Coworking marketing strategy: thoughts post-Coworking Unconference Asia

Community Lounge at the Coworking Unconference Asia - CU Asia 2019
Community Lounge at the Coworking Unconference Asia - CU Asia 2019 | photo: Arley Mardo Oersepuny | courtesy of CU Asia.


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What are the secrets of an effective coworking marketing strategy? How to add value to a coworking community? How to create engaging content? What’s the impact of coworking on neighbourhood communities? All questions buzzing among coworking operators and discussed at the Coworking Unconference Asia – CU Asia – 2019. In this article, we’ll tackle a few; read on and discover what’s happening in the coworking movement — and beyond.

In February 2018, Gianpaolo, Mowgli’s co-founder, and I, Lilli, Mowgli’s copywriter, ventured to Goa, India, as part of the Coworking Unconference Asia team. Besides having created the CU Asia website and curated the digital marketing strategy, we wanted to be there, in the field to experience hands-on the largest coworking conference in Asia.

The beautiful Panjim, city in the state of Goa, in South-West India, set the scene for this year’s event. With more than 200 participants from over 20 countries, for 5 days we found ourselves at the very core of the global coworking movement where we dove deep into its very essence. We attended keynote and panels; assisted workshops and participated in ‘unconference’ sessions as well as fireside chats. However, it’s through inspiring encounters over spicy dinner tables and drinks in colourful bars where we learned the most.

This article will cover some of the burning questions relevant to the coworking marketing strategy and the future of work, with a specific focus on digital growth and community. It’s true, we are an agency specialising in digital marketing and growth strategies, however, we are also coworking members and researchers, part of a larger global coworking family and, as such, we value the sense of community as much as operators do.

Coworking community and growth: where the physical space meets digital.

A successful coworking marketing strategy is about inclusion, empowerment, and growthof its members through an often unique story of the space in which it was born. A coworking story.

The protagonist of this story is the community — a big word in the coworking world. It’s what differentiate independent coworking spaces from the big brands that are taking over the market. During his talk, Marc Navarro,  a coworking consultant from Spain, proposed a simple, yet effective, definition of coworking:

“a shared workspace where the manager adds value to the community.”

Marc Navarro, Coworking Strategist

Whilst design and location are important factors of a coworking space, it’s the sense of community that attracts its members. People cowork because they don’t want to feel lonely.

In 2017, the Harvard Business Review published a research on how “coworking is not about the workspace — it’s about feeling less lonely.”

The data collected emphasised that 85% of the respondents state that “working in a coworking space improved their work engagement and motivation.” Hence, the job of a good manager is to find ways to engage and motivate the community, creating and providing value, day after day.

Who are the members and what do they need?

In order to both manage and add real value to a community, it’s crucial to know it well. Who are the members? What do they need? What are their wishes? Their goals? Their desires?

When the number of members is relatively small, answers are easier. Several event formats, for example, townhall meetups, can bring people together to discuss important matters for the space and its community. Here, the job of a manager is to facilitate the discussion, guide its direction and plan to actualise it.

Challenges arise when coworking communities are scaling, some of them, even beyond the walls of the space, through systems of digital membership. These are the cases where the “physical” sense of community meets the digital space. And here, data become crucial.

Using data to better understand your community

In his talk on “How to harness the power of data, AI and meaningful communities,” Mahdi Shariff quotes Peter Drucker when stating:

“what gets measured, get managed.”

Peter Drucker

Madhi’s project Guanxi.AI — where “guanxi” is the Mandarin for “system of social network and business relations” — offers a system to map and present peculiar characteristics of the members, through data already present on the web. Implementing such a system can help operators to know their community better, hence to facilitate encounters, curate the space, ultimately leading to better revenues.

In other words, a coworking marketing strategy includes both a physical aspect — the space, memberships, events, etc. — and a digital one, — marketing websites, social media, CRM’s, booking systems to name a few. Ideally, an underlying digital and marketing strategy will bring all of these together.

Get to know your potential member

Here at Mowgli we specialise in creating coworking marketing strategies for the digital aspect of workspaces. For example, we use analytics to help coworking managers to know their potential members better. Through in-depth research on Google Analytics, we can understand search histories, therefore, what members look for and need.

While Facebook and LinkedIn analytics give us solid hints about their demographics, locations, and interests., this data is crucial in creating a human-centered coworking marketing strategy supported by recorded user behaviours.  However, this is just a small part of a cohesive marketing strategy, which, of course, must include human interaction, managers-to-members, first.

To wrap it up, in order to be a good coworking manager and to add value to the community, knowing the physical space is not enough. The digital one counts more and more and can be a powerful tool to get to know the members better, especially when numbers are scaling up.

Content marketing for coworking spaces: what matters to your members?

We’ve said it just before: the secret ingredients for a good coworking marketing strategy is engagement, inclusion, and empowerment. Content marketing plays a crucial role in these three key actions. What’s in blog articles, newsletters, and social media is usually one of the first points of contact with potential members and the preferred ongoing channel of communication with the current ones. This is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the goal is to attract new people; on the other it is to provide the current community with valuable content.

However, even if the goals are different, the message should remain the same. The content strategy that nourishes an already formed community has to be the one that attracts new members. In doing so, it will engage like-minded individuals with the same values, wishes and desires of the present members. So that the group will grow organically, new members will bring more value and the role of the manager will be easier.

When we talk about content, we also refer to events, from formal ones, like programmes and workshops, to informal ones, like social hours and members day-outs. Content marketing should be consistent across all channels, both physical and digital, and respond to the needs and desires of the community. This doesn’t mean that new things should not be tested. At Mowgli, we believe that taking risks is important in a business strategy. However, those novelties have to be based on empirical evidence and well-thought through processes, with a rich pinch of creativity, of course.

The coworking market: a global movement with a local impact

We’ve extensively talked about “coworking community.” However, there are other communities that have to be engaged and involved that also belong to the ecosystem of a coworking space. The local and neighbourhood communities.

“I strongly believe that if you don’t have an impact on the society around you, you won’t have an impact on your talent sheet either”

Jaanus Juss, Founder of Telliskivi Creative City

Following what Jaanus said during his keynote speech at CU Asia 2019, there are few questions a successful coworking manager should ask. First of all, the simplest, yet most important one: “who are the people in the communities around the space?” and “how does the space affect them?” Is it including, engaging and empowering them? How do they perceive it?

It doesn’t mean that they have to become members as well. A coworking space doesn’t end with its walls. It’s part of a broader system of social, cultural and economic dynamics playing out in the urban space around it. These are definitely more complicated questions, but they are key to creating a sustainable and long-term business model. If part of the coworking ecosystem, neighbourhood communities could become a powerful engagement channel, physical, and even digital.

An example of local impact that mixes online and offline processes is the Italian “Social Streets” phenomenon, born in Bologna, and now spread all over Italy. The concept is simple: the people living in a street, or a neighborhood, create an online group, usually on Facebook, to communicate, organise events and implement circular economy systems (car and train tickets exchange). The phenomenon arrived also in Milan, in particular in Lambrate, a newly rejuvenated area, now home for creatives, and coworking spaces. Indeed, recent research conducted by the Politecnico di Milano, has explored the role that coworking spaces play not only for their own members but in a broader system of social relations, like the “social streets” and neighbourhood communities. Interviews and surveys emphasise that if a space and its members have an engaging and inclusive relationship with the locals, a positive impact is created for both of them.

Yes, it seems obvious, but often, when we are so focused on “our” community we almost forget what happens to our neighbours. A good coworking marketing strategy should also add value to them, listen to their needs and wishes.

To wrap it up

How to wrap this up? Here some key takeaways:

  • A good coworking manager is the one who adds value to the community;
  • A successful coworking marketing strategy doesn’t merely promote the space, but should engage, include and empower current and potentials members;
  • Know your community WELL — how? Through human interaction, duh, and leveraging digital tools (data, analytics etc);
  • Content creation — social media, email, blog, events — should be based on the values of the community;
  • A community should include coworking members and local neighbourhood communities within a broader ecosystem;
  • A good workspace not only makes a positive impact on its members but also on the society and urban space around it.

That’s a lot of rich food for thought! We’re missing just one more spicy ingredient to a good coworking marketing strategy — and life. And we’d like to say it as Marc Navarro did at CU Asia 2019:

“Do care. Care about what you do. Care about your members. People can tell the difference.”

Marc Navarro, CU Asia 2019

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