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She Leads Africa’s Co-founder Talks Building and Extending a Digital Community

Afua Osei studied political science at the Allegheny College, Pennsylvania with the intention of eventually working in politics and someday running for office. However, after completing her first degree, Afua attended business school and discovered there were a lot of other opportunities and careers she hadn’t considered. Since then, she’s had stints at the Tony Elumelu Foundation as well as McKinsey and Company, where she met She Leads Africa Co-Founder Yasmin Belo-Osagie. The idea behind She Leads Africa was born after Afua and Yasmin attended multiple professional conferences and pitch competitions and realised there was a shortage of women on stage. Together, they decided to do something to help change this. Their vision began in 2014 when they launched the first ever pan-African, women-only pitch competition on the continent, which aimed to showcase smart and ambitious women who wanted to build pan-African businesses. Since the pitch competition’s great success, SLA has grown into a large community of hundreds of thousands of ambitious women in Africa and the diaspora.

The Resource spoke to Afua about She Leads Africa and its work in growing a women empowerment platform via digital content and an online community.

From Pitch events to A Community

She Leads Africa didn’t start out as a business, but Afua and Yasmin both knew they wanted to create a platform for ambitious, well educated, upwardly mobile women to come to get advice, inspiration and skills. After the pitch competition gained publicity, women from all over the continent voiced that they too wanted to be part of something that was new and refreshing. Afua says, “People kept saying they wanted to connect with SLA and the network. We realised flying would be expensive so we started digital content to connect women regardless of where they lived. We know in-person connectivity is important but an online community can serve as a great stop when there are no events.”

The strategy for growing the SLA Brand in the minds of African women

Early on, Afua and the SLA team realised authenticity was what they needed. “The audience wants to see people that look and sound like them. They want content that reflects them and real women with hijabs, natural hair, braids and weaves.” Afua notes that SLA is an honest and straightforward brand that mixes pidgin, slangs and lyrics from popular songs. “Our audience is as likely to quote Cardi B or Tiwa Savage as much as they would quote Elon Musk.” This brand perspective has helped SLA stand out when it comes to content creation. Essentially, their content is treated as an extension of their audience.

“We’re also very consistent with creating content. We ensure that every day, there is content out there for women to consume”. whether that be via the SLA Newsletter, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube or website.

“Another thing that has helped us is that we’re focused on data and insights.” In other words, She Leads Africa’s content team pays attention to what works and doesn’t work. “It’s not what Afua thinks is interesting and funny. What is the audience responding to, how can it be refined to do better within the community?”

Some part of content creation is intuitive. After a while, Afua can tell if a post will resonate with the audience or not.

The One thing you need to know before starting a community

Afua says the most important thing in building a strong digital community is storytelling. “You need to create a story people can buy into – fashion, travel, tech, sci-fi. If there’s no story for them to connect to, they will not engage.” Afua also says it’s important to understand how to communicate effectively and showcase your viewpoint. Great storytelling makes SLA successful. “You need to bring people into your world and make them want to be part of it.”

Metrics to measure when starting the community. How should this change over time?

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Afua advises selecting metrics based on your organisation’s business model and what success looks like to you. “If you’re creating content for say an online store, you might want to measure phone calls or DMs – the metric should be tried to how you make more money.” In this vein, the SLA team is constantly monitoring its growth rate.“We ask ourselves, are we expanding our audience and reaching new people?”

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Sometimes, the metric changes to focus on a specific area. “In 2017, SLA was heavily focused on growing in South Africa. Instead of focusing on all numbers, we focused on growing their audience percentage in South Africa.”

Afua also talks about vanity metrics. “Metrics shouldn’t be vanity. Facebook likes are okay but if people aren’t viewing and engaging with content from the Facebook page, then it’s just a waste.” It’s important to grow your audience a little bit, and push yourself to think about the metric that will help your business succeed. She gives a brilliant example – “If you were selling advertiser space, it would mean reach, views and clickthrough rates. If you have a product, people inquiring about your goods and services. If you’re selling information, it could be downloads or lead generation. You need to make sure 1 or 2 strong metrics are directly correlated with your business goals.”

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How to approach Brands you want to work or partner with

Communities and organisations need to be thoughtful about partnerships. “What’s the story we’re trying to tell about our brand and what are we getting from the partnership?” Afua notes that partnerships must have three elements.

1. It has to add value to the community. If there’s no benefit, such as information and entertainment, then it doesn’t add value. The campaign will not be successful.
2. Will it help reach business goals? Sometimes, while working with the partner you might need a lot more resources than you have. So you must understand the resources you have and what your advantage is. You should know when you don’t have the capacity to partner with a big brand or company and approach smaller companies instead.
3. Larger brands add value to you. You might have to work harder to get them but they will help put your brand out there. Finally, the cycle of closing partnerships tends to be lengthy so manage time as wisely as possible.

The strategy for managing, creating and accepting content on the SLA blog

SLA’s blog accepts submissions from African women all around the world. One of the first things the early SLA team did was create a guidebook that defined what the SLA style looks like. “It helps us better communicate with people who would want to contribute. If you’re starting out and you don’t have anyone contributing, it’ll help to find people who are contributing to other blogs and reach out to them – that’s how we built our contributor base.”

When the quantity of content submissions begins to grow, you then have to decide what you want to accept. Afua notes that in the beginning,, her and Yasmin wrote all of the content themselves. “We wanted to make sure we had enough information on the platform that people could connect with. It also gave us a better sense and idea of how to create content, before asking others to do it for us.” In addition to learning how to create content, the statistics helped the team to see what people would like to read. i.e. regarding the length, type and format of content. “Do they like links in the articles or do they prefer lots of pictures?. You have to spend time experimenting and understanding your audience to figure out what format works.”

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The SLA blog currently has more than 100 contributors across the continent.

How SLA Ensures content is locally engaging while the audience is spread around the continent

“This is something that is challenging and we constantly work on and think about. There are similarities with members of the community but there are many more differences than similarities.” To solve this challenge, SLA uses global contributors to make sure they’re up-to-date with what is relevant. Team members are also challenged to be part of continent-wide conversations. “I follow the news in South Africa, Kenya and Morocco. I know what is happening in the diaspora in the US. If you want to create content for a global or any audience – you need to read the blogs they read, read their news, follow their social media influencers. You have to put yourself in the shoes of your audience.” Many people think that SLA is too West Africa focused and this requires the content team to push itself and keep modifying the weekly content calendar. “Are we being as diverse in storytelling as we need to be? If not, how do we get better?”

The idea behind the SLAY Festival

She Leads Africa has hosted an annual event called SLAY Festival in Lagos, Nigeria. It’s an informal conference that brings together women in a relaxed environment and offers learning and networking experiences via one-on-one or classroom sessions with accomplished women. “Ultimately as a business, you need to diversify your offerings. We understand that not every person wants the same experience. You also want to reach people where they are at a price point that’s favourable to them.” SLAY Festival was created for an audience that wanted in-person networking and learning opportunities and were willing to pay for a ticket. Dozens of factors including capacity were considered when designing the event. “We never wanted to do a conference with thousands of people – because the experience per person would be limited.”

How SLA Ensures the content of events like the SLAY festival is useful

“It’s a fine balance of both. People are looking to be entertained while being educated. The festival is actually not one or the other.” SLA listens to the audience and community by asking questions directly to their community through surveys, social media posts, email outreach etc. The information from surveys and posts are then collected, analysed and translated directly into the sessions available at SLAY Festival.

SLA also looks for gaps in the market. The organisation wants to be unique in what it offers its community. “We did a session about blockchain, for example – it’s not something that a lot of people here are talking about but we want our audience to be exposed to new concepts. Our platforms are always aiming to help people to move forward.”

Over the past several years, SLA has undoubtedly established itself as a company that many other brands and businesses have aimed to work with. Afua says that a new goal on the horizon is to establish SLA as a company that people aim to work for. With a small team of only 16 full-time employees split between Nigeria and South Africa, SLA is expanding quickly and is always looking for new talent and fresh minds to help them achieve their goals.

You can read more about She Leads Africa on their website, sheleadsafrica.org, and follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @sheleadsafrica.

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