Using Social Media to Build an Offline Community

Women UK had the pleasure of chatting with ‘Bloggers Brunch’ founder Sabrina Egerton about social media and the human desire for community.

Bloggers brunch is an offline community that brings together digital creators to develop relationships IRL.  Although digital technologies provide us with the power to connect with people all over the world, why are people feeling more isolated?

Social Isolation

It’s clear the impact social media has made on our world.  It has provided individuals with a platform to express themselves, their creativity, and their voice. It’s changed the way we communicate, the way we find romantic partners, how we access information and how we, as individuals, can demand political change.

If used correctly, social media can be the very thing to help you find your community.   This was something Sabrina recognised, after she herself felt isolated.

“Bloggers brunch started because of my desire to be part of a community.  When I was living in Belfast I had a strong network of people around me.  I was invited to every event and knew everyone, but Belfast is so small compared to Dublin. Moving to Dublin was a huge culture shock.”

The feelings of isolation came when Sabrina struggled to find people in Dublin who shared her interests.

“After I started my blog ‘Sabrina’s Style’, I realised I have no one to share this with, not anyone who understands.  Sometimes your normal friends don’t really get it.  It’s not that they’re being rude or inconsiderate, they just don’t understand why you would spend time building a website or create content outside of work.  They don’t see it as the creative outlet you do and that can be quite lonely”.

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Happy faces as attendees pose with Sabrina for a group photo after the Bloggers Brunch event in September

The Desire for Community

People today work on an individual basis.   There are so many opportunities to connect separately online, but we crave community.

Sabrina continues, “After a year of working on Sabrina’s style I decided, I couldn’t be the only one who desires to be part of a community.  Bloggers brunch is not unique, they have them all over the world and they’re a great way to bring people together.  I thought, no one is doing that in Ireland and unless you’re one of the top bloggers it can be very difficult to make connections, or have the work your doing noticed because there’s so much competition.

“There was a lot of work and investment put in, all my own money, but I felt so strongly about it.  I thought if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work but if it does, there’s so much for me to gain.”

The first event sold out within a couple of weeks.

Success stories like this are highlighting our desire for real life connections.  It’s not uncommon for people today to feel a great deal sadder, more anxious, lost, incomplete, or more restless than we’ve ever been in the past. Most people are unaware of why they are feeling this way, but it could be that we are longing for, and slowly dying without, community.

Social Evolution

If you take a look at the history of sapiens, for most of our time on this planet we lived in communities. Groups of 20 or 30 people who worked together, ate together, and lived around each other.  We lived with people we felt overwhelmingly connected to.  We’d drop in unannounced to one another’s quarters, talk about our concerns or fears, laugh together, dance together and share rituals.   You weren’t alone, or you weren’t trying to compete with the rest of the world on your own. You had a tribe.

Nowadays we commute to work on our own, share offices with people whose views we don’t share and eat lunch alone in cities surrounded by thousands of strangers.

Sabrina recognised this issue when she set out to create the bloggers brunch. “I wanted to bring people together.  Not just bloggers, but creative people, digital creators, or people interested in being part of a community.   It’s open to all, to anyone who’s looking to make connections offline.  The way it’s designed, it’s a safe place to come together and learn.”

“In every brunch we have a guest speaker, someone everyone can learn from.   At one event we had Sofia Delgado who talked about the importance of community and why we should all be working together.  Community really is at the heart of everything we do.

The Issue With Social Media

I question Sabrina on her opinions of social media, the negative press surrounding the platforms and the role it plays in people’s mental health.

“It’s hard for me to mock social media because Bloggers Brunch was built on Instagram.  That’s how people find out about it and become interested in it. It’s provided so many opportunities for people and for that there are huge benefits.

“However, I do agree that there are a lot of negatives that come with it, it can be all consuming.  There has been a huge increase in young people under 18 looking to choose ‘influencer’ as a career.  Interestingly, one study tested if this was actually possible.  They looked at the cost it would take to recreate just one influencer post.  The authors discovered, from their holiday, the car, the watch or designer clothes, it would cost €6,100.  That’s to recreate just one post that the top influencers are creating daily.

“So it’s not a realistic goal.  18 or 19 year olds are getting into debt because they’re taking out credit cards in an attempt to recreate this lifestyle.  For these reasons, I think it’s dangerous”.

Influencer Marketing Scams

There has been a huge increase in companies benefiting from free labour by running influencer-marketing schemes that prey on teens.  In exchange for free advertisements, the companies tap into the teens desire for fame by offering them exposure on their sites.   Reaching out to young people with an organic following has become a much cheaper form of advertising for companies.  A free alternative to placing an expensive ad in a magazine or on TV.

Of course, this offers no benefit to the teens they manipulate.

Sabrina agrees, “It’s a scheme were they offer them a special influencer discount code and make promises to feature them on their Instagram.  They can only avail if they make the purchase.  So teens are borrowing money to buy these items, in the false hope of becoming an influencer.”

Influencer marketing works as long as we are consistently sold the dream that anyone can make it on social media.  That anyone can quit their job and get paid to do what they love.  Realistically, not everyone has what it takes to build a huge online following and find advertisers to fund such idealized adventures.

The Need For Community

Could it be, in our alienated condition, the desire for connection and meaning morphs into a longing for extreme success and fame?  We grow insatiably ambitious out of a need to quench our inherent desire for tribe.  Having followers, or fame, provides you with a sense of purpose.  A digital identity that is accepted and glorified by your peers.  People know your name, you matter.  As they share every minute of their day with thousands of people who watch eagerly, they don’t seem so lonely.  This lifestyle promises a version of tribe that you might otherwise fail to get in such an isolated environment.

Even if we do have connections outside of social media, it’s possible they’re scattered separately all around the world.  Unavailable to us most of the time.  We fear intruding on one another, so we communicate only via screens.  If we are to meet in person, it’s scheduled weeks in advance.   We get most of our information from the media, which profits from sparking terror in our minds about the mental stability and cruelty of those around us.

It might seem easier to hide behind our screens, but communities such as Bloggers Brunch can quench that longing for connection.

“I have gained some of my best friends from it, genuine friends.  I couldn’t believe the amount of people messaging me to tell me how informative it was and to thank me for the connections they made.”

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The first Bloggers Brunch event in October 2018

What To Expect at the 2020 Events

“We cap every event at 40 people because we want people to mingle and network; any bigger and it will become isolated.  It seems the bigger the event the lonelier it becomes and you have less of a chance connecting with people.  It becomes too intimidating.”

“In 2020 I will be creating more bloggers brunch socials to offer people further opportunities to get together.  It’ll be something more casual, in a less formative setting”.

“The other element I want to explore is workshops.  A lot of people who are blogging are self-thought and don’t come from a marketing background.  The workshops will offer them a chance to develop these skills.”

To find out more about bloggers brunch: Website and Instagram

Check out Sabrina’s instagram here.

This interview was edited and condensed.

Article written by Features Editor Ciara Glover

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