People love to be a part of a community.
What exactly constitute a community changes from one person to another, but most people will agree on the functionality: it should provide you with something you need.
· For some it’s a sense of belonging.
· For others it provides tangible benefits- knowledge, tips.
· For others it’s a network itself.
Regardless of the motivation- it seems that people like to belong. What people aren’t very good at is creating a community.
About a year ago, a friend and I were talking. We were both marketing executives at the time (I was VP Marketing at a small startup, he was CMO at a larger company). We discussed how we share the same challenges (basically- having to do more on a tight budget), which vendors to pick and how to work with know-it-all CEOs are field known for. He suggested that we start a community of like-minded professional, a virtual gathering place where we can all share ideas, discuss our pains and help each other. I told him I would pick this ball- I know many people in our field, and can easily persuade them to join such a community. I created a WhatsApp group and added all the marketing professionals from our field (cybersecurity) that were on my contact list. The original list had about 30 people and this was my first message to the group:
It slowly stated to gain traction- people approached me and ask to add their friends whom I’ve not met yet. I mostly agreed, under the conditions that they were, indeed, marketing professionals, from the cybersecurity (or adjacent field) and were not affiliated with any vendor. The reason I limited this community to my “industry” (cybersecurity) is that I wanted it to be as helpful as possible to the participants. It’s true that all marketers today face similar challenges but I wanted the discussions to be focused and meaningful. Instead of “which growth hacking tactic should I use” (a generic question), I was aiming at:” how do I get in front of cybersecurity decision makers” (an industry-specific question, one which experienced people can help with tremendously. I never limited the community on geography basis, but it was clear from the onset is was mainly for Israeli companies and Israelis (we do have some expats and even was Ausie).
Getting people to chat on WhatsApp was one thing, getting them together in the real world is quite another. I knew people loved to meet and learn from others, but I also know from my experience that arranging real-life meetups can be very hard and frustrating .
So when I announced our first meetup I was focused on one thing- bringing value to people. I knew that was the only way to make people come. So the first topic I’ve picked was tradeshows and how to maximize their marketing value. I then set out to find a venue. I didn’t want to charge anything from people, so I had to ask (read: beg) some companies I knew for a venue. The guys at Checkmarx were very kind to allow us to use their facilities (which were also close to a main train station- a big plus). I went out and bought beers and refreshments, hoping that people will pay me back (some did, most haven’t). I persuaded some very experienced people to talk about their insights. They were very candid, discussing budget, success rates and even failures. I knew the meetup was a success because by 9 PM, when we were supposed to leave, people were still standing and talking to each other, and continued to do so at the elevator and building lobby. Since then our group continued to grow- it now has 180+ members and it keeps growing on a weekly basis. We’ve also had 2 other meetups, and are now planning our 4th and final one for 2018. The average attendance of the meetups is about 40 people (which is great for mid-week, early evening events) and many people have told me these were the best meetups they have ever attended. One marketing manager told me ”usually meetups are too generic and therefor a waste of my time. But here I’ve learned things I can use on a daily basis”.
There are several indications this community is a success- people keep asking me to join, people thank me (and the group) for being so helpful, and many vendors that have heard of it are trying to “sneak” into the discussions and meetups. I see this as a personal win- I’ve helped and helping people on a daily basis (many people have found jobs using the group, found the right vendor to work with and got great discounts on products and services they were about to purchase), I’m building my own brand and I can now pick up the phone and talk to just about anyone in the industry (here in Israel or abroad) and they will listen carefully (The community is comprised of 180 from more than a hundred companies, so we represent a combined buying power of dozens of millions of dollars). It does take a lot of work and commitment on my end, but the positive feedback more than pays for it. With the growing number of members, it's harder to have meaningful discussions on WhatsApp, so I'm contemplating moving some of it to other platforms (such as Slack). But regardless of the platform we'll use to communicate, I'm certain people will still find it valuable .
My goal for 2018 is to grow the community so it encompasses representatives from all the Israeli cyber companies (there are between 300-400 of these, depending on the method of counting), hold at least 6 annual meetups and continue to be a source of information, support and camaraderie.