A human-centric approach to community building: An interview with Serena Gasparini
As a Community Manager, business owner, and marketing expert, Serena Gasparini has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to creating spaces for communities to meet, grow and learn. In 2019, Serena launched Sense & Forum, a no-nonsense community management for human-centered brands. As a marketing and events studio, she has worked with brands that want to start, grow and nurture their community. Sense & Forum works with a range of clients, including small businesses to startups, but they all have one thing in common: they keep their customers at the center of everything they do, which means nurturing and growing a community.
We caught up with Serena to learn more about the importance of a human-centric approach to community management, and how Community Managers can grow their communities while keeping people at the heart of everything they do.
What is your professional background? When did you first get involved in community building?
My professional career started in Adelaide, Australia, when I worked in hospitality while I went to university to study Event Management and Marketing. I became an Event and Marketing Manager working on events that brought communities, large community-driven festivals, business events, and exhibitions together.
In 2016 I moved to London and started working for the Government of South Australia’s Trade and Investment Office in the UK. Here, I managed a club and its event program.
After spending over a decade working in the marketing and events industry, I decided to take a leap into the unknown and launch my own business. In 2019, Sense and Forum (previously known as Serena G Consulting) was born – my way of helping startups and small businesses level up their online community and maximize their brand.
Sense and Forum focuses on community management for human-centered brands. Could you explain the benefits of this human-centric approach for companies?
By putting people before profit, you allow great growth opportunities for your business. This approach allows your business to be open to change and gives your customers and community a voice to share feedback. When people have the opportunity to speak and be heard in a community, it can lead to all sorts of fantastic product and service developments for your business.
How would you describe the relationship between human-centrism and community building?
To be a human-centric brand means that you put community first, and it is at the center of your business. What happens in your community feeds your business and its growth.
Taking your answer into consideration, do you believe that people should be prioritized over content inside a community? And why?
You need content to engage in conversation, showcase people, and ignite people to feel confident in talking. You can’t have one without the other. Communities should have planned content, but a healthy community should organically have community members creating and sharing content.
It is less about content more about the conversation in communities. The content created for communities should be engaging conversations: asking questions, giving people the confidence to talk, voice their opinions, and giving them a platform to teach and learn from. It should always be a two-way conversation.
What are your top three tips to increase engagement in a human-centric community?
1. As I mentioned above, create content that creates conversation.
2. Find your key contributors in your community, reward them and make them your ambassadors.
3. Talk about trending topics in your community. If you don’t know what they are, ask for feedback in your community.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced managing a community, and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is having to find the right platform for my clients. There are so many platforms out there, and each community is individual and has its own particular needs. Finding the right platform is always a challenge but extremely rewarding when you see it work, grow and prosper. The best way to overcome this challenge is to understand their primary objective with the respective community. Choose three potential solutions, run test cases with smaller community groups, and see how they respond to and react to the platform.
One of the other challenges is those tumbleweed moments when you post and get no engagement. I say to clients, you might not be getting engagement, but you are getting impressions, people do watch and view but not react. To overcome this, ensure your content is an engagement piece, not a content piece, create the opportunity to start a conversation. If this isn’t working, it might be time to do a community review, set up a survey, and get some feedback to understand what the community wants. This way, you can refresh the content and topics.
Tell us one of your favorite stories about one of the communities you managed? What were the greatest achievements driven by that community?
Before the pandemic (in February 2020), I started as a Community Manager for a coworking startup called AndCo.Life. Initially, my role was to build and create their community for in-person meetups and coworking sessions. But we had to shift from in-person to an online community quickly, so we created a Slack group and online meetups. In the space of 6 months, the community had grown to over 600 people. Coming out of lockdowns, we then started in-person meetups again. Running communities with an in-person component face many challenges in the current world we live in, and you have to be nimble and flexible, ready to adapt, with your community tool kit.
How could Panion help thrive online communities? What features do you think are the most powerful for enhancing community-building and why?
Panion is a fantastic community platform with everything you need in one spot, from community engagement to event promotion. It is quick and easy to set up, and the interface navigates seamlessly and looks familiar, so community members feel comfortable in the space. Community features that are powerful for any app are to have all the features in one spot, from chat, events, member directory, to files and resources. When you go from using lots of social media platforms to manage your community, to using one app, you want to make sure that everything is where the community needs it, in one spot. Having many apps in different places dilutes your community. Panion offers this with ease.
You can follow Serena on LinkedIn or discover more about Sense & Forum by visiting their website. Be sure to explore our blog page, where you’ll discover tips and insights from Community Managers and other experts.