Ali Meehan: How to build a community of 2000 engaged individuals

This week, I got to interview Ali Meehan who is runs the largest online community in Spain for Women called Costa Women. Meeting her and learning how to build a community the way she did,  was a fascinating experience indeed. Today I’d like to share her wisdom with you.

Ali’s Story – Before She Decided to Build a Community

Ali has enjoyed a varied and interesting career; from working for an English law firm, to becoming an export wholesaler (with lots Logo_V1_B4Sof travel opportunities), to a business development consultancy in the oil and gas industry in the Middle East.

Now living in Spain, Ali and her husband run a social media consultancy business which helps to demystify social media for their many international clients. Their main expertise is working one-on-one offering customised social media coaching to offer individual success strategies for their clients, who all had individual requirements.

Ali is also the founder of Costa Women, a social and business networking community for women living in Spain. Some of the women on the site don’t live in Spain yet, but want to move there as part of life goals. In less than 3 years, the website already has over 2,000 members already!

Ali Saw an Opportunity to Build a Community

Ali lived in Thailand and Dubai which is where she first got exposed to online communities for women and found that it was a great way to meeting people and integrate in the culture.  However, she realised that there was a gap in when she moved to Spain and thought that the opportunity could be replicated. Costa Women Marbella LaunchShe had a lot of concern that many women moved back to their home countries,  but as it turns out, these were the women who had grown this very community. Having traveled extensively for business and having lived in Australia, Dubai, Thailand and Spain.f Ali recognised the importance of a place for expat and local women to connect, both socially and within the business community, and her site has become this community.

Ali had been working with computers since the 80s and always had been clued-up on IT and marketing. Her last job was online tracking of databases. It was through doing market research that Ali discovered many women had feared social media.

Today she trains the women in her community on how social media can help them support their online connecting, communicating, sharing and selling.

“If you can network one-on-one with a person, you can use social media.” ~ Ali Meehan. 

Its a tweetable!

In this installment, Ali shares her wisdom on building an engaged community using social media.

Building a Community: Getting People to Sign Up

Initially Ali started Costa Women with a reading group she belonged to in Spain. The word spread quite quickly amongst their friends and contacts as well as receiving some local press coverage.

Since she started, Ali  saw a steady interest from women connecting with her through Social Media (Facebook page, Twitter, Linkedin Group and Google+ accounts) with 20% of members signing up through those platforms. Costa Women has now become a place to find and advertise jobs, promote their businesses and a space for Women moving to a new country to ask question

Success Signs of an Engaged Community

It’s nearly unimaginable that Ali started the site as a test-drive, to see whether there would be interest in such a community. Just VT Ebook Front CWlook at these recent results:

  • The community’s popularity is spreading all over Spain, with 56% of  site visits coming from outside of Malaga province.
  • The site recently won Best of British Social Club by the Telegraph newspaper.
  • It was recommended as one of the Top 10 websites for expat Women via MyCurrencyTransfer.com
  • The Twitter account was also listed by The Telegraph as one of the top accounts for expat advice.

Despite this success, there are two areas which Ali hopes to address. Right now, Costa Women is still a hobby, but she would like to dedicate more time to work on the project and to help it grow and develop. Secondly, she feels that the name suggests that one has to be a Costa woman to join, but in truth, members have meetups all over Spain, including Granada, Barcelona and Madrid.

Ali aims to keep growing the Costa Women network and plans on revamping the website this year. She is set to achieve her goal of 2000 members by 31st December 2013, and is actively working on  finding more local hosts for events in different locations.

Ali’s Tips on how to Create a Community or Tribe

1. Spark the Idea + Identify target market

Ali believes in acting on ideas as soon as they are sparked. When she came to Spain, she identified the need for a community of business women and expats, and that’s when she decided to test the waters.

2. Think Big but start small: How big can you go?

International Womens Day

Ali learned to think big, but to start small. She started locally with a book club and shared it with friends. Starting out she only had Costa women in mind, but didn’t think big enough. She started with a ning group, which was a great basic platform to get started with basic content in each category.

If you start big, you don’t really have time to build the community, because you don’t have time to build and still be able to connect and deal personal email, and understanding what the group requires.

She recommends that you not only think big, but challenge yourself to think bigger. When she started Costa women, she only imagined it to be on the coast, she is now having women all over Spain joining and groups from Italy to Portugal asking for her to set up chapters in their cities.

3. Identify Your Business Model + Plan

Even when you start small, it is important to work on a business model and plan to know where you are going. Start from your interests, passions and ambitions and see how you can evolve over time. Know your target audience as that’s the key to understanding how to promote to them.

4. Target your market

Support from a local newspaper can turn your business into an overnight success. When Ali invited someone from the local newspaper to  to promote the book club, the editor was more interested in the group  than the book club.

Knowing where to find your target market is key to success on social media. Ali found her target market (women) on Facebook and Pinterest. However, over time she has adapted her approach to also include classified ads and referrals from members who invited people from their jobs.

5. Manage your community

The most crucial part of building a community, is managing it. If you don’t manage it, your people will drift off.

Your task is to keep people engaged through weekly newsletters from the members. Ali manages her community by staying connected, asking questions, and receiving feedback.  She has also contacted many Women’s Groups in Spain (which at one stage would be regarded as competitors, but now as friends and a chance for Women to be given choice) and offered free advertising of their events on the Costa Women website.

She encourages members to put their events on the forum and she blogs regularly. Part of her strategy includes interviewing a member every week, which helps them to feel like a part  of the community and she makes them feel special with a birthday message on their page when it’s their birthday.

“Starting a tribe is easy, but keeping it and growing it is hard.” ~ Ali Meehan.

Its a tweetable!

The old 80/20 rule applies to building a community. It’s easy to get clients, but it’s hard to keep them and you shouldn’t ever forget them.

Do you have a community, or are you part of a community that works well for you? Please share your thoughts in comments below.

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