How CultureCon Scaled Intimacy and Created a Destination for Diverse Creatives

The event went from a small get-together in a Harlem apartment to a national conference tour attended by thousands

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Before CultureCon was a conference, it was a get-together in my Harlem apartment among friends to discuss what they needed help with. We soon realized there wasn’t a space where Black and brown creatives and young professionals could discuss both work and play. We set out to build a creative playground just for them. A few events later, we took the intimacy from that meet-up and built CultureCon, an ideas conference that prioritized connection and vulnerability.

There’s a shift happening as marketing increasingly becomes more personalized. According to a recent YouTube Trends Report, niche communities are increasingly influencing creativity and cultural conversations. The growing appetite for deeper-rooted connection reflects the new standard from audiences, who want to be seen and acknowledged as co-collaborators in the wider discourse.

As marketers search for new ways to meet customers where they are, the story of CultureCon can be instructive for building deeper, authentic relationships with niche communities and doing something that might seem impossible: creating intimacy at scale.

Don’t become everything to everyone

Gone are the days when loose descriptors like “fashionista” and “foodie” are specific enough to describe a community’s identity. Now, more than ever, the internet has shed light on incredibly active and distinct ecosystems building nuanced cultural stomping grounds with powerful influence.

Brands that truly want to resonate should realize the incredible value and trust that can be harnessed when the focus is on creating a deeper relationship instead of shouting into the marketing abyss. Humans are programmed for connection, and when you call someone by name and see them, they bloom in a way that they wouldn’t when you say, “Hey, you.”

We’ve seen numerous examples of brands that bulldoze their way into a conversation without first knocking politely and asking if they can have a seat in the foyer. Skipping this due diligence process can create virality (in the worst way), but it doesn’t have to be this way.

When building an initiative or launching a campaign, research the communities that are already in that world. It’s not always necessary to build communities from scratch; amplify those doing the work and leverage their deeply rooted knowledge for true partnership. If you play your cards right, when you speak to the right person, you’re actually speaking to tens of thousands.

Prioritize building trust to scale intimacy

At CultureCon, we prioritized building trust over time to create intimacy with our community. We had firsthand knowledge of how quickly 20 people could turn into 2,000 people without any paid marketing campaigns and realized that you don’t need 50,000 people in the room to make an impact. Instead, you need the people in the room to feel seen, because when people feel seen, they want to share that feeling again and again.

What does scaling intimacy look like when building a community? For CultureCon, it looked like taking the intimate setting of my living room and scaling that feeling of accessibility to thousands of people. We bottled up radical vulnerability so that our events felt like homecomings and ensured our community was true co-collaborators in our growth process.

Upon arrival, we gave each guest Truth or Dare cards with ice-breaker prompts so that they had a lighthearted way to meet fellow attendees. We made sure the programming reflected real-life experiences and asked speakers to not only share their success stories but to also take us through their periods of crippling doubt. We introduced Office Hours, where guests could break away into smaller groups and hear from their mentors up close.

Create a compound sentence

In a world driven by KPI’s and data points, marketers should become comfortable with leaving a good amount of space for collaboration. Building a true partnership means you’re going to be getting a decent amount of direction from the community in which you want to work with.

This might seem frightening at first, but the end result is a partnership that’s oozing with authenticity and trust. Imagine partnerships as if you’re beginning a compound sentence and asking the community to finish it. This empathetic approach invites collaboration and urges the community to speak with the authority that they already have.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, our community asked us to build a virtual version of CultureCon to feel more connected at home. We trusted them to tell us what they wanted, and the results exceeded expectations. More than 25,000 creatives from over 131 countries attended the virtual conference.

We were partly surprised, but in our hearts, we knew that we were building this new world in collaboration with creative co-conspirators from around the world.

The synergy that needs to exist between a brand and a niche community for it to be a fruitful relationship has to be rooted in collaboration where it doesn’t conflate amplifying a community with trying to “fix” it.

You don’t go into a chef’s kitchen and tell him how to cook; you let the chef cook and ask if you can bring wine. Let the community cook! In return, your campaign will yield support because it’s been vetted and there is trust. Where there is trust, there will always be growth.

And finally, if you can’t find it, maybe you should build it

Sometimes the best way to find what you’re looking for in the world is to build it. When I set out to build a community dedicated to Black and brown creatives who were curious and limitless, I had to pinch myself that I hadn’t found this community in other places already. They had always been there, of course, but we didn’t have a space where we could convene and network in a way that didn’t feel transactional.

This mighty purpose grew, and with it, our community did too as more and more individuals brought their own unique perspectives to the event. Our growth has been rapid because our goal wasn’t to build an event and ask people to come. Instead, we built a community and said, “Welcome Home.”

This story is part of Adweek’s The Creatorverse digital features package, which spotlights the creator economy: the people who make up the industry’s new content royalty, and the marketers and agencies that collaborate with them to drive next-level engagement for their brands.