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How to create an active Community - Startacus chats to Andrew Zarick, Co-Founder of Digital DUMBO...

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by Startacus Admin

Sometimes you meet people, if only for a few minutes and they have an impact that can help shape a future discussion, decision, idea, or plan of action! One such person was Andrew Zarick, who was guest speaking at Northern Ireland based startup / culture / music / culture Festival - Culture Tech, back in 2012.

We had caught up with Andrew to discuss how Digital DUMBO (a social gathering he had co-founded) had grown from a small happy hour meetup in New York into a much bigger idea and social gathering, with events happening elsewhere in the States and the World. And seeing as Startacus was in the midst of launching at the time, this chat, even if just for a shortwhile, helped shape some of the early thinking Startacus had around community building too... Check out our 2012 interview below...

Digital DUMBO - like the name, can you explain a little bit about Digital DUMBO and the reasoning behind the name?

DUMBO is actually an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Dumbo is a neighborhood in between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges in Brooklyn. In the 1800s Dumbo was an industrial Andrew Zarickarea. Robert Gair, the inventor of cardboard, owned many of the warehouses that have since been converted to commercial and residential space.

In the late 1980's, artists began moving to Dumbo and illegally squatting in some of the buildings. Eventually real estate developers caught wind of Dumbo and the combination of artists and investment in the areas infrastructure paved way for small businesses and now, digital businesses. The cost per square foot is cheaper in Dumbo than Manhattan, yet it's just one subway stop away from the city.

Today, there are over 100 digital companies and start-ups in the neighborhood. We originally started Digital DUMBO as a social gathering to bring together like-minded people from our local community. We've since moved well beyond that. We now define our mission as cultivating and connecting communities at the intersection of digital and culture - everywhere. We've hosted events in London, UK and Valencia, Spain. Our first event in Boston will happen later this year. We're sticking with our brand because we're taking the stance that DUMBO is synonym with digital innovation and creativity.

Why do you think Digital Dumbo as a community has grown so quickly. 40 members 4 years ago to over 10,000 now - its not bad growth! But why?

Frequency, consistency, quality of product, and timing.

We literally started with $0. Our first event was in a private room at a local bar. At our early events, a couple of companies offered to sponsor a round or two of drinks. In our second event, we invited a videographer and animator from our community to showcase his work. The combination of free drinks and the showcase of work planted the seeds of what we now call our dd:SOCIAL event. We provide drinks for all attendees and give one company the opportunity to reach, disrupt, and engage our audience in whatever creative way they want.

For anyone that's done event planning, you know its not easy to do an event each and every month. After some deliberation, we decided to do the event monthly, on the last Thursday of each month. This consistency made Digital DUMBO one of the few community-centric, networking-centric events in NYC. It has been a grind, but also highly rewarding. We've been doing our event consistently for 3 years and 8 months. We've only missed dates for major holidays.

We've also had the opportunity to work with some amazing brands and communities that also have their own followings. We try to make an effort to cross-pollinate our community with existing communities in different fields like music, art, design, and fashion. We've done events with music companies, gaming companies, and fashion companies. This leads to interactions and conversations that wouldn't have otherwise been possible and help to grow community.

digital dumboFinally, we think we're in the midst of a broader movement. Creativity and ideas are valued more now than ever before. The workforce is changing with co-working spaces and dynamic teams. Education is being disrupted as people seek to find new skills on their own with Skillshare and new institutions like General Assembly. Events like Digital DUMBO are fueling the creative ecosystem by facilitating connections amongst people, leading to increased social capital (and not the kind you build on Twitter). We're living in exciting times.

Any tips for someone looking to grow a community of people organically (or otherwise) online?

Think Different. Experiment. Don't give up.

Create an event with its own feel, it's own style. Give it a voice and keep your community engaged. If they walk away feeling something, whether that means they were inspired by a presentation, met someone amazing, or simply enjoyed the atmosphere, you'll be successful. You have to keep at it, though. It took us at least a year to build up meaningful momentum.

Finally, there is an art to properly managing and communicating with your community with tools like EventBrite, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Meetup, and more. However, we'll be here for days if I get into that.

Andrew, you are a wee bit of an expert in SEO and affiliate marketing tactics. What would be your top piece of advice be for a beginner to drive and convert traffic on their online site into sales and leads?

Content is King. Links are Queen. For content websites on a budget, focus on building valuable content and community. Seed the content with the community and make it good enough to be make people want to share it. Reap the benefits of inbound link activity.

Businesses with budgets can spend money on media buys, giving them immediate data to utilize in their other marketing efforts. For example, does the phrase "Lil Wayne Music" result in sales of Lil Wayne music from paid search? If so, maybe we should optimize for that phrase to benefit from free, organic traffic.

Finally, understand your success metrics and have analytics in place to be able to know if things are working or not. I've worked with so many companies who don't have a solid grasp on what metrics matter to them. It's not just about measuring revenue and ROI, either. May attention to both micro and macro conversion events so that you can properly optimize your campaigns and conversion funnels. A micro conversion event might be a Like on a piece of content on Facebook. A macro conversion event would be a sale or a download of a white paper. How did that like on Facebook effect the download of the white paper 4 steps later?

So, inside info...what do you think is the next big emerging trend in the digital and cultural arena that Startacus members should keep an eye out for?

Professional exchange & co-working. The concept of co-working is still relatively new in many parts of the world. However, this is influencing work and the team dynamic in general. I think we'll see more professional changes across communities and across geography, not only amongst freelancers, but also established employees of large companies.

If you like what you see here on Startacus, why not become a member of our growing community? It's free! And you'll get all this - exclusive access to our Business Toolkit, discounts and offers galore for your business via our member only business deals, the chance to network and connect with loads of fellow self-starters, and maybe even become our celebrated 'Self-Starter of the Week' and tell the world your startup tale! Join right here for free... 

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Published on: 1st September 2012

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