Finding Your Professional Community – 3 Things To Look ForEditorial Team
As small business owners navigate the challenges of inflation, the importance of peer support is paramount. Given that online communities have grown 3X in the last seven years, reaching revenues of $1.2 billion in 2021, it’s clear there’s a demonstrated need for such digital kinship.
Especially in specific fields like B2B marketing and sales, it can be incredibly valuable to connect with peers in similar positions, swap advice and even vent about frustrations. But just because digital communities are available and growing in prevalence doesn’t mean they’re all equally beneficial.
To find the highest quality communities for you, here are a few non-negotiables to look for.
Members of your same stature.
Some professional communities are open to anyone and everyone, which might seem like an inclusive practice at first glance. But if you have any experience with these groups, you’ll quickly learn that this open-door policy can become extremely problematic.
For one, a community with a high number of members may end up being heavily dominated by “trolls” who are only there to promote their own products. The value of the conversation exchanges becomes diluted when the ratio of truly qualified, engaged members are edged out by those who are only there for their own personal gain.
So, start by looking for communities that have some sort of filtering criteria when it comes to membership. They don’t necessarily have to have an invitation-only approach (although that can work too), but they should at the very least specify select roles they accept.
For example, a community intended to bring together C-level executives should only include members who are in the C-suite. This will ensure that you’re weeding out the folks who have no business being there (e.g. the aforementioned trolls). Furthermore, it will mean that you end up communing with like-minded folks who understand your profession and challenges and are focused on the same things you are.
Next, poke around each community to find out whether it has bylaws or standards for what’s posted within the group. You can usually learn a lot by privately messaging the community manager and asking about this directly. If they say they don’t have principles like this, move on to the next. And if they fail to respond, that’s an even bigger red flag.
You should only consider joining communities that care enough about new members to be responsive and have guidelines in place to protect everyone’s time while in the community.
All things considered, the groups most worth their salt are those with strong management. If someone starts interacting with the rest of the group in a salesy way (e.g. trying to push demos), the manager will take down their posts and flag them. If a person writes in an aggressive way, the manager will take down their posts and flag them.
Depending on their rules and how egregious the offenses are, they may give the perpetrator a proverbial slap on the hand or even eject them from the community altogether. Regardless, it’s best for all members to know that there’s management keeping an eye out on group behavior and protecting their interests.
Engagement & activity
You and every other professional out there share one thing in common: you’re busy. As such, it’s important to make sure you’re only investing in the communities that will be worth some of your limited time.
Since professional communities are at their best when they function as a hub through which peers can share struggles, solve problems, offer guidance, collaborate, and ultimately grow, the ones worth your time must have members who are engaged and active.
You might assume all are like this, but there are plenty of communities out there in which weeks go by, with dormant message boards. Why be part of something like that?
When you’re vetting potential communities, look for the ones that show high levels of interest and interaction from their members. If one person asks a question, there should be a number of nearly instant replies from other peers trying to lend help. This is a sign of a valuable community in which all members stand to learn something from one another, connect, and grow.
Professional communities can make a big difference in your career, but only if you align yourself with the right ones. Look for those run by trustworthy people or brands who are made up of folks at your same level, the ones with strong management and high engagement.
When you choose based on these criteria, you’ll end up with a virtual group that can enrich your life and further your business goals.
By Justin Levy, Demandbase, Director, Social and Influencer Marketing
Editorial note – Here are some of my favorite communities
Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO)