Community Builders: An Interview with Ashley Stoyanov
Ashley Stoyanov is an expert community-builder. She works to help companies build communities around their brand and develop effective engagement and retention strategies. Ashley took some time to talk to Panion about some of the challenges in community building and how to overcome them.
Panion: Hi Ashley! Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Can you tell me a little bit about your background in community building?
Ashley: Hi Erika! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat - I’d be happy to tell you more about my background. My career in community-building stemmed from my passion for connecting people and connecting to people. From the time I was in college pursuing a PR/Marketing career in the music industry, I always loved hosting events to bring like-minded people together.
Shortly after I graduated, I got the opportunity to join the marketing team at Yelp, where I assisted the Community Director to connect small businesses to their local community by hosting events and creating engaging content.
In 2017, I took the skills I was learning at Yelp and applied them to building my own community in order to create opportunities for rising women songwriters. Within its’ first year, the community grew across 16 North American cities, hosting over 250 events and became what is now known as the nonprofit organization #WomenCrush Music.
While my first love was my music industry, working at Yelp really gave me the opportunity to connect with small businesses and startup partners and made me realize that those were the people I wanted to work for. In the last few years, I’ve managed several coworking startups, developed VIP and ambassador programs for large online communities like Fairygodboss and e-commerce startups, created and directed virtual membership programs for digital media publications and built out community-focused incubator programs for entrepreneurs.
I’m very excited to say that I’ve gotten to work across multiple industries in the last few years - I love watching my clients grow!
Community and Growth
P: That’s wonderful. You seem passionate about your work. Why is community so important?
A: Having a community as a brand is crucial to growth - whether you are selling services or products. Having a sense of community means that you have built trust between the brand and the user/consumer/client.
That trust will bring you not only the ability to reach a larger audience but also loyal brand ambassadors who will advocate and provide customer service for you as well.
P: What are some of the benefits of belonging to a community?
A: Belonging to a community for a person can be beneficial in many ways. For some, it’s the inspiration they get from other members and the knowledge they aren’t alone in whatever journey they are on.
For others, it might be access to perks like discounts or exclusive events, or the ability to give feedback to their favorite brands. Some communities even provide support for personal and professional growth.
The Effects of COVID-19
P: How do you think the global pandemic has shaped our concept of community?
A: Many people and brands alike, took their existing communities for granted as perhaps they had everyday access to them through in-person events or everyday meetings at the office. Having to move everything online has left many wondering how to properly engage their clients, consumers, and even employees without being able to offer them in-person services.
Not only that but now there is also more competition amongst not just local companies but anyone in the world who can access the same audience. COVID-19 is forcing everyone to learn not only how to grow their community but also keep their current community engaged from a distance.
P: How do you see the future of community building in the context of changing technology and the “new normal”?
A: I think that what we’ve been seeing come to fruition over the last few months is the beginning of the “new normal.” We now have days filled with webinars, virtual networking events, and video chat happy hours.
Virtual membership communities are hosted on several different platforms. Major companies are starting to consider new needs for brands in building new platforms. It's clear that they need a platform not only for when people are in front of their computers but also a mobile version that can equally keep people engaged and in the loop.
Building a Community with Panion
P: What are some of the Panion features that you think will be most powerful?
A: Engagement is often overlooked as a tool in community-building it can be super time consuming but incredibly rewarding.
Panion makes it super easy. With everyone being remotely connected, being able to find others near you, explore common interests, and create events all in one place is amazing. The best part is, people will have access to it even if they aren’t sitting at their computers because it’s all on mobile!
P: You are such an enthusiastic professional. What inspires you and why?
A: I am inspired by the changemakers of the world. Those who look at the world and don’t see obstacles, but opportunities. That is the mindset we all need to have in order to move forward and of course, inspire our own communities.
P: You are doing a wonderful job at paying that inspiration forward. Thank you so much, Ashley!
Ashley K. Stoyanov is an experienced community-builder, leader, and strategist. Her career in community-building started in 2016 on the Yelp Community Marketing Team, followed by launching her nationwide nonprofit #WomenCrush Music in 2017, which expanded to 16 North American cities, hosting over 250 events in its first full year. Since then, she's gone on to manage coworking startups in NYC, develop VIP programs for online communities with 1M+ users and e-commerce startups, build virtual membership programs for digital media platforms, and more. She is now focused on helping companies identify how to build a community around their brand as well as helping them develop strategic engagement & retention techniques, seeding their ideal community members and leveraging their power users.