It takes a special kind of magic to get a conference up to a point that just second year in the running is completely booked and has a mile-long waiting list. Or, perhaps, it’s not magic at all but a result of hard work, careful planning, and love for one’s work and community.
From the moment I arrived at Long Beach I was in awe – of the vibrancy of the attendees, conference content, organizational skills of the #WeAllGrow team, sponsors’ activations and the sense of welcome I felt. I believe this was true for each and every person during the #WeAllGrow weekend, which makes the conference’s mission for this year, since it was all about the Moments of Awe, well achieved.
But behind every such movement, behind every strong community, there are people who lit that initial spark. Here in .ME, we are very passionate about our community and we work hard every day to provide value for its members, to help them express themselves online and grow along the way. Most importantly, we are constantly learning, and growing with them, so it’s a topic very close to my heart.
I am grateful to Ana Flores, the founder and CEO of Latina Bloggers Connect, Inc and We All Grow Summit, for taking the time out of her very, very, busy schedule to talk to me about community building and sharing the story of how this thriving Latina blogger community came to be.
The Community Always Comes First
Behind every successful endeavor, and as I will come to realize, behind the success of #WeAllGrow Summit too, is a strong community. One of the special things about this one is that it all started by one determined lady who dedicated her career to empowering Hispanic Americans by providing them with outlets for growth in the digital space.
Perhaps the reason why Ana is able to understand the need of a creator so well is that she started as a blogger herself. Her blog was SpanglishBaby – a place for parents raising bilingual, bi-cultural kids. With her blog came the newfound freedom of creating the content she herself owned and going to conferences and seeing that there were other people, with the same interests and facing same challenges like herself.
SpanglishBaby was the place where I discovered that I did not want to go back to TV production, that I loved this medium – blogging and creating content that I could own myself. That whole learning process, that whole learning curve and realizing that the only way to thrive as a blogger was to be a part of the community was really what led to the idea of LBC.
Latina Bloggers Connect, a boutique digital influencer marketing agency focused on creating strategic content that connects brands and social causes with Latina bloggers and creators, started from Ana’s home, in a time when the term influencer marketing didn’t even exist yet. Nowadays it has a large team, with over 2000 creators in their network and more than 60 campaigns they did for Fortune 500 companies just last year, to brag about.
I founded Latina Bloggers Connect in 2010. The term influencer marketing did not exist, it was mostly bloggers, and it was mostly mom bloggers. The YouTube space still had not hit. I was a mom blogger myself with blog called SpanglishBaby and I felt that there was this need on both sides – on the blogger side to understand that they all wanted to work with sponsors and we were not really doing it yet as Latinas, and then there were these brands trying to reach Latinas and trying to understand bloggers. I kind of became a connector between both ends and so I launched it on my own, from home, in the middle of recession. It was just my laptop, myself, and this idea.
By the moment Ana came to an idea of starting a conference, she already had the most important thing – a community of strong Latina influencers ready to back her up and give back to everything she invested in creating this space for growth and collaboration between them.
I’ve been going to the blogger conferences since I started blogging. BlogHer was the first one in 2010, and once I was in that community, with people that got me, that were all sharing that common thread of wanting this crazy life that no one around us understood – our fiends, our family… being together in that community was what helped me grow. Every single conference I went to, I saw the ROI of it, so I just kind of grabbed everything I loved from these conferences and I wanted to bring it to my community and that’s where #WeAllGrow came from.
But How Do You Make a Community Thrive? (And This One Does, Trust Me!)
While there are resources that can help you learn how to choose a blogging platform, how to launch a blog, how to code even, but that is the easy part because nothing can replace the knowledge and support that comes with a community.
Whether you are just starting out or want to take your blog to another level, the community can open the doors for you and share the knowledge they acquired by going the same path.
If you are a food blogger, find a community of food bloggers, and it’s usually happening on Facebook and the groups and things like that. Find them because they are the ones that are going to open the door to you, to those brands, to those sponsors, to understanding how do I take pictures, what equipment do I need to take my pictures, the best food style. We share all that insider information; we share because that’s how we all started, by somebody else opening that door to us and helping us out. We continue giving.
Also, the important thing is to follow the Golden Rule – treat other how you yourself would like to be treated. If you are part of the community, it’s equally important to give a shutout back to bloggers that helped and it’s this attitude that makes this community – this sisterhood – special. And it’s the same with #WeAllGrow.
It’s the Golden Rule – what is the ideal conference situation or a community for you, how do you want to be treated, how do you want to feel. I put myself in the attendees’ and in our sponsors’ place and what is the ideal situation for them and that’s what we are recreating to. That’s at the heart of what we do. From the very beginning, our vision is for the best of the best, and that’s for whatever is manageable from our end to make sure that’s what we are delivering to our sponsors and our attendees, and also to make sure that there is a feeling of inclusiveness.
Being a Fearless Leader of Your Community
Of course, if you are building a community, after it grows past a certain points, there are bounds to be issues, there are bound to be people who are not going to be willing to give back. What’s important is knowing how to deal with it and staying true to you principles and your values no matter what.
They are always people that are outliers, that just want to take and not give. You have to be very protective of your community. As a leader, you have to know what your intention is to protect the spirit of the community that you are trying to create. In that case, there is a warrior part of it, if people really aren’t adding, you need to have the guts to also remove them and things like that. But never let the community become poisoned by outside issues. It starts from you as a leader creating a spirit within a community and that is going to trickle in to people knowing what they are going to. We haven’t really had to block anyone out because I think it’s understood what we are all about.
Keeping the Communication Alive
One of the most frequently asked questions about community building refers to the technical part of – channels its members use to communicate with each other. For Latina Blogging Connect and WeAllGrow, as communities of influencers that strive to be ahead of times, those channels keep changing and present a great overview of what are the hot topics right now.
What we focus on the most are: Instagram, Periscope – we have a weekly Periscope show where we let Latinas take over our Periscope, we call it Latinascope so they each have something that they are teaching from their end, Snapchat – we just started Snapchat this week for #WeAllGrow and it’s already doing great and Twitter – we do a lot of Twitter parties and something big for our brands. But we also use Twitter and Instagram as a platform to showcase who our influencers are. When I say our influencers, they are not ours, we want our influencers to work and to have as many opportunities as possible. They are ones that are a part of our community so we showcase the work they are doing and we shout them out, we tweet out resources for them etc. All these social channels work for us to showcase our personality. We want you to be able to go through our Instagram and immediately understand who we are. When it comes to Facebook, we focus on the groups. Publicly, Facebook… I don’t think anyone’s public pages are thriving that much, so we actually had to pull back, because we don’t have that many resources, from focusing on Facebook ads to private Facebook groups for both Latina Bloggers Connect and #WeAllGrow.
The Little Things You Don’t See
You wake up, you are served breakfast in bed, you go to these amazing lectures, making connections both with brands and people you have been following and admiring, and it all seems so seamless. The more seamless it seams, the more work is involved. Work and love.
What you don’t see is that we focus on every tiny detail. I am very involved -everything from the Facebook group, I am there tidying it up, to making sure we are liking everybody’s Instagrams. I think that people value that. That they know that we are doing it from the heart, that we really are thinking of them first. And I like to tell all of them: ‘This conference is for you. We are not here to showcase you, it’s not an influencer market, this is for you. We are just putting you here to give you the best opportunities, bring in the sponsors that want to meet with you, the media companies that want to meet with you, and we are creating a space for you to feel at ease to make that happen, but we are not using you in any way.’ I think that they understand that.
I would agree. Every single detail at #WeAllGrow is designed to help you feel comfortable as a part of the community and inspire you with stories of these amazing women, these entrepreneurs that have, just like you, invested a lot to be here.
That dedication and drive for continual improvement by staying true to who you really are, resonated with us and is why we decided to provide our support – a gesture that was paid back in kind by a very warm welcome and interest in hearing our story too.
In the end, I will leave you with a thought shared by one of this years storytellers (Yes, some stories did make me cry!) Marinés Duarte: “Latinas are the perfect combination between a warrior and a princess.” It resonated with me because I wish someone says the same about me one day, and for these amazing ladies, just being at #WeAllGrow does precisely that!
Photo credits: Robson Muzel and #WeAllGrow Summit 2016.