We are currently onboarding two new staff members at TVP Communications. As I introduce both to our communications and marketing networks, I’ve also spent significant time thinking about how I’ve built my relationship with a variety of communities over my career. While the tactics have varied based on the stage of my career and overlap with my professional development efforts, there is one constant — being a part of community takes work and intention. Below are some of the ways I’ve built and maintained mine:
Make the Most of Local Events and Opportunities. Increasingly I hear from colleagues that attending mixers and networking events supports and bridges their need for industry-based conversations, especially as many of them adjust to working from home. If you are worried about the cost of membership and events hosted by professional organizations, note that many associations have non-member rates to attend their events. For colleagues early in their careers, it’s worth asking about recent graduate discounts to potentially reduce or offset the cost of attendance. And these events are excellent entry points for building relationships within communities of learning and practice.
Similarly, check in with your alma mater and local alumni association chapters to see if they have a marketing and communication subset of their membership. You might find events and contacts for our industry near you or available remotely. Consider reaching out to a nearby institution for community; a university near my home (and not my alma mater) extended an invitation for me to attend their journalism alumni events. I’m sure their hope with the invitation is to interest me in mentoring students, hiring graduates, potentially pursuing another degree or inquiring about teaching a course or two. Regardless of their motivation, they are extending their community to me and I’ve taken note.
Attend Conferences. Conferences seem to be getting a bad rap these days, in part because we’ve all gone to conferences that failed to meet our expectations based on the content or the speakers. Therefore, choose your events carefully. For example, I serve on the conference committee for the American Marketing Association’s Symposium for the Advancement of Higher Education and we peer review the hundreds of submissions to curate a conference that we believe will meet our industry’s expectations. Similarly, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education has a designation for speakers who receive at least ten stellar speaking scores and they feature these experts prominently at their events. My suggestion is to look for and register for quality content. Once in attendance, focus on the content and the opportunity to build community.
I conducted a quick and unscientific survey on Twitter to ask why people attend conferences and the most common response, representing 50% of the votes, was for networking and community. It narrowly beat out the opportunity to learn something new (45.8% of responses).
The survey results weren’t surprising to me since my favorite part of attending conferences is meeting and catching up with colleagues. I still remember attending my first American Marketing Association symposium 17 years ago. I was intimidated by those my mentor introduced to me and yet they continue to be some of the most influential and closest colleagues in my career. Those I’ve met at AMA since have helped to round out my network and become personal friends. The same can be said for other conferences that have become my go-to networking events.
Get Involved. ;Each of us has expertise, insights and experiences others can learn from. While only 4.2% of my survey respondents said they attend conferences to share their expertise, those respondents provide the content 45.8% of us want to hear. And consider getting involved with local, regional, or even national associations as a volunteer, committee member or board member. You may be surprised to hear that you represent a key demographic that associations would like to hear from just like I recently heard from the Public Relations Society of America. The first step is letting others know you are interested.
Social Media as a Connector and Community. My mantra for colleagues today is that if you aren’t paying attention to academic Twitter — and the marketing and communications subset therein — then you are missing out on conversations, connections and community vital to your career. A number of my colleagues are people I first met on Twitter and then met in person at a conference or other event. And still others I consider close contacts I have never met beyond a Zoom screen or our outside of our online discourse.
The companion community on LinkedIn is also important for marcomm colleagues to engage. While many of my connections across the two social platforms overlap, there are additional voices and perspectives that are unique to each. I often look at close contacts’ profiles to see what groups and topics they are following so that I can join new conversations, connect with others on issues that matter to me, and learn more about our industry. Beyond giving someone a like or a celebrating their career accomplishments, LinkedIn posts allow for conversation and connections with those in the community you are building.
Finally, remember that networking is the first step. From there, it is up to you to create community. I’ve done this through mixing and matching the approaches above to grow and maintain my relationships. Feel free to connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and know I’ll be at AMA and PRSA this November, so if you are looking to make a connection, please introduce yourself and I’d be happy to help you set your network into motion.