How To Build An Online Community From Scratch With Ash Czarnota of Go Galavanting

Uncategorized Jun 22, 2020

When I moved to Los Angeles in 2016, I immersed myself in everything outdoors. I took up peak bagging in the mountains of Southern California and Sierra Nevada. It didn't take long for me to notice the uneven ratio of men to women sharing the trail with me.

While the gender scales have balanced out over the years, the outdoor industry still suffers from a noticeable lack of diversity. In the same vein, it was hard to find online communities where women of the outdoors could share their experiences in a safe and moderated environment.

Armed with a background in marketing and a mission to cultivate a space to celebrate and empower wild women, Go Galavanting was born. Since 2018, the community has grown to over 17,000 community members with the #GoGalavanting hashtag accruing over 20,000 unique posts.

In this post, I’ll lay out the steps I took to achieve that growth and, with enough time and dedication, you can too with your own community. 

Laying the groundwork

When conceptualizing your brand mission and defining a target audience, it may benefit you to start with what you're NOT and who won't benefit from your content offerings. From the outset, I knew what Go Galavanting wouldn’t be. It wouldn’t be a fan account, it wouldn’t be an outdoor meme page and it wouldn’t be a space only dedicated to touting outdoor activism. There are existing accounts that serve these needs and are doing a standup job at it.

I also wasn't going to delude myself into thinking the concept of Go Galavanting was a novel idea. My community framework paralleled accounts like Choose Mountains Women, Rad Girls Collective and MtnChicks. But, in the case of Go Galavanting, I wanted to focus on sharing personal experiences as opposed to aspirational content accompanied by a generic John Muir or Henry David Thoreau quote.

Go Galavanting would be a space where I could hand over the mic to rising thought leaders and outdoor enthusiasts to share their unique experiences, stories and struggles to inspire and educate. 

Acknowledging my limitations

There were and are still no plans to monetize Go Galavanting. Building this community is a personal passion project that over the past two years I’ve poured hours into growing and sometimes leaving inactive for weeks at a time if needed. In an official capacity, I am its caretaker but I also don't feel bound by it.

If I was set on maintaining this account for pleasure, the key was acknowledging my limitations and setting boundaries early on. I created a task board and schedule that would help me maintain a work-life-Go Galavanting balance (i.e: Committing to no more than an hour a day to community engagement or dedicating Sundays to mapping out the content calendar for the next week). It’s possible to experience burnout with your passion projects. I didn’t want to end up resenting the community and throwing in the towel completely if I didn’t at least put in the effort to prioritize and implement a set schedule.

Setting SMART goals

SMART goals are primarily used to help guide goal setting in campaigns. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Setting SMART goals helps you focus your efforts and increase the chances of achieving your desired goal. In the beginning, I set small, bite-sized goals for Go Galavanting. 

My biggest hurdle in achieving my first set of SMART goals was a lack of content. I needed time to reach out to members of the community, get permission to repost their photo and wait to receive their stories to use in the post captions. In some instances, this process can drag on for up to two weeks. I used generic stock photos in the interim while the more desirable content trickled through. As time passed and the community grew, I adjusted my SMART goals accordingly so it continued to align with brand objectives and quarterly KPIs. 

Building a community

Building a loyal following entails engaging in consistent, thoughtful and authentic dialogues with your community. Go Galavanting's sustained growth would not be possible without a robust engagement strategy.

This engagement strategy included hashtag research and analysis, leaving thoughtful comments and questions on community posts, engaging with content under the Go Galavanting hashtag, and sending love via direct message to influencers in the outdoor space. This strategy effectively helped me generate a good rapport and trust within the community.

Streamlining processes

During the first few months, I engaged with every single direct message, @mention, photo tag, and comment. Later, as the account grew, I quickly realized I needed to find methods to streamline and automate these simple, repetitive tasks. From there, I created story outreach templates, I utilized Later to automate and schedule out all my content and finally swallowed my pride by enlisting my partner’s help to conduct daily engagement while I concentrated on responding to messages and building out weekly content calendars.

Moral of the story? It’s beneficial for you to streamline some of the more mundane tasks and also ask for help when needed.

Reassessing objectives and tactics

Every three months, I review my marketing plan. You can’t effectively grow a community if you stick to the same strategy year over year. Instagram is a very different platform now than it was in 2018. You need to adapt to consistent platform updates, the ever-evolving digital marketing industry and developments happening within your niche.

Keeping a finger on the pulse of change will inform how you implement your growth strategy and tactics moving forward. Change is good and, when executed well, your audience will respond in kind with their support and engagement.

Conceptualizing, overseeing and growing an online community is a major commitment. I’ve painted my journey with Go Galavanting in broad strokes, but the principals within this article are universal. If you're realistic about your expectations, willing to invest your time into developing and continuously honing your growth strategy, engage with your community in authentic conversations, and put out good content that emotionally resonates with your audience, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a thriving and loyal community in no time.

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