someone who would make links between the community we had been building and their own. Here’s the story of how we met Idil and what we’ve all learned from working to grow our community together.
Our early-adopter to the brand ambassador programme brings a wealth of experience from a life spread out between Izmir, Istanbul, Montreal, Geneva, and Copenhagen. Perhaps it is the nature of continuously moving places, setting up a life and a network, and then moving on to do it all over again, which builds a personality that thrives on finding common ground and forging connections with new people.
Whatever the reason, we quickly realised that Idil was someone who would need little coaching to communicate what we do for the simple fact that it’s what she does too. She makes it her business to know people and to remember things about them. She combines interests in photography, writing, visual art, and food with a social media presence on Instagram and Medium. True to our values, however, she is firm in the belief that the one thing machines and virtual platforms cannot do better than humans it is the profound effect of face to face contact with other people.
We worked out what sort of hangouts would align with Idil’s and our community’s interests. Given her passion for food and the previous reception we’d got from our foodie community, this seemed like the perfect place to start. Food is our most basic need, and yet linked to such complex rituals. It’s an intriguing mix of the primal and the socialised, and at the higher level, a great way to have a conversation with people. Everyone’s in a good mood when they’re enjoying food together.
‘It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet new people. Things never feel awkward because you’re all doing something you enjoy so there’s always something you can talk about.’
Of course, it’s perfectly possible to organise these kind of hangouts on your own – something we’d encourage anyone to do – but without a community already behind you it’s harder to keep finding the motivation. Working as a brand ambassador gives the right level of nudge to do the things you wanted to do anyway, and the support to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Building a community
‘It’s so exciting to put people in touch, to see people meeting in real life through something I’ve organised,’ says Idil. And that’s at the core of it. At the end of the day it’s not about you, as the hangout creator, any more than it is about the people who come along. It’s about the connections they make and the possibilities that come about when minds meet.
‘I met Max at one of my brunch hangouts. I knew he was part of the community but had never crossed paths with him. We got into conversations about live streaming online games, and corporate entertainment, about America, Amsterdam, about food and so many other things…’
What strikes me about Idil’s comment is how few people we would ordinarily go and talk to. Our eyes tend to be critical towards difference – be that age, language, clothing, or temperament. It’s easy to gloss over the fact we might have common ground with that person who seemed ‘different’ to us. That’s what you bring out of people when you hang out with them over something you both enjoy. And then those differences become points to exchange and to celebrate rather than to disconnect us from one another.
Little Big Brunch
One of Idil’s most popular hangouts is Little Big Brunch. It’s a series (we’re onto number 5 by last count) of going to one of Amsterdam’s many trendy brunch spots at a reasonable time on Sunday morning, and to while away a chunk of afternoon with good food, plenty of coffee, and drifting topics of conversation.
‘It’s a special time of the week,’ comments Idil: ‘for once people have some spare time. There’s no need to keep checking your phone or rushing off to something else. People are often more open too – they relax and feel able to be more sincere.’
No doubt Idil is right about this Sunday morning sincerity, but it’s also a function of having a well-designed, well-executed hangout where people feel comfortable to be themselves in the company of both friends and strangers – which is what community is all about.
A learning experience
It’s not an easy task: the role combines event management, online marketing, market research, admin, and a hefty chunk of people skills. Largely it’s about good communication, be that with the venue, prospective joiners, or with the group at the hangout. There’s a fair jump from getting someone looking at the event to joining it, and then another to get them to actually turn up. It requires patience, subtlety, and sometimes a thick skin when people let you down. There’s a lot to working out how to build a community.
Not only has Idil honed these skills, but she talks about how much more confident it has made her, both online and offline. When you’re doing something as a job, it can be liberating. It’s not just you as an individual, but you as a professional. Things that once made you nervous can be deflected off that professional persona yet still build up skills for you personally that you retain outside that role.
At the end of the day, it’s about having fun with a mixture of people you know and people you don’t. It’s important not to underestimate the impact we have on people and they on us. Think of the effect on your day from something as simple as a smile shared with a stranger. How often do you experience that while scrolling through Instagram?
Interested? Let's talk
Since piloting the project with Idil, we have formalised the programme and are working with more ambassadors. We are always on the lookout for talented and enthusiastic people. If you’re interested in how you could work with our startup and develop your skills through organising and promoting hangouts, we’d like to hear from you.