Entrepreneur and president of Expatriate Party SAS in Paris, France, Kevin Knight has +7 years’ experience building online communities, organizing social networking events and publications to connect people and, more recently, helping expatriates find jobs in Paris.
What is Expatriate Party? Expatriate Party is divided into three major activities:
- Online Expatriate community – 18,000+ members spread across six main groups (Expatriates in Paris, Jobs in Paris, Roommates in Paris, Classifieds in Paris, Language Exchange in Paris and Expatriates in Paris on Meetup.com) with nearly 40 new members joining every day.
- Expatriates Magazine – A free printed magazine publication offering long-form articles from 35 qualified experts and expats on different topics important to living in France which is distributed through 140+ businesses, embassies, schools and public distributors around Paris.
- Jobs in Paris – a recently launched platform for expatriate job seekers and employees to find one another, quite simply a job site specifically for Paris whereby companies can list jobs and expats can apply for positions and upload their resume.
How and why did you create Expatriate Party? It began in early 2011. I wanted to see what it was like to run a blog so I set it up The Parisien Expat , a simple WordPress blog that lists essential resources and addresses to go in Paris such as a list of McDonalds, H&Ms, etc. The funny thing about it which not many people know was that I actually didn’t actually have an internet connection. There was one corner in my apartment where if I angled my laptop correctly on the back of the sofa I could get unsecured access to one of my neighbor’s Wi-Fi connections – usually between 10pm and 6am. This is how I built my site. Today The Parisien Expat provides AdSense revenue and it is excellently indexed by Google for most things Paris related.
The next step was to get traffic to my blog. Back then it was simple pasting links onto key websites and forums and the traffic was instant! Almost instantly the blog was bringing in between 25-30 euros a day in AdSense revenue.
It wasn’t until a few months later when I started learning about SEO and generating traffic by watching YouTube videos, reading articles and books that I began making my blog more community-oriented through comments – lists of language exchanges, babysitting offers, etc. Whenever someone posted an offer or a need I would manually repost in a presentable format onto the blog. For example, manually pasting flag icons to represent the language offer – it was a long process!
As the blog was clearly helping people I decided to try something new: bring people from an online environment to meet in person with a party. Having attended one international party I instantly thought to myself: “I could do a better job at getting strangers to talk to each other.”
Although I had never organized any type of social gathering and people were telling me “start small,” I wanted a big event that would make a difference. On January 7th, I organized my first event and 300 people turned up!
Being an introvert, when I launched the events, from the very beginning I knew I would need someone outgoing (extroverted) to be the host – I have big stage fright.
From then on an Expatriate Party was organized every two months. I differentiated my parties from all the others by including a big ice breaker. Prior to each event every attendee filled out a survey about themselves and their answers were gathered into a list of 20 questions. During the ice breaker expats were challenged to talk to as many people as possible to find the answers the questions, and the person who got the most answers right won a prize. Companies were very happy to participate and give prizes to the community: from massages to theatre tickets to haircuts etc.
The parties were such a success that after the fourth or fifth we began privatizing them. At this point I began focusing less and less on The Parisien Expat blog and more on social media, newsletters and online communities. The first group to launch was Expatriates in Paris, which now has 13,000 members and remains my favorite and proudest group.
Since then I’ve opened several sub-groups specifically aimed at certain recurring needs I noticed as I monitored the community posts. The newest, most significant group is Classifieds in Paris, which currently with 4,000 expats who come and go from Paris have started this use this group to buy/sell.
So to summarize:
- Jan 7th 2012 – first expatriate party – over 300 attendees
- Sept 2012 – privatization of boat party
- March 2012 – Growing and monitoring the Facebook communities
- Jan 2013 – Event diversification – up to 19 event organizers – 5 events a week
- April 2013 – Main group reaches 5,000 members
- May 2013 – Launched magazine – 90 distributors, 3,000 copies
- July-December 2013 – Create sub-groups
- August 2014 – Launched jobs-in-paris.fr
What were a few problems you encountered while organizing events? Each event got better through experience, but looking back on my first event I made several mistakes:
- I didn’t negotiate with the club owners as well as I could have
- The price of drinks were being sold for more than the contractual agreement, which I didn’t notice until a few hours into the event
- Having way too many left over and unsold alcohol bottles and having to store all of them in my apartment
- Speed of queue – we were not efficient in getting people through the doors; there was a constant queue of about 20 meters until midnight
- Managing the transition from part 1: the social mixer to part 2: the clubbing went, completely out the window
How do you market the Expatriate Party community? I invest a lot of my time, but I’ve never done any paid advertising; and I’ve never had to for two reasons:
- The expatriate community is a very diverse, open-minded and adventurous group of travelers who love discovering new places, meeting new people and sharing their knowledge. With regards to events; all you have to do is organize a fun event that lets expats explore, and they will do all of your marketing for you via word-of-mouth.
- Facebook has already done the difficult job of creating a community with its own member login and profiles, so rather than maintain my own website with my own member profiles and then draw people away from Facebook onto my community like many websites try and do, I built my community directly into Facebook and let them do my hosting and marketing for me.
The trick then becomes going where your potential consumers are and linking to your community. Many Anglos turn to Craigslist to buy and sell bicycles, clothes, and things to furnish their apartments. Therefore you can easily promote your community by reposting the Craigslist ‘articles for sale’ and ‘roommates wanted’ announcements onto your community and then contacting the sellers directly to let them know you had posted their ad to your community. Not only are those sellers grateful for your helping them sell their stuff, but they will most certainly join your group and post future offers themselves.
It’s also important to note that my target audience wasn’t following me or my business; they were following the community. I’m sure if I had made the events around me or the Expatriate Party brand it wouldn’t have been as successful. And the beauty of creating a community around the group and not around your brand is that the community supports itself and provides its own content and I merely monitor it to keep the spammers at bay. If I were to walk away from the community tomorrow, they would continue themselves indefinitely.
In such a large and open community, how do you deal with spammers and scammers? It wasn’t until the community reached 8,000 members that spammers started becoming a problem, and now they are a daily annoyance. I do spend a lot of time filtering members and monitoring posts, but you can’t keep a community 100% spam-free. Fortunately, this is where running my community on Facebook comes in handy because Facebook is continually making it harder and harder to spam. Most recently they launched the ‘Report this post’ and ‘Block this user’ buttons so the members can keep the group spam and scam free. If I had tried to run this on my own website, I would have to pay for software and people to constantly monitor all this individually.
Tell me more about your free publication. By running the communities I could clearly see the same recurring issues, problems and challenges from expats coming and going and decided the time was right to launch a publication. I threw the idea out to the expat community and asked for those interested in writing to meet and discuss their ideas.
Much like the first party, I had no experience in publishing but remained confident. We simply called corporations and embassies asking their HR department if they would make the magazine available on their premises. It wasn’t easy, and at first many were skeptical, but eventually we procurred enough distributors to launch.
The magazine is free and is paid for by selling advertising space.
What are a few of your favorite videos?
What tips would you offer for entrepreneurs wanting to build their community? It’s all about identifying emerging opportunities and then exploiting them to grow your business before every else figures it out and saturates the market.
Back in 2011 Facebook allowed you to easily create a group and invite everyone you know to join it in just a few simple clicks. In addition nearly 100% of your followers would see all of your Facebook page posts. Facebook has since changed their policies and those free opportunities are no longer possible today. Brands trying to grow their consumer base today don’t have the same luxuries that brands had back then, and I was able to take advantage and grow my community before the policy changes went into effect. There are emerging opportunities waiting to be exploited every day; all you have to do is find and use them to catapult your brand to success.
For example: the fastest growing community I run is “Jobs in Paris”, this group will actually exceed the main group in membership numbers by September 2014. When you see a group grow this quickly it makes you think. And so I launched Jobs in Paris, a simple platform to connect hiring companies and job-hunting expatriates.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Derek Banas, owner of New Think Tank explains that “Online marketing changes on a month-to-month basis, and you must constantly stay up-to-date with current trends and ideas and exploit the often times free advertising options online.”]
80% of what I do doesn’t bring in any immediate revenue. But if it weren’t for all of that unpaid work I wouldn’t be able to launch the next products. Everything you do should build upon what you’ve created before. Starting my simple blog gave me just enough followers to launch a successful event, which turned into a string of successful events which attracted even more followers, which allowed me to unite those followers into one successful Facebook group, which allowed me to launch a second, then a third… Having organized such a large community of 18,000+ followers allowed me to launch the Expatriates Magazine publication and sell the advertising space. If I had tried to launch my magazine without already having 18,000+ readers, it would have been much more difficult to sell the advertising space in the magazine.
Lastly, if you’re running an expatriate or travel community, don’t forget to include the locals. The expats in your community came to the country to meet and live like the locals, and it’s the locals who know all the cool pubs and restaurants and things to do, and they understand the French system, The “locals” in our communities are usually impatriates – and have therefore experienced life overseas, returned home but missing the international lifestyle they had.
Any final tips for running an online community?
- Put the members first. There have been a few occasions where I’ve had to tell friends to STOP doing something, and even banned friends or people I liked because they were causing more damage than good to the community spirit.
- Just launch! If you want to start a community, do it! What’s the worst that can happen? Worst case scenario it fails, and if it fails it’ll be forgotten about this time next year.
- Be passionate about what you’re doing and truly believe in what you offer because passion is contagious and inspiring. Even if your competitors do what you do better than you and have more experience, the right people will see your passion and will invest in you and get behind you.
- Separate professional and private life. Running a community can easily consume your entire life! I have learned to set times dedicated to my private life and I do not work. I will not sacrifice relationships with the ones I love for the sake of business. Keeping you partner involved in your projects and goals certainly helps create a supportive home environment.
- Respect other groups and admins. Don’t go spamming your community onto other groups or they will treat you as spam and block you. If instead you contact the admin privately and request to post in their community, often times they’ll actively use their influence and help promote you. You can return the favor for them and both of your communities benefit. After all everyone started with an idea, and so long as your idea doesn’t compete with existing or future projects there is no reason not to help someone who approaches you correctly.
- Make yourself redundant. Identify the leaders who naturally emerge within your community and offer them to become admin, official event organizers, or content writers. This allows you to focus on growing and improving the community, services and projects, and your members have more things to do. Sub-communities will even begin to emerge inside of your community. We currently have 10 active event organizers for everything from bowling to laser tag, museum visits to horse riding to new groups forming which are suggested and run by community members (expatriates in Berlin, Expatriate Parents in Paris) and 35 magazine writers around the world.
- Keep improving. Building your business is a learn-as-you-go process. Be patient, learn from your mistakes and from the mistakes of others and constantly change and improve upon your idea until you find the right approach. Don’t wait for everything to be perfect, it will never be the perfect time to launch any project/community/service, they’ll always be something that can be better but you have plenty of time to rectify it.
- Keep building. While your clients and community members are aware of your existing plans, try to envision what’s missing in the market and plan for it. At the moment Expatriate Party has several community services, but we have one eye on how all of these activities will allow us to launch future projects. Arguably our largest and riskiest project will take place the next 18-24 months…