Among the many landmarks commemorated in 2021, mid-November sees the first anniversary of Icehouse Central, which launched on this very day in 2020. We caught up with Bryar Stewart, Community Manager (Growth), to find out more.
After asking the community what they wanted more of from The Icehouse in 2019, the feedback was that post-programme connection was key. So, after many months of development, testing and community research and surveying, Icehouse Central went live on 18 November 2020 – an exciting social platform for alumni to connect, chat and provide help to each other, while continuing to learn with The Icehouse.
‘The concept had actually been around for many years. One of The Icehouse’s major strengths has always been the incredible network of alumni, and the senior team wanted a technology-based function that could create a more responsive, structured and supportive way to connect the community and make it work for them on their time,’ says Bryar.
Going live in changing times
Launching amid the first struggles of Covid-19 was indeed perfect, and captured the need at the time for communication, community and clarity. ‘Covid had the potential to derail Central for a time, but The Icehouse decided to be bold and launch. In many ways, launching during Covid was the best time, as businesses were looking for more guidance and information. I know that enabling alumni to connect with fellow alumni exactly how and when they wanted through an online platform was greatly appreciated.’
Of Bryar’s many Central highlights from the first twelve months has been developing an understanding where the network finds value in its offerings and working in those areas to provide an even better service.
‘My favourite feature is definitely ‘Ask and Offer’, where users can ask a question to the network, answer back, or provide advice or support to other alumni questions. I check Ask and Offer every day. As Community Manager I have made a personal promise that for every comment that comes through, I will do some behind-the-scenes digging and come back with an answer, whether it’s the same day, or within the same 24 hours.
‘That may involve chatting to Liz [Wotherspoon, Chief Executive of Growth), any alumni I personally know, or the wider community, and then jumping on and making that connection. My biggest joy is when someone goes; ‘I really need help here’ and then putting them in touch with someone and them getting back to me and saying, ‘thank you so much, that connection really helped me.’
In July 2021, and as part of Bryar’s ongoing determination to give The Icehouse community as much as possible, she came to the conclusion that Central shouldn't just stand alone as ‘although a brilliant platform, online is not for everyone’.
New three-pillar strategy
With that has come the launch of a new three-pillar community strategy; Icehouse Central, events and reunions (targeting alumni who enjoy face-to-face connections and events), and podcasts, webinars and promotion.
‘The three pillars work hand-in-hand. I love the third element because it helps me to share alumni stories, helps me to connect one-to-one when I am recording podcasts and so on, and all of these interlink because the people I have done podcasts with are understandably the first people I chat to at an event, and the first people I’ll think of when someone puts in an Ask and Offer. It’s amazing how often I’ll say to myself, ‘I just chatted to someone in that industry, let’s see if they can help!’
Bryar also notes the alumni who wanted to negotiate new pay rates to their team and sought clarification on best practice. ‘I knew someone who would be ideal. They connected, talked on the phone and the alumni came up with a great solution. Then there’s the alumni who was able to source a new graphic designer through Central. And there are so many success stories like that.’
That’s the real satisfaction and Bryar’s reward. Central is about alumni businesses doing business together and supporting each other with the experience they have, in a safe place, with people who ‘get it’.
The three-pillar community strategy also ensures there’s a place for everyone. ‘If you take something like WhatsApp, which is great and a popular platform for programme cohorts to stay connected in a fun way, it’s not always the best place to talk shop or post that article you saw on LinkedIn. That’s why Central is so good. It’s business over banter.’
Central’s second year will see plenty of new features and adjustments to look out for, including the growth of a more dynamic and ‘LinkedIn-style’ live feed.
‘Central is for the Icehouse community, not the Icehouse, and thanks to the strength of the network the platform is not an in-person product. It will always stand as an online platform where people can get that connection with The Icehouse and each other.’
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