Launching And Nurturing An Online Community In Japan With Amanda McCready
From Tokyo Newcomer To Community Leader
For evidence of the power of a simple idea, hard work and perseverance, look to Amanda McCready. Arriving in Tokyo six years ago with no know-how or contacts, the stay-at-home mom set up Tokyo Expat Network (TEN) to help others in her situation. Today the Facebook group has some 26,000 members.
Savvy Tokyo sat down with Amanda to find out how it all started, what challenges she has faced, and how her altruistic action has helped her, as well as her community.© Photo by Louise Angerer
Why did you set up TEN?
I attended Tokyo Here & Now, a two-day program run by Tokyo American Club to help newcomers settle into Tokyo. It was amazing. We learned so much. We were able to ask so many questions and get the answers right then. I thought, what happens afterward when we have a question about our new lives here?
Then I remembered a group called Singapore Expat Wives. I had found it on Facebook while I was living in Singapore, where I lived before Tokyo. It helped people in all aspects of their lives—that’s the magic of social media. I decided to set up a similar group for Tokyo, so expats here could cast a wider net to get the answers they couldn’t find elsewhere.
TEN is there to help. TEN was created as a place for asking difficult or obscure questions, and getting and sharing information
To this day, if someone is looking for an answer, when Google comes up short, TEN is there to help. TEN was created as a place for asking difficult or obscure questions, and getting and sharing information.
From approving posts and requests to join, to the general maintenance of the page, there is a lot to do. How do you manage?
Last year I added two wonderful admins, who are awesome. Having them help me has let me get more sleep. When I’m in the States in the summer or winter, I don’t feel like I have to get up in the middle of the night and approve posts. And it means I don’t have to check it constantly because we share the tasks.
Having more admins approve posts also gives a better flow to the group because posts can go up frequently throughout the day. We also can decide as a team on whether to approve tricky posts. We have rules, but some posts don’t fit perfectly within the guidelines. We can decide together if the post will help the community or if it is more appropriate for someone’s Facebook wall. I really appreciate their feedback on those posts.© Photo by Louise Angerer
How has TEN evolved?
There are always lots of similar questions and only a small percentage of the group actually sees posts that members make, so we are trying to utilize a section within our group called Units to address frequently asked questions in one place. It’s like a file of things that everyone can see and comment on. I’d love to utilize Units a bit more in the future to serve as a quick and handy resource for our members.
We’ve also extended our Show It Off Weekends (SIOW) to 72 hours, from noon Friday to noon Monday. That’s helped businesspeople because they can promote their product or service on workdays, too. When we started SIOW, our biggest purpose was to help grow businesses and give bloggers an opportunity to share what they are doing. Now it’s also an opportunity for people to connect. SIOW is open to all members, so many members also share projects and hobbies and, when members comment, we hope they strike up a friendship.
[…]when someone is looking for a photographer[…], they can Go to Unit 4 and find all of the photographers on TEN with links to their work and websites
This past month, we added Unit 4 to also serve business owners that advertise during SIOW. Unit 4 is the Yellow Pages of TEN. It is a work in progress, but now when someone is looking for a photographer, for example, instead of asking a question, they can Go to Unit 4 and find all of the photographers on TEN with links to their work and websites. We hope it will become a great resource for our members.
How is TEN helping the community during the Covid-19 crisis?
I think TEN’s collective mind in really valuable, especially now when a lot of us are staying home and looking for things online. We normally have 30-40 posts per day but since the outbreak, we’ve had 80-90 per day, sometimes even more. I think people are looking to TEN for answers. We’ve also been asking businesses to post any special offers they have, so members can help businesses that are hurting at the moment.
We are very sensitive to the fact that sometimes there is too much information available. With Covid-19, there are some people that can’t get enough information, and others are overwhelmed. For this reason, we decided to categorize all Covid-19 related posts under Unit 5. This lets people have discussions, post articles, share ideas of what to do, as well as mental health tips and more, in real-time, because they can post in the comments of each post. Some members were disappointed their information didn’t get its own separate post, but we felt this was a healthier way to handle the situation for the group as a whole.
How have you changed since your journey began with TEN?
TEN has definitely challenged me. I would say I’m an extroverted introvert. My husband says I “can talk a dog off a meat wagon,” but I really enjoy being at home. Because I haven’t worked for a long time, I also volunteer. This past year, I was the communications director for the PTA. I was put in that role because people in our school community noticed how I built and fostered TEN. This year somebody thought it was wise to make me PTA president, so I’ve been having fun in that role now, too. It’s a great opportunity to meet and connect with people. I’m a stay-at-home mom, but I’ve been developing leadership and people skills through my work on TEN. There have been times I’ve thought “what have I got myself into?” but TEN has been a fun challenge so far.
What do you do when you’re not managing TEN?
I love to work out. I spend a lot of time doing that. I love photography. My kids are athletic, so I love going to their sports events and being involved with their teams. Obviously, I do a lot of PTA stuff. I truly enjoy being out in Tokyo, sometimes it’s exploring the backstreets with my camera, having a meal with family or friends, and sometimes its crazy adventures with groups of friends. Right now, I miss all of that terribly.© Photo by 37 Frames
What the future hold for TEN?
The group is still growing. It’s one of the groups that HR departments and new schools tell their new employees to join. I know because prospective members often give their reason for joining when they apply.
TEN doesn’t have to stay the same forever. It should always serve its purpose, and if that means we have to change how we do something, I’m happy with that. Also, Facebook is always developing, so I’m always thinking of how to use new features, to make TEN better.
I hope someday to have events; I’ve been talking about this for a long time. I think they would be well attended, especially after this coronavirus crisis. I think members would be excited to be able to get together, and I think it would be very healing. There are so many standout members in the group. I want them all in the room. It would be so fun.
Savvy Spotlight is a monthly feature introducing foreign and Japanese women at the frontline of what’s successful, contributing, cool, unique and interesting in the city. If you have anyone in mind you would like us to interview, leave us a comment below with your recommendations!