In the traditional marketing world, we bought our way into everything.  This meant sponsoring events, placing ads where your customers are gathering, and throwing sales pitches in front of active communities.

Marketers still do this, of course. They just increasingly look bad doing it. The smart marketers know that building trust, credibility and preference via online communities is about earning your way in.

Participate as a peer
You should know enough about the industry you’re in, and the customers and prospects who live there every day, that you can engage in a peer-to-peer conversation with them on their issues. Answer their questions, ask new questions, be an equal member of the community. Earn the community’s trust, respect and following by demonstrating the value of your ideas, not the size of your budget.

Don’t sell
If your content and contributions are good enough, prospective customers already active in these communities will want to know more about you. They’ll ask YOU for a sales pitch. But if you sell first, or sell too early, or sell too often, you instantly lose the credibility you may have already worked hard to build.

Make connections & introductions
You don’t know everything, but you may know enough people who do. Make yourself a go-to resource for anything community members need. The more they come to you with questions and for unbiased information and connections, the more often you’ll have the ability to demonstrate expertise and earn the sales conversation when the timing is right.