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How to Build Online Communities

When I read Richard Koch’s book The Natural Laws of Business 20 years ago, I was drawn to how he would invite the smartest people he could find over for dinner and discuss any topic he wanted to learn more about. He called this his personal university.

I got to summon a personal university in front of a live, virtual audience this week when running the event “How to Build and Grow Online Communities” featuring some of my favorite community organizers. They included:

Pardon my not having specific quotes from each speaker, as I was a little too busy running the event to transcribe quotes at the same time, but there are some gems I picked up while moderating it. I’m sharing the video recording with attendees and anyone who RSVP’ed. If you ask me nicely, I might share it with you too even if you didn’t get to RSVP in time.

After the initial remarks from each panelist, I asked them what they thought about community business models and how they decided whether to charge for their communities. Rachel repeatedly mentioned how you need to know what you’re measuring and why you’re measuring it. Danielle said that if you don’t think members will pay, maybe you don’t have a clear value proposition. Jessy mentioned success in selling merchandise, which was a surprise hit for generating revenue for WIIM.

Skip, whose OldTimers community is by far one of my favorites I’ve ever been a part of (I’m still an active member), added that when the annual $75 dues come around (which he preemptively waived this year entirely due to Covid hardships), any member can respond “waiver” for any reason and they won’t have to pay that year. That’s a smart way to balance valuing what you offer with allowing all qualified prospects to be able to join regardless of financial means.

Another interesting discussion was around growing a community’s membership. Multiple panelists brought up the value of keeping membership limited intentionally so that it’s not too large of a community. I disagree with one attendee who said if a community gets too big, it doesn’t seem like a community at all. I’ve been a long-time fan of David Markovich’s Online Geniuses, which now tallies about 25,000 members and is by far the largest marketing-focused Slack community (he also has a smart OGPro paid model). Still, having a form of mandated exclusivity can create scarcity that makes those in the club feel even more special.

There’s a lot more to cover, and it’s a topic I could have spent hours on. I’m exploring a lot of options for what’s ahead with Serial Marketers. I just relaunched the website and plan to do more with it, including a community blog with contributions from our members and also a feature powered by Vestorly that aggregates links to members’ content from their own sites. If you’re interested in contributing and having your content featured, you can fill out this quick Google form.

I started off the panel saying how some may think I have a lot of expertise building communities, especially since I’ve been building my own for two years. But I look at Skip, Jessy, Rachel, Danielle, and Alex, and I see myself as a novice who is lucky to constantly learn by doing. If you take that approach too and aren’t yet in Serial Marketers, I’d love to have you there. If you’re there already and want to be more active in building what’s ahead, I have a lot of ideas for how this group can be a springboard that can create even more opportunities for others.

Meanwhile, thanks so much to this incredible panel. Check out their work. Ask them more questions. Explore if you’re a fit for their communities. Follow them wherever you can, keeping social distancing in mind.

I’m proud to say the event raised $650 for Feeding America’s Covid-19 Response Fund. All ticket sales, even if they went toward Eventbrite fees, fully were shared with Feeding America. Thanks to everyone who contributed to doing a little extra good in the process. Also thanks to Wilma Mae of DRK Beauty for her particularly generous contribution.

As for what’s next with events, we have some guest speakers at the next two Serial Marketers Salons, and then there’s First Wednesday coming up for virtual mingling and drinks. You can find more about those and others below, including several new additions this week.

That’s a lot from my end. What are you making of yourself?



This is a wonderful way to help pretty much everyone: “This is the mission of #NYLOVESCOFFEE. Sell the coffee products stuck inside the stores as limited edition kits to the people that want them. Then use the proceeds to fund New York City Barista Relief financial assistance program to cover essential expenses not covered by government relief programs.” You can also send 2-100 cups of coffee directly to NYC hospitals to support healthcare workers. Also: they could use volunteers to help with product promotion through social media. Interested? I’ll connect you.
-Buy or donate now: https://nylovescoffee.com/
(and like them too: https://www.facebook.com/nylovescoffee/)

I learned a few things about what contact tracing is and even the contagion period for coronavirus in this comic. I bet you will too.

In one of my favorite roundups yet from Marketing Examples, see how brands are making the most of this messy situation.

Find local hospitals. Donate. Help save lives. Via Andy Richman — great going, Andy and crew.

One of my favorite brand pivots: the brilliant cheesemongers at Murray’s are running a slew of virtual cheese tasting events. Pay for the kits, and then support your local wine shop if you want to enhance the event further.



Below are events that are either virtual or scheduled far enough out that they hope to be real-world functions. Please send over any great virtual events you’re hosting or attending, and I’ll add them to the list.

All times for virtual events are EDT unless otherwise specified.

April 20-24
“At the Amazon Strategies Virtual Forum, we’ll dive deep into the current state of the Amazon ecosystem, retail executives’ strategies for survival, the product page wars and much more. Over the course of five mornings from April 20 – 24, you’ll gain valuable insight and best practices for successfully advertising and selling on Amazon in the midst of the current crisis through interactive formats.”

-4/21: The Business of Podcasting with Sachit Gupta, Founder of Platforms Media
-4/28: Marketing in a Crisis with Juliana Marulanda, CEO of ScaleTime
(Tuesdays, 3pm EDT)
Come join fellow Serial Marketers members for an upcoming virtual chat. Following the first one about working from home, our next one will be wellness. If you can’t make this coming one, you can sign in and pick whichever dates you want to RSVP for (I scheduled ten for now). Please note: it’s password-protected for members of the community. Email me for access or check Slack. The next guest speakers and topics are:

April 29
Va my friend Brian Zisk: “NOLA MusicTech Online on April 29th is the virtual update to our in-person event which was scheduled to take place during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. An extension of the SF MusicTech Summit, the world’s best event around the convergence of Music and Internet technologies, please join us and hundreds of the leading MusicTech thought leaders online to connect and do business. More has happened around Internet Distribution in the last 5 weeks than over the previous 5 years, and we look forward to gathering the folks who are inventing the future, so we can all amplify what each other are building.”

May 5-28
One of my favorite annual events is going virtual:
#SMWONE is a month-long virtual conference series taking place May 5-28 that will deliver live content, talks, panel sessions, and workshops, together with on-demand content, product demos, attendee hangouts, and networking experiences. They are pivoting both of their NY and LA conferences into a single event and adding double the programming.
Confirmed #SMWONE speakers include Kristin Patrick, CMO of PepsiCo, Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Growth Officer at Publicis Groupe, Pam Wasserstein, President of Vox Media, Rishi Magia, Creative Strategist at Instagram, Dara Treseder, CMO of Carbon 3D, and Joe Marchese, CEO of Attention Capital.
A Delegate Pass Pass (Early Bird $449/Regular $499) allows access to 100+ hours of sessions with 300+ speakers. Through my link, you can get 20% off:

May 5, 6:30pm
Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator (ERA) will bring its event online featuring Rebecca Kaden of Union Square Ventures, plus five pitches from startups.

June 3-4
I’m excited to attend this one. You should too and take advantage of $49 earlybird tickets which cover the full two days: “The Community Chat Summit is a gathering of community builders helping each other navigate the world of community building by sharing resources, strategies, and best practices. Featuring keynote speakers, workshop sessions, 1 on 1 networking and more.”

August 11-13
I loved this event so much in New York that I’m joining them in Chicago as both a speaker and media sponsor. I’ll be speaking about how to build and run a successful B2B community, and of course I will be including examples from many others, with a bit of experience covering mistakes I’ve made that others can learn from.

February 10-11, 2021
“The premier global gathering in visual tech” is run by one of my favorite firms of any sort out there, LDV Capital. They specialize in bringing some of the best people together in all sorts of ways.


Reach out to me if you want introductions or any additional information, and let me know if you have other job postings you’d like to share. There have also been job updates within Serial Marketers, so if you’re part of that, be sure to check the #jobs channel for more.

Also, related to professional development, I added Lunch Club to the list of resources. I just made my first connections through there, and they were so good that I’m doing two more chats this week alone. Thanks to reader Eric T. for the referral.

Senior Digital and Social Lead
A growing PR firm is looking for a Senior Digital and Social Media Strategist to play an integral role in a growing practice at a high-growth firm. This person will work closely with our internal account teams, playing an integral role to develop digital strategies that complement clients’ earned media goals, and will create and manage a number of social media campaigns for clients to drive brand awareness and engage audiences on multiple platforms.
Contact me to connect with the recruiter

Senior E-Commerce Ad Manager: NYC
Media Director, Programmatic & Social: Raleigh, NYC
Customer Success Manager, San Francisco
(I’m trying a new section following a conversation with my recruiter friend Kelly Herrick. If you have positions you’re trying to fill, let me know. None of this is sponsored; it’s just helping great talent find great roles.)

Other job resources:

  • Ad Ops Online: Job listings for ad operations, programmatic account management, sales operations, and more.
  • Built in NYC: Jobs at a range of levels and functions, as long as you’re okay working in this quaint, backwater hamlet.
  • CareerList: Here’s a form for companies hiring and a form for job seekershere’s the public list with tabs for both
  • CoronaHub: Jobs relating to the crisis response
  • ExecThread: Senior roles spanning a range of verticals and cities; membership is free but fully vetted (this uses my referral ID to get you in faster, but I don’t profit from it).
  • GLG: Get paid to share your topical expertise. It can lead to some interesting conversations at a potentially decent hourly rate.
  • The Hired Guns: An array of jobs in marketing and related fields at brands, agencies, and media companies
  • Hunterz: A way for connectors to get paid to introduce startups to large enterprises
  • Lunch Club: Match 1:1 around predetermined goals with accomplished professionals (free)
  • NYC Ad Jobs & Networking: A popular Facebook group
  • One Club for Creativity: COVID-19 Jobs Board
  • TechNY Daily: While more technical, there are also some sales and marketing jobs at NY startups.
  • VentureLoop: Free startup job listings; their paid option is $15/month and might surface more leads (but it might not).
  • Wanted: Wanted helps top talent in tech and marketing find a job at your desired pay. Plug in your salary, stay anonymous at first, and connect with companies that want to recruit you.

Do you run or enjoy other job listing sites? Let me know, and I’ll share them.

This column was originally published in my newsletter. While I share the introductory column here, other updates such as jobs, events, and commentary on news are exclusively available to subscribers. Sign up now to make sure you receive it.

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