• magnifying glass icon
    • left wave svg right wave svg
      42 Mins

      Building Your Community: A Business as Unusual Webinar

      Building Your Community: A Business as Unusual Webinar Featured Image
      Published on Apr 19, 2021 by Claire Dibben

      How do you successfully build a global community? Areej AbuAli has the answer to that. During the latest episode of Business as Unusual, Areej discussed why she founded Women in Tech SEO, how she grew the group to the size it is today (over 3,000 members across Facebook and Slack) and provided tips for those looking to build a community of their own. 

       

       

      Transcript

      Jon Payne:

      Hello.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Thanks for having me.

      Jon Payne:

      Welcome, Areej. It's a joy to have you. This is Business Is Unusual, and Areej is here to talk to us about building your community. I'm going to stop sharing my screen so that we can get straight into that.

                     Areej, you are the founder of Women in Tech SEO. And not only the founder, the tireless ball of energy behind it, as far as I can make out. We'd love you to start by... Well, before we get to talking about Women In Tech SEO, why don't we talk about how we build this as building your tribe, and then why we changed it to building your community because I think that's probably worth addressing in this kind of form, if that's okay with you?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. Yeah, yeah, I'd be happy to. Yeah. I think I first heard the term Building your Tribe a few years ago. I'm pretty sure someone wrote some book about it that was a best seller and everyone started using the term. And two years ago, I co-authored with the Mastering In-House SEO by BlueArray, and they chose the chapter title to also be Building your Tribe, and we talked a little bit about Women in Tech SEO there, and so it was a term that I was just very familiar with and used a lot. And then yesterday I was sharing this webinar on Twitter, and I got... I don't know if it was a subtweet or if it was just someone who happened to be talking about it at the same time.

                     I have a lot of love and appreciation for [Kenzie 00:01:35], he's an awesome guy. We met last year in [Moscon 00:01:37], and then he mentioned that the word tribe is actually very offensive and in marketing we should stop using it. And I was like, "What? I'm doing a webinar with that title tomorrow. This is awful." And I did what I usually do, which is google why were this offensive, which I tend to do a lot. And so I hadn't realised that so I felt really awful but I'm glad you kind of switched it really quickly on your slide deck. So thanks for doing that.

      Jon Payne:

      Not at all. And I wouldn't have noticed it if you hadn't have replied to the tweet. Because, of course, I did the same thing and then realised... I think I did an extra thing onto you, which is the old, White guy thing of, "Oh, God. Not another word that I can't use."

      Areej AbuAli:

      Mm-hmm (affirmative).

      Jon Payne:

      And I try really hard to be this open, paragon of virtue, and of course I'm never that. But the funny thing was is I've immediately went to that thing of, "Oh, something else that's being taken away." Something meaningless for me. And it was just funny for me to feel that, feel it, viscerally feel it and then over a few minutes go, "God, you're an asshole. Wow, you really need to get that in check." So anyway, I'm just being my standard, ridiculously honest self. I'm really glad you spotted it and now we can change something else.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. I think it's really important for us to kind of just keep an eye out on these things and stay educated [inaudible 00:03:03]. So that book is Mastering in-house SEO, and I think they do a different edition every year and it has a lot of different chapters with different authors. But something that actually happened recently, when I was doing the Women in Tech SEO festival in March, was for the first time I used the term women with the X, spelled that way, and then a lot of conversations happened around International Women's Day by how this term is actually very, very offensive for the Trans community and it's not as inclusive as we think it is, which is the opposite of what I used to think before. So I had to do a lot of research and a lot of reading and kind of go back and make a lot of editing and modifications to what I had in.

                     But I think as long as we're really open to being educated and we have these conversations and we feel comfortable saying, "Whoa, okay. I didn't know this but now I know this." It's really, really important.

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Making the mistake in a genuine way and then fixing it is the only way that... Or it's one of the key ways that we're going to learn. Right. So we've addressed that, and thank you. Talk to us about Women in Tech SEO. What's the story behind it, why did you found it?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. Yeah, yeah, happy to. Next month, in May, we're actually turning two years, which is crazy. I need to think of a way to celebrate us; I haven't done that yet. So a little bit over two years ago I think I went through the usual phase which a lot of SEOs go through, which is: do I even want to stay in SEO? I don't feel as motivated anymore, I don't feel as inspired, is this what I want to do, do I want to do something different? And to be honest, it was very selfish reasons on my behalf that I started the community because I needed a sense of motivation and inspiration, and I was really, really struggling to find a network of people who would help motivate me and inspire me. There was a lot of exclusive groups around. The kind of groups where, oh, no, no, no, you have to have been in the industry for I don't know how long or you have to have been someone who spoke on this specific stage or went to this certain conference and so forth. And that, for me, just felt very... nothing should feel this exclusive.

                     And so I wasn't able to find a community where I felt like I fit in. It was actually in Ramadan as well and it was a random, 11:00, 12:00, almost close to midnight, where I kind of just started the Facebook group and then I put a tweet out and I was like, "Women in Tech SEO, rejoice. We now have a group." And I think within a day, we had a little bit over 100 members, which was absolutely crazy. Yeah.

      Jon Payne:

      That's brilliant. That's brilliant. Is that something that's normal for you? Is have an idea and act upon it?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Every now and then. Something I like to talk about a lot is this book I read before by Mark Manson. What's it called? It's something about don't give an F about anyone. It's very, very popular.

      Jon Payne:

      Oh, yeah, I can't remember the name of it off the top of my head. [crosstalk 00:06:09]. I'll google it.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. Something I really like, he talks about the idea of action leads to motivation leads to inspiration, and it's all about you know when you have to do a slide deck, and you have absolutely no inspiration to work on it, but then the second that you just start typing anything, the next thing you know, you just kind of wiz through it. So that's something I tend to think about a lot, whenever I'm procrastinating on something or unsure how to do it. It's just the second I take any form of action, whether it's replying to an email or starting to write a skeleton or something or starting to put down some bullet points, I tend to just... It tends to be done at that point. So I think that's what I did with the group, where it was something I was thinking about in the background for a while, but then that evening I was like, "You know what? I'm just going to do this. Let me just start the group. Let me just read about it, and let's see what happens from there."

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah. It's brilliant. I love that. It's, oh, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, by Mark Mason.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yep, that book.

      Jon Payne:

      That's the book. How has it evolved in the last couple of years? What do you think it's become now? Because to an outsider, I'm obviously an outsider, but it looks like it's a huge, vibrant community and particularly the mentoring thing is amazing. What do you think it's evolved into?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. I definitely didn't envision it growing that big within two years, and the amount of different projects and initiatives and things we've done, I wouldn't have thought that would've been possible in the last two years. We've got both a Facebook and a Slack group now. We've got a little bit over 2,000 in each. And then, we've got a lot of different events and projects that we do. Fortnightly workshops, monthly events, a mentorship programme, we share tonnes of jobs, it's just a lot of things that are constant, like weekly interviews. I feel like I need to probably write a list somewhere, because sometimes I forget. We just launched a podcast last week, so there is quite a lot that we do. But I feel like probably, at the start, it was more around let's have a safe space, let's have a community, let's have a place we can all kind of talk to each other and help each other and support each other, and it doesn't matter what stage you are within SEO, whether you're a complete starter or you're someone who's been doing it for years, this is a judgement -free zone, we're all here to support one another.

                     And then, now, I feel, at least from my end, my focus is really on, okay, how do we amplify these 4,000 brilliant women that are tucked away into this group to the outside world. And so a lot of the activities and projects that I'm focusing on right now, like the podcast and the interviews and the newsletter, these are accessible by everyone. And the whole purpose of these is amplifying a lot of the women that we have within our community to the whole industry.

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah. And you do it elegantly and brilliantly. And it's making huge change. It's just great. Yeah. I guess the... It feels to me like it should be a full-time job, yet you have a job.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah.

      Jon Payne:

      How do you fit it all in?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I do. So I've just wrapped up my current role, actually, with Zoopla. I was with them for a little bit over a year and a half and awesome place, great culture, absolutely love it. And I'm starting a new role in more of an E-commerce startup, which I'm really excited about, next week. And when I started Women in Tech SEO, I was still agency side, and then I moved to Zoopla, and now I've wrapped from Zoopla, and going to another role. So it's kind of lived with me throughout a number of roles. But, yeah, it does take up a lot of time. My evenings and my weekends, I live by my to-do lists, so that kind of gets me accountable on what I need to do. Yeah, I am quite busy, clear. But last week I actually had time off, and I got three WTS projects off, just because I had that time off.

      Jon Payne:

      Just done.

      Areej AbuAli:

      I feel happy about it. It was like done, done, done. So I enjoy working on it. Honestly, it never feels for me like it's something that it's exhausting or it's straining or oh my God, I need a break from this. I do really enjoy working on it. And it keeps me sane and it keeps me productive, so yeah. I'd say, probably... I think I tried to calculate it once. Minimum one hour a week day, and then minimum three hours a weekend. So what are we talking about? Six, nine... 10 to 15 hours a week, probably. Yeah, yeah.

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah. Yeah, basically a part-time job.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yup. Yeah. I know we're going to dive into key learnings and things in a bit but I think that's something that I've been seriously considering recently. I do need to ask for more help and what I do really well is within specific projects, I tend to pair up with people who are way better than me on stuff. So, [Maret 00:11:21], for example, she was on one of your webinars before, absolutely brilliant. When I didn't know anything about email marketing for the first festival, she jumped right in and she helped with a lot of the email marketing that needed to take place and for our first mentorship programme cohort. I've got Jas, one of my really good friends, brilliant designer. I do not know how to design anything. She's taken on all the... The whole visual identity we have is purely on Jas. So I do pair up and partner up with brilliant women when it comes to specific projects, but in the every day running of the community, I do need to ask for help. And it's something that I'm kind of trying to think of in the background of how I can do it, because I feel weird asking for people to do things for free, even though the community is free. And I kind of want to think about what can I give back to people who would give more support.

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah, yeah. Anything we can do, as you know.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah.

      Jon Payne:

      Let us know. Even if it's just you talk to Claire about stuff. Because, obviously, we've already established that we don't need me in the way of this. So we've got 2,000 members on Slack, 2,000 members, and probably there's some crossover, but you've got 2,000 members in a couple of places. Going into... and this is, I think, ladies and gentlemen, this is why Areej is very good. On my little timetable here I've got a thing that says, "About 03:20, let's start talking about Areej's learning. At 03:20 and 30 seconds, Areej goes: "We'll talk about learning in a second." It's just so smooth.

      Areej AbuAli:

      It's the even organiser in me. It's weird being on this side, because we'd host fortnightly WTS workshops on the webinar, and I'm used to... Yeah. So it's weird being on this front and not on that, but yeah.

      Jon Payne:

      You're used to doing all the running around that Claire and I were doing earlier.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah.

      Jon Payne:

      Have we got the headphones?

      Areej AbuAli:

      I don't do any running around, though. I'm usually on time.

      Jon Payne:

      We are always running around. What advice, then, do you have for people who would like to grow their community to that kind of size?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yup. Yeah. I think a lot of people tend to ask me that, and one of the first things I tend to say is do not focus on numbers and I never focused on numbers at the start or even until this time. I actually miss how small it was before, and I always try to think about, with the different projects that we run and so forth like having smaller type of cohorts. Because smaller communities do tend to have their own special thing about them, right? Where everyone is super communicating and so forth. So my number one advice, quality over quantity. Nevermind if you have a community of 10 or 50 or 100 or 1,000's, it's always going to be quality first. And it's about nurturing the conversations in there and just making sure everyone is... Something I talk about a lot is the idea of giving and taking. So how can you ensure that all the community members in there both give and take? So they give back by introducing themselves to others and helping others with questions and giving support, but then they also take by finding it very valuable and by getting all the support that they need.

                     So kind of having that established as one of your main values is really important. And I guess values and rules, I am a stickler to rules, and one of the very first things I did was just write out a bunch of community rules, which I still keep growing every now and then. If something specific happens here or there that kind of triggers the thought of, it would be good for us to actually have that as an official rule, it's so important to have that because over time, when it scales, it can be a little bit difficult to moderate. And you have to rely on community members to do the moderation on your behalf as well. So when you have rules in place, then everyone kind of knows about what is right and what isn't right and what needs to be reported and what needs to be... goes up to admin and so forth.

                     And then, I think something that really I find super important, is just getting feedback all the time. I always tend to do that. It's not a dictatorship and you can just kind of go in and say, "Oh, this feels good for me, this doesn't feel good for me." Without your community members, there is no community. So constantly checking in and getting feedback. On a bigger scale in terms of feedbacks and survey forms and so forth, but also one-to-one. I tend to do that a lot on Slack where I find someone is super active, I kind of just message them and ask them and say, "Thanks for being a really active member of the community. Is there anything specific that you find value off, or are there any special channels that you'd like us to set us up, which would be helpful." So kind of always having that one-to-one as well as a bigger type group feedback, is really important. Because the feedback that comes through will help you know what is needed to build up that community to continue making it valuably for people. I think I said, what, four or five things here?

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah, yeah. You did, you did. Wow, the phone's going crazy today.

      Areej AbuAli:

      It's okay.

      Jon Payne:

      This is great. I'm going to mute mine. That's what I should've done when I came on.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Mine is muted already.

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah. You said something there about maybe you see someone who's really active on Slack, and then you reach out to them one-to-one. In terms of that, are you saying actually you notice them being really active and you go, "Right, I'm going to reach out to them right now and just have a chat." Or is it something that you see over a few weeks and go, "Right, I've picked out three or four people I'm going to go for." How does that work?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I think it's quite natural. With any community you do notice the loudest voices or the people who are always there or the people who always answer questions. And then you do notice people who... So we have a number of different channels which are, not everything is just specifically on SEO. We have ones, for example, specifically on opportunities. So anyone who wants to share a specific opportunity like a call for speakers or a call for writing, publishing or a publication, and things like that. And then we have a thanks channel, which is people giving shoutouts and thanks to others in the community who have been helpful for them.

                     And then we have introductions. And then, with introductions, it's really interesting because I've never assigned a welcoming committee. But then over time, a few members have really become the designated welcoming committee, just because it's something that they always do. Almost every day they'd go in and see who's new and they tell them hello. Like SEO Joe blogs and Tori Grey, they both come to mind. They always do that, and I absolutely love it. So I think it's over time you kind of start noticing who's super active and who's sharing different ideas.

                     Sometimes I get tagged in a specific thread where it's like [inaudible 00:18:14], there's tonnes of questions about international SEO. Could we have a channel about that? So it's things like that. And I think just being really responsive to that is very important. I try my best to not be on the community all the time because it can take up a lot of time and energy to do that, so I try to designate specific hours and so forth for me to go and check in.

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah, cool. Cool. Brilliant. Thank you, that really answered it perfectly. You specifically say you didn't set out to grow it to what it is now. It so happened and it sounds like you're happy with the quality still, even though you also are beginning to have quantity. And that's a battle that'll be interesting. Or a balance that'll be interesting to try and find as it grows. How do you think people have heard about it? Did you do much promotion therefore, or?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. Initially, I did. I feel like because we have so many projects, and so many events that are literally happening on a weekly basis. So every time this gets shared, someone goes like, "Oh, what's Women in Tech SEO?" So every Monday, we have a new WTS interview that goes out and we share that and we tag the person who not just got interviewed but also what shoutouts they gave. And then, on a fortnightly basis, we run a WTS workshop. And then we have the speaker hub, where every week we kind of update it with new speaker cards that come across.

                     So I feel like because we are constantly on a weekly basis sharing a lot of these different projects and initiatives and so forth and tagging all the relative people, and then they share it and then they talk about it, then that's how a lot of people kind of come across it, because of a specific events or so forth. I don't do too much promoting in terms of, oh, this is women... All the time now, it just so happens that someone would just tag us on Twitter and be like, "This is great for tech SEO women." Or, a lot of people would be like, "I'm looking to follow more women in the industry. Where do I find..." And then other people on our behalf would just be like, "You need to check out Women in Tech SEO."

                     We do get a lot of that through word of mouth, and then something like our mentorship cohort, for example, where we're running a new one this month and we just ran one last year, which was super successful. We had a lot of people kind of talk a lot about being part of that, being a mentor, being a mentee and what it meant for them. We have a lot of people who thankfully manage to get roles, job roles, through some of the jobs that are shared within the channel. So there's a lot of success stories, which is great. A lot of people are always telling me, "Oh, Areej, you need to make sure you get proper testimonials, and you need to make sure you..." I don't. It's very low on my to-do list. Because I think I don't need to go looking for it. A lot of people share it organically.

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah. I was about to say it's that age-old thing, and it's not age-old but it's something that you appear to do quite naturally and without, like my nan would say, she hasn't got a side to her. It's like we're not going to draw aside the curtain and you go, "Ha ha! And then here's the £500 ticket only for the people who wants to come down the velvet rope." So often when people are doing this in marketing, if their boss is saying, "Oh, we need to grow community," or whatever, like our events, we need to grow those events. And people think that the number is the thing that you go for, as you said earlier. And actually, if you only go for the number, you don't build that genuine sense of community, which Women in Tech SEO has and which you've nurtured. Which is from everything you're saying it just sounds like, you know what? Just do good community stuff, and genuinely give and provide useful stuff to your burgeoning community, and it will grow.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah, yeah. Exactly. And even with... I mean, even though with all of our events and so forth, we always welcome people who they just happened to stumbled upon us because they learned about this event or so forth. At the end of the day, first come first serve will always be prioritised to our community members because if you're already part of the group, you're the first one to know about this webinar is happening in two weeks, this mentorship programme is happening and so forth. By the time we go ahead and we share it publicly on Twitter and LinkedIn and so forth, a lot of times the majority of slots are actually sold out. So I think people come to realise that there's a lot of benefit from being in the group, from being active on Slack and on Facebook and so forth, will get to see a lot of these new initiatives or projects being shared.

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah. Brilliant, brilliant. Yeah, the psychology of cues is really helpful. If you always sell out, then people who keep missing out will want to be part of that, wont' they? So how challenging was the various lockdowns for you? Or for Women in Tech SEO? It was challenging for all of us.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah, yeah.

      Jon Payne:

      We don't necessarily need to go into your personal [crosstalk 00:23:16].

      Areej AbuAli:

      No, I wouldn't want to do that. I think we'd need more than half an hour to do that. No, lockdown has been very kind to me, actually. I feel quite grateful. I managed to keep my job, I managed to switch jobs just recently, so I feel very, very grateful compared to a lot of other things around the world. But with Women in Tech SEO it was really interesting because when we initially started in the first year, every month we used to do a London meet-up, which we used to have, I don't know, 80... 60 to 80 people showed up to these and they were monthly events. We'd have two or three speakers in each one. And then we organisation our very first full day conference around International Women's Day, literally right before lockdown. We were so lucky. It was like March 6th, 2020.

      Jon Payne:

      Oh, yeah. I remember.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. I'm so lucky. Everything went into lockdown a week later. I think we were one of the very last SEO conferences that managed to get out. But yeah, I think once lockdown happened a lot of people within the community, we had such a global group already, but there was probably a much heavier emphasis on UK folks because of all the events we were doing in London. And I always used to feel really, really guilty because we didn't used to record any of our London meetups or so forth. They were all for free. I just didn't have any kind of resource.

                     So once we switched things into lockdown, I was like, "Okay, this is a great chance to start hosting different virtual events and just kind of focusing on our global group and we can start recording sessions and we can start sharing them to people in different timezones." So I do think we were... The last year, we probably managed to grow a lot from a global basis, purely because of that. And I don't see myself just going back to London meetups, honestly, afterwards because I don't think it would be fair for our global community. We've got people from all around the world and unless I'm able to make sure I can record them, then I don't think it would be fair for anyone who's not close to London-based for us to be holding all of our events physically.

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah, yeah. I have a friend who is fairly senior at Unilever. I wish he'd buy some products off me. Anyway, but he was saying the same thing to me the other day, is we can't go back to a meeting where some people are in person and then some people aren't. Because with individual lockdowns and just different people's ability or desire to travel because of family or whatever, it's now unfair to have in-person meetings where some people will be remote. Which I think is a challenging change but actually quite a welcome one for those people who don't have it easy. In your case, those of us who can make... or those in your community who can make it to London, well that's kind of nice. But you're right, the other people, having something for them is great. Well, it's not great, but it's required now and it's great for them and yeah. Did you find that the community was struggling or how did the... worldwide, were there differences in the way that people were able to cope with lockdown, did you find?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. I think it was definitely, there was a lot more availability, I'd say, and it felt much more active probably because a large number of us kind of switched to work from home when we didn't work. So usually where things could be fairly quiet during work days and so forth, Slack became very, very busy. We did have, job-wise, initially a lot of people within the actual jobs channel kind of sharing about their specific circumstances and so forth, but now a lot of the jobs are being shared like crazy now and we can see this generally in the industry where it was very quiet for a little bit and now there's tonnes of demand back again. I think initially I remember we even started work from home channels for a few months where we were kind of... we even did a work from home Spotify group playlist, where it was like okay, let's kind of encourage each other and so forth. And we had a number of people on there who were already working from home. They were consultants and so forth so they were giving us a lot of different tips, advice, and things like that.

                     But, yeah. I'd say probably it got much busier and much louder during that time because a lot of us had more time and a lot of us were kind of more comfortable being home and it was easier to start planning, and I know you do that even right now with this webinar where I'm pretty sure maybe prior to lockdown it would've been difficult for me in my office to tune into a 03:00 to 04:00 PM webinar, but now, it's become really easy because there's much more flexibility in your calenders and so forth. So I feel like it did give me a lot of more options in terms of how I hold the events and what timings would work out and so forth, whereas before it was always the thinking of oh, it has to be the evening, it has to be post 07:00, post 08:00 PM. I've actually come to realise, actually, 05:00 PM is your sweet spot because people are wrapping up work, and it's right before they kind of shut off their laptops. Yeah. If you kind of do a 07:00 or 08:00, by then people just want to go have dinner and leave their laptop in peace until the next day, so yeah.

      Jon Payne:

      It's so funny that change, isn't it?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah.

      Jon Payne:

      That the workday, little bit into 05:00, 06:00 PM, as you say, and then after that we're all... I've been in my little box for so long. Claire mentioned that maybe getting international speakers has changed slightly as well?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's such a good point, which I forgot to mention. But, yeah, definitely.

      Jon Payne:

      Why she wrote it down.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Thanks, Claire. It's so true, though. I mean, we always encourage a lot of first time speakers, especially in the London meetups, we had tonnes of brilliant first time speakers come on those. But now, we've got our workshops and a lot of... I'd say probably we've got more people from outside the UK who pitch to these than within the UK, which is awesome.

      Jon Payne:

      Wow.

      Areej AbuAli:

      I wouldn't be able to have speakers from all around the world do any talks for us, so it's definitely great to get to here from... And I think that's another part as well of helping to thrive that global community because then these international speakers would share it and say, "Oh, we're speaking in this event by Women in Tech SEO," and then people who work with them or are friends with them or so forth would want to join and see what's happening, to attend the event. So, yeah, definitely. Tonnes more opportunity to get international speakers.

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah. You were talking on Twitter about... I think you were sharing someone else's tweet about people being nervous about presenting in English. I mean, I'm even nervous about presenting in English, and I'm an Englishman. And I only really speak English. Very little bit of French, but not good enough to present. And you were saying that an accent... Yeah. Just give us your take on that, because actually I think that's quite nice way to go into it.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah, yeah. I've had a few people, specifically with the Burton SEO pitches coming out and the Burton SEO team is really trying to motivate a lot of first time speakers to jump in and... So I posted a few things previously where I was like, "If anyone wants any kind of support putting their pitch across, let me know." Burton SEO was my first speaking gig. It was two years ago, it was brilliant, loved doing it, and still love doing it until now. And I had quite a few people reach out just... They're not sure about their idea, or they're not sure about their content, it's none of that. They're a little bit worried that English isn't their first language and so they wouldn't be able to... they wouldn't be understood. I was like, "That's crazy. Because you're speaking to me in English right now and I can understand you perfectly." And through so much knowledge.

                     And I've had people from all around the world on our events do workshops and so forth where English isn't their first... English isn't my first language. So it's one of those things where I think we probably are very hard on ourselves and we kind of overthink it. Something I mentioned yesterday was [Alida 00:31:30], she's literally one of my very favourite speakers, English is not her first language, I could not give a crap because everything she says is gold. Her content is so good and solid. So, yeah, I do think we're probably very, very hard on ourselves there and I mean, I've barely, and I hope I never meet a single attendee who actually makes a comment about someone's accent or, oh, this person was very difficult to understand, where it's like, whoa, this person has dedicated their time and energy and effort to share their knowledge to others, and this is what we're focused on learning together.

                     So, yeah. I really, really hope that it's something that doesn't deter a lot of people from putting themselves forward because we need more of these people because if everyone speaking had English as their first language, then that's a diversity issue right there.

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah. And you don't get all of those different perspectives. If everybody who comes along is English is first language, well, there's a few countries where that's the case, thankfully, for people like me. So as you say, so a huge diversity issue. The thing I remember seeing Alida for the first time at... actually, it was yonks ago as well. She must've been a babe in arms. I mean I always tell about 50 because I'm old but I remember going along and thinking, "Oh, I wonder if this person's Spanish?" For about two seconds. Just because the accent was exotic, not because I was like, "Oh, God. Coming over here and taking our speaking slots." For about two seconds thought, "She's got a nice accent." And then, my God, did she just? She was just brilliant. And I think it was just on land tax, and it was just probably my favourite half hour of that Brighton SEO.

                     Yeah. I'm really glad that you're supporting that. I'm not surprised at all. And yeah, if anybody's watching this, from an Englishman with a haircut like this, and an accent like this, we fucking need you to speak. And it doesn't matter what your accent's like, or even if your grasp of English is only about 70%, most people who learn English in British schools have only got about 70% as well. Most of us don't speak English as well as Areej. So yeah, you're among friends, if you're speaking to Brits.

                     Okay. Off of crazy high horse, and Claire's told me not to speak too much, and I'm speaking too much. What are the biggest lessons, you think, that you've learned? Before we go onto questions, I'll ask this question. And guys, you can use the Q&A, or you can chat in the chat box, ask Areej some questions. I've got one. Hopefully no one will ask any so I can ask mine. But what are the biggest lessons you've learned about community building, and what would be your key sort of three or four tips for anybody starting on their own?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. I think I definitely want to make sure we highlight quality over quantity, so don't worry, and don't be fixated on numbers. And kind of take your time reaching that growth. Secondly, don't underestimate how little time it takes, because it does take a lot of time, and so it does need dedication and commitment. I've seen some brilliant communities before be forums and then within a few months, they just became very stagnant and very quiet and it was another Slack group that you just decided to leave because there was no conversation in it. It does take a lot of time and effort to ensure that you're always keeping conversations live but then you're also engaging with a lot of the different members and getting feedback and making sure that their needs are addressed and you're not building things for the sake of wanting to build things for yourself, you need to be building it in a way that is actually valuable for your community members.

                     And I think that's the big reason why a lot of independent communities start to thrive a lot more, purely because of that reason, because a lot of it happens to be for something that someone can fully relate to and fully understand. I underestimated how little help I need, so definitely make sure that you... If I had found it alongside someone, I would've probably been a happier person. Because right now it is at a stage where, oh, who can I potentially partner up with? And it's something I'm constantly thinking of all the time. So definitely think about whether this is something that you can partner up with someone when doing, because it can get really lonely, specifically with if there's certain challenges or issues or so forth and you want to bounce off ideas from someone. So potentially, doing it with someone, I think, would make a big difference.

                     And don't try to reinvent the wheel, it's something I say all the time. If there's a community already that's out there, that has a lot of what you are hoping to build, then maybe partner up with them. Get in touch and ask them that you'd love to be a part of it and you'd love to help them out and I think that goes a long way rather than the idea of let's build a whole bunch of different communities that all do the same thing, rather than partnering up together. So that's something I did very recently, specifically with our podcasts. Sarah McDowell, absolutely brilliant. She was doing SEO SAS, one of my favourite podcasts. She'd been running it for a bit over two years. I knew that I wanted to do a podcast for WTS, and she was looking for a co-host, and so I just got in touch with her and told her, "I absolutely love your podcast, why don't you come join forces and let's do one podcast together?"

                     And it made such a huge difference because she knows everything about podcasts and I don't. And then I have the community, so it's kind of this nice balancing act between us. So definitely, partner up with people on projects and on things that they're very good at rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel with everything. Yeah. I think, have I forgotten anything in my little notes? I think these were the main [crosstalk 00:37:33].

      Jon Payne:

      No, I think you've covered everything that you wanted to. About making the foundation solid? I think you mentioned those. I was looking at questions as they were coming in, so I took my eye off the ball for a minute. So I've got one and as we come into the question bit, which would be... You're doing all of that and you're doing really hard work. What would your advice be if it doesn't do what Women in Tech SEO does and it just kind of... The graph is a little bit more shallow. It's going up, but it's just a bit shallow, what would your advice be?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. I think if things feel like they're starting to plateau, then you probably need to shake things up a little bit. So I think that's constantly why I'm always coming up with different projects and initiatives and so forth. The mentorship programme that we kicked off last year was because it was obvious there was a need for it. A lot of people are always asking questions to each other and they need support, but it's not as simple as a question and answer. Some people needed proper mentorship.

                     At our events, we're constantly trying to... I think, actually, WTS virtual, the idea was after watching one of your Business Is Unusual, because I like the format and I like that it was one hour. And I never told you this but now I just remembered it. I loved that this was one hour. It was so digestible and I was so zoomed out and I was so tired of... I don't want to stay in front of a virtual conference for, I don't know, five, six hours. So I started WTS workshop for that [inaudible 00:39:07]. It was like, okay, one hour, done.

                     So definitely shake things up and keep asking for feedback and asking how to make things work better. And if something isn't working, I'm always archiving and adding new channels all the time, and deleting stuff and adding things. Don't keep trying to force something that isn't working out. Our weekly interviews, if they weren't getting any shares or visits or so forth, I would've just stopped them. So just kind of always analyse as you go, and get feedback and see what works and what doesn't and just come up with new stuff all the time.

      Jon Payne:

      Love that. Love that. Brilliant. Really good. I want to unpack it and ask you more things, but we've got other questions to ask. Where are we? Okay, so... Oh, what was the name of the SEO book?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Mastering In-House SEO. I think they have a new edition coming out soon. I just typed it in the chat.

      Jon Payne:

      Cool. Okay. Then we've got... Thank you for typing it there. How do you go about finding speakers and interviewees?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah, very good question. We built the speaker hub exactly for this. Yeah, can I just type it really quickly because it's one of my proudest things ever. It is. I'm so proud of it. So we built it specifically for that reason where anyone who wants to speak in the industry just submits a speaker card. It's as simple as this. You don't have to be a, oh, I'm someone who spoke before, I'm someone who did this, I'm someone who did that. There's over 300 of them right now, which is great. And we're always sharing it with all event organisers, because the main purpose of it is to help event organisers diversify their events. We want to say goodbye to all [inaudible 00:40:59] panels, this is not okay and there is no reason for it anymore.

                     So with every project that we do, we always have open forms. It's not exclusive in any way. So for example, our interviews that go out every Monday, at the start of every interview post we say, "If you're a woman in the industry who wants to share your story, all you have to do is you fill this form. The second you fill this form, you get scheduled in." Now, we have a massive schedule that's probably running until the end of the year now, but you will get in. The same thing with the podcast. When we launched it, we had a speaker form. If you want to be on the podcast, all you have to do is you just fill this form. And, again, I think we just launched a podcast a week or two ago, and we already have enough speakers to fill in the rest of the year, which is crazy.

                     So making it as open as possible and as easy as possible for people to put themselves forward. I know there's a lot of conferences that don't even have speaker pictures, which is absolutely not okay. So we do that with our workshops, with our interviews, with our speaker hub, with absolutely everything we have. I can see a question Hazeem asked, which I think is a little bit connected. If it's okay, the organisation in me will [crosstalk 00:42:06].

      Jon Payne:

      It's your show, hey, your show.

      Areej AbuAli:

      So I love that question from Hazeem. He's talking about if there are introverted or quieter members of the community who don't feel comfortable speaking, how is that approached? I always reach out to people one-to-one because even though my idea of having things open is a really good idea, it can be problematic because I could end up with a whole bunch of White women, and that's exactly what I don't want to do with the community. I don't want it to just be a community for White women. I want to make sure there is representation all across.

                     So I do have to step in, always, reach out specifically to people of colour and within the community for our podcast, for our interviews, for our workshops, and just kind of encourage them and say, "I'd love to have you get interviewed. I'd love to have you on the podcast. I'm sure that everyone would love to hear your story." So sometimes you need to step in and make sure. Because at the end of the day, if I had an interview hub that was just full of White women, then I'm not doing my job when it comes to diversifying the industry. Same with the speaker hub and so forth.

                     So you do need to have active outreach and you do need to do a good job out of that. But then at the same time, anyone who wants to attend is more than welcome but what I do tend to do is some get prioritised at some point, just to kind of make sure we're keeping things fair and we're keeping things representative.

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah. We do the same. It's that thing of finding... You've got the really quite confident people and who are great speakers and that's great, and we need those people because often they'll sell the tickets, so to speak. But you have to, as you say, going out and just saying to someone over coffee, "You know what? You should really do a talk on this. I would love to hear you." Or you could do a talk. And we did, earlier on, when we first started [inaudible 00:44:05], I haven't done it for the last one because it was virtual, but for pretty much all the ones before, Claire and I would coach some of the speakers on, "Okay, let's do this together." And they've got great stories. They've got great opinions. So, wow, cool.

                     I think just to underline, though, again, it's born of being a great community and being community lead, is the fact that you get all of these... or leads to you getting a lot of these bigger pictures because your community want to speak and they feel empowered so to do. I think it's just... And it just keeps coming back to that. If you struggle with that, then maybe your community isn't as active as you think it is, or as open and engaged as you think it is, and you need to go back another step and do the let's shake things up, let's... we need to change some stuff. Okay. What... Oh, sorry. Here we go. We've got, is there an initiative that you wanted to start that someone talked you out of? Thanks, Annette.

      Areej AbuAli:

      That's such a touch one.

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah. That's why I skipped the one above it. How about that? That's hard.

      Areej AbuAli:

      I mean, no one talks me out of anything because I can't think of a project where I was like I really want to kick this off and someone was like, "That's an awful idea." And it's not because all my ideas are awesome, it's just... Oh, that's a really tough one, Annette. I'll have to get back to you on this. I don't think it's happened yet. It would've come to mind if it has. Okay, there are a few projects I do have on my list which require, I know it's going to be a lot of time investment but I think we're going to be brilliant. So I just need to get around doing them.

                     Something that I always talk myself against, though, is every time I think of specific projects that will be monetary. And I think that's something I need to get over. Most of our events and most of almost everything in the community is free. And the only thing we charge for is our annual conference. And even that, the pricing is beyond accessible. I think the virtual one was between 15 to £30 tickets. And even with that, I feel really weird asking people for money. Which is crazy because I do put a lot of time and energy in it and I need to start being more okay about that. So that's something I always talk myself out of, is there are a number of different projects and things that I know will have to have monetary value associated to them, and I kind of put them off because... Even the new mentorship programme that we're just running again now, I really wanted to, and I was seriously considering making it a paid programme and then at the last minute I didn't do it because I chickened out.

                     And I think that's something I need to start feeling more comfortable about. And a lot of people talk me into it, but I talk myself out of it. And that's kind of the opposite of what you asked, but I promise, I'll let you know if I do get one of these projects happening.

      Jon Payne:

      That's great because you also answered Annette's follow up question which was, maybe the idea was that you talked through with someone and then they seem not so great anymore. And then, yeah, you talk yourself out of it. You use Facebook and Slack. Are there any other... Thanks, Claire, for your question. Any other channels that you think are good for engaging people and bringing people together?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. We have Twitter and LinkedIn, both as pages, and Instagram. The three of those as pages. And these are more really good for kind of publicity and sharing some of our projects and things like that. The actual community ones are our Facebook group and our Slack group. I'm not a Facebook fan. I'm stuck having a Facebook account now because of this group. If I didn't have this group, I would've left Facebook ages ago. I prefer Slack so much more, but unfortunately because we don't have a paid Slack account, so it is really annoying because there's so much activity that happens and the next thing you know, anything that's older than two weeks kind of disappears from history, which is annoying. I haven't managed to stumble across...

                     I know there's a bunch of new community-lead platforms like Circle is one that I've heard of. I know a few people used Squirt as well. I'm personally very, very comfortable in Slack. I think it's great because of the way that we kind of split the different channels. I have so much control over what can be monitored and what can't be and just the admin side of things. Facebook is much more accessible because a lot of people have Facebook accounts, so you do find that it's easier. We get a lot of activity over the weekends and on evenings on Facebook, but during the week days and more, then you get it more on Slack. So, yeah. That's just kind of my preference. It would be interesting to see if anyone kind of prefers something else.

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah, cool. I've got time for one more question. We got one minute to answer, so it's totally unfair.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Go for it.

      Jon Payne:

      So you're an inspiration to so many. Who inspires you?

      Areej AbuAli:

      Aw, yeah. Hannah Smith always comes to mind. I don't know if you know her?

      Jon Payne:

      Yeah. I don't know her, I know of her.

      Areej AbuAli:

      She's brilliant. Every time I have an idea, Women in Tech SEO related, whatever it is, I either call her or I send her this massive email with all of these bullet points of, okay, here is a dump of my thinking, and then she always gets back to me with every... Every single point, she would respond to it. I absolutely love Hannah. If you don't know her, I'm just going to add her website here. She's a consultant, worderist.com. She's creative and I'm technical and I feel like we just balance off each other perfectly. She's a brilliant, brilliant human.

      Jon Payne:

      Oh, lovely. Brilliant. You did that like that as well. Well done. Brilliant. This was lovely and it was a joy and delight to talk to you, Areej. Thank you so much for coming on. We've hit time perfectly.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yes.

      Jon Payne:

      Answered all the questions, you've bigged up Hannah Smith, and so many other people, as is your way. Thank you so much. That is the end of our time together. We'll say goodbye to everybody in the chat. Thank you for all your questions. Thank you, Areej AbuAli.

      Areej AbuAli:

      Yeah. Thanks for having me. Thanks, bye.

      Jon Payne:

      Cheers. See you, bye.

       

      Claire Dibben

      Events & Marketing Manager Claire writes about events, and, uh, marketing.

      Related Articles

      An image of a person dressed as a bunny rabbit looking glum with their head in their hands sat on a yellow bench.
      Topic: Talks, Digital Marketing, webinars (4 Minute Read)

      Lost your marketing mojo? Join the club.

      Business as Unusual: Building Your Community
      Topic: webinars (42 Minute Read)

      Building Your Community: A Business as Unusual Webinar

      Subscribe to our blog

      Get monthly digital marketing tips sent straight to your inbox want to know what you expect before you subscribe? You can preview the monthly newsletter right here.