Somewhere along the way, marketers have forgotten how to be in genuine community with one another. I went on a quest for the few authentic online marketing communities still in existence. Here's what I found.
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4 Places Marketers Are Safe From Other Marketers

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A few months ago, I felt lost. I was looking for marketing communities of like-minded professionals, but every time I joined one, spammers, bots and other obnoxious characters invaded the conversation with products and services that were “guaranteed” to solve my problems. Of course, my fellow group members knew better than to push a sale on the first interaction, so it was usually two or three exchanges into a new friendship before I learned that once again, I was someone’s target audience. Not a friend.

The best marketing communities are unique, somewhat unexpected, and offer mutual benefits to its members. Some marketing forums, however, do exactly the opposite.

Image attribution: Nick Amoscato

The process took treasured time from me. I knew a solid community would require an investment of time and energy, so I stuck with it. I kept trying. I continued to engage, offering up valuable answers to queries, asking my own thought-provoking questions, and giving encouragement where helpful.

Until I couldn’t anymore.

“This forum sucks,” I finally admitted aloud in one group, half expecting a chorus of angry fist-shakers to run me out of town. My outburst was churlish, but it was also a successful experiment. I was surprised to see a few dozen lurkers appear out of nowhere to agree with my sentiment. I had struck a chord.

Better yet, I had found real friends.

The best marketing communities are unique, somewhat unexpected, and offer mutual benefits to its members.

Image attribution: B. Balaji

Here were people who had hung around the same marketing forums for the same purpose, only to be disappointed with the same ongoing headaches. Together, we challenged each other: Go out and find a place where smart, kind, curious, risk-taking, ace marketers hung out—without trying to sell each other stuff.

A month later, we converged again to share our findings. Here’s what we dug up.

Inbound.org

Experts Rand Fishkin (founder of Moz) and Dharmesh Shah (CTO and founder of Hubspot) define the phrase inbound marketing as “…marketing for people who don’t like marketing,” a description that both acknowledges my problem and delivers a solution to it. Together, they established Inbound.org, a “Reddit for marketers” that separates discussions by topic and tone, so questions are not lumped in with shared inspiration or self-promotion threads. And unlike other marketing communities where I must remember to veer off track to visit, Inbound.org sends me a daily digest of trending topics in my niche, so I can quickly decide whether a conversation is worth jumping into—often without even leaving my email app.

Online Geniuses

Another place I love hanging out is the thriving Slack community called Online Geniuses. There, brilliant, chilled-out marketing experts are encouraged by the group’s equally confident founder, David Markovich to share “good finds,” “shameless plugs,” or just “hang out.” I started out loving Slack for its mobile app more than for professional friendships, but when I got an alert informing me that Gary Vaynerchuck would be online in our group for an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session live within the hour, I was hooked. GaryVee is much more than I’d bargained for. I felt like I’d hit the jackpot, and I had. His answers to our questions didn’t disappoint, and as soon as he signed out of the conversation we were all abuzz about the next #AMA guest, and the next, and the next. Since that whirlwind of a conversation, I’ve engaged in Online Geniuses’ #AMA encounters to talk with marketing heavyweights like Asana’s Emily Kramer, HARO’s Peter Shankman, and Weebly’s Loren Elia, all about whatever is on my mind that day.

Professional Trade Associations

I have a personal affection for organizational change management because I believe it’s the answer for enterprise-level teams to move from an outdated hiring model to a more fluid, agile talent acquisition strategy. In other words, change management principles will (someday) liberate brands from the old W-2 mentality that keeps them stuck.

Usually, though, project management experts view change management professionals as those who help transition supply chains, software roll outs, or even scheduling upsets. Not hiring creative talent. So you can imagine the group’s confusion when I paid the yearly dues to the Association of Change Management Professionals, waltzed into their Q-and-A forums, and started asking my unconventional questions. Granted, I know enough to assure the participants that I belong. However, my application of change management to marketing contractors bent their collective minds just enough to excite them and stir up a lively debate among the seasoned veterans. I was jazzed, they were energized, and we all returned to our daily work with new perspective. Not long after my first conversation on the online forum, the leader reached out to ask when I’d be back to share more of my unorthodox thoughts.

The best marketing communities are unique, somewhat unexpected, and offer mutual benefits to its members.

Image attribution: Richard Evea

Most trade associations are marketing communities that don’t even know they’re marketing communities. They crave the scrappy creativity we marketers naturally possess, and appreciate your knowledge as long as you offer it up with kindness. So to push the envelope a little bit in this unexpected way refreshes them, and in turn, their logistical answers can enlighten you.

Hand-Picked Mastermind Groups

If you can’t find a good marketing community, build one. Better yet, keep an eye out for a newly formed group, and jump in at the ground level. This way, you can help facilitate the culture of generosity without the responsibility of being the “fearless leader.” My mastermind group has been my number one source of support and encouragement, by far. Our little forum branched off from a larger (spamtastic) one to form a tight-knit, ridiculously creative and generous group that prods each member to test the limits every day.

We started when the group’s founder put out a call for interested participants who may want a more authentic place to kick around business ideas. Those that replied were vetted and invited in. We have a daily prompt to engage, which encourages both creativity and a hearty, organic back-and-forth.

If you go this route, it’s best to spend more time and energy on a few key relationships within your group instead of trying to become BFFs with every member, according to Richard Millington, author of Buzzing Communities: How to Build Bigger, Better, More Active Online Communities.

The best marketing communities are those that offer mutual benefits to its members.

Image attribution: Paolo Gamba

“It’s more useful to have several dozen high-quality relationships than a few hundred poor-quality relationships,” he writes. “The most active members will often be the most influential members.” A few other ways Millington uses to identify the most beneficial characters in your small group’s story may include:

  • Higher levels of passion or expertise demonstrated by articulate or emotive comments
  • Unique, creative contributions
  • Fascinating real-life circumstances
  • Emotional intelligence
  • A strong business network

Members with these qualities don’t just benefit the group, they also tend to get more out of the experience themselves.

The best marketing communities are those that offer mutual benefits to its members.

Image attribution: Rainier Martin Ampongan

Diversify to Deepen

What started as a quest to find one supportive group ended with my participation in these four marketing forums where I’m an active contributor and beneficiary. A power user. When most marketers take a break from work, they turn on a favorite TV show or zone out online. Not me. I check in with my marketing buddies to see what’s abuzz in the day’s conversations and how evolving, real-life brand stories are playing out. The result has been a smarter, more agile, well-equipped and confident me.

One where I feel safe both with—and from—other marketers.

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Featured image attribution: Ben Duchac

Bethany Johnson is a multiple award-winning content marketing writer and speaker. Her work empowers marketers to ditch interrupt advertising in favor of original content that converts passive readers into active followers. Thriving brands like Tom's of Maine, MasterCard, ADP, Fidelity and Philips currently rely on Bethany's fresh style to connect with audiences daily. As a consultant, she combines simple change management principles with her insider knowledge of freelancing to show traditional marketing teams how to flourish in today's wild gig economy. For more, visit bethanyjohnson.com.

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