Digital Natives: Meet the Women Shaping Online Communities

Digital Natives: Meet the Women Shaping Online Communities

We’re sliding into the stories of trailblazers who really clicked with their communities. As the way we interact online changes, we meet the women who have excelled in their fields by connecting and nurturing online communities.

This article appears in Volume 33: Collective.

remembers the dopamine high of a “nudge” from your crush on
MSN Messenger or the political minefield of choosing your Bebo
“other half”? So were the glory days of early social media; a
symphony of screeching dial-up tones, flashing message boards and
“top friends” lists. Anxiety-inducing features aside, these
burgeoning digital communities tapped in to our very human craving
for connection.

Yet this desire was soon overtaken by our impulse to share.
Smaller sites were replaced by larger, more centralised and
mobile-friendly platforms. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter became
the holy trinity of social networks. It was the dawn of information

In reaction, today’s social-media users are increasingly looking
to curate rather than create – streamlining the channels they
follow in a bid to dial down the clamour of content in their feeds.
A recent study shows that 66 per cent of those who engage with
online communities do so to interact with like-minded others.
Social platforms have become a space for people and cultures from
across the world to share, connect and belong. But will virtual
communities ever fully replace physical ones?

To find out, we caught up with four trailblazing women who have
each established themselves in their fields by finding and
fostering online communities. Sharing the stories behind navigating
their digital careers and personas, they reveal the power and
pitfalls of connections built online.

Sharmadean Reid

As the founder of technology company Beautystack, Sharmadean
Reid is on a mission to connect and empower independent beauty

Beautystack is a social-platform-meets-booking-system that
closes the loop between brand awareness and actually booking a
treatment. I recently started the The Beautystack Podcast because
people in business are often interviewed about their work; I wanted
to ask founders about personal topics as well as the role beauty
has played in their career. Creating bonds such as this is always
stronger than those simply formed by a “market” of people buying
your product.

A real community communicates. Technology that supports this has
been especially important for women over the past few years,
enabling those in caring roles to work flexibly and be more mobile.
My advice to those who are looking to grow an online community
would be to give it a really clear, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin
name, like Run Dem Crew. It will serve as an instant reminder if
anyone loses sight of what the group is really about.

Gina Martin

Activist, writer and campaigner Gina Martin is best known
for winning her case to make upskirting illegal in 2019. She
declined an OBE in 2020.

I am a firm believer that collective action online can be an
unparalleled catalyst for change. My campaign to make upskirting a
sexual offence was almost entirely digital. Since then, myself and
plus-size model Nyome Nicholas-Williams have fought a successful
battle on social media to make Instagram’s nudity censorship policy
more inclusive.

Performative activism is an issue on social media – you can
post, scroll and shout opinions without actually listening, showing
up or engaging in any deep learning. I use social media to support
and mobilise people, but the majority of my work is done

The biggest lesson that I’ve learnt from campaigning online is
that nothing you ever do is new; there are always groups of people
who will be discussing similar issues and experiences. The key is
to tap into these communities in order to create a lasting dialogue
and bring about change.

Liv Little

Liv Little is an author, presenter and the founder of
gal-dem, a magazine committed to sharing perspectives from women
and non-binary people of colour.

At university, I noticed a lack of collective space in which
women of colour could share their experiences, and gal-dem was
founded in response to this. The platform grew quickly, but has
always retained a sense of community. Our membership scheme asks
women to #supportthegaldem in exchange for perks – and that money
goes into the hands of authors, artists, filmmakers, editors and
other creatives. Our community is powered by the very people for
whom we exist.

Social media has been an invaluable tool for growing my business
and career, and it’s a particularly important space for
marginalised groups to connect. Recently, though, I’ve been trying
to carve out spaces online that feel more personal. A newsletter
felt like the best channel for this; I’ve felt able to share things
that I wouldn’t normally voice on other platforms, and it’s been a
beautiful way to foster meaningful conversations with my

Emma Gannon

The bestselling author and podcaster Emma Gannon built her
career online as an early adopter of the blog, podcast and
“multi-hyphen” method.

Finding my online “voice” meant writing in a way that’s closest
to my natural speaking voice. I honed my style over several years.
In the early days of my blog, I tested different writing styles
while no one was watching.

Thanks to my “multi-hyphenate” career, working on several
projects simultaneously, I’ve experimented across a number of
online channels. I find podcasting particularly powerful as a woman
because it’s one of the few platforms that focuses solely on what

saying and not what you look like. My newsletter, The Hyphen,
connects the dots across all of my platforms. It’s a far more
intimate space than social media – I get direct feedback from my

Although online communities will play an increasingly large role
in our lives in the coming years, I don’t think they will replace
human contact. The internet fills in gaps for sure, but we are
social animals and need to see people in 3D in order to truly

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