Does Affiliate Marketing Have a Problem of Inner Circles?

Inner circleYears ago, the world’s largest affiliate marketing forum, ABestWeb, introduced an “Inner Circle” — a private forum within the forum, with one prerequisite for access: reaching a threshold of “500 of more posts.” This was a brilliant idea based on granting behind-closed-doors conversation access to those forum members who had proven their seriousness about the industry — at least to the level of contributing a substantial number of meaningful (and moderators do look at “meaningfulness” there) forum entries.

Earlier this month, I spoke at Affiliate Summit, another iconic constituent of the affiliate marketing industry, and the largest conference of its kind. As is already traditional, during its keynote addresses, as well as for meals, the show’s organizers utilized Banquet Rounds room setup — an ideal style for facilitating networking during breaks and meals. I frequently use this style at my own Affiliate Management Days show, and it works beautifully… well, almost always.

We all love our comfort zones. It is stressful and can be extremely awkward and uncomfortable outside them. That is why, when there is a choice between a group of unknown individuals and a group of the folks you know (and especially those you know well), we tend to prefer the latter. It is more enjoyable, relaxing, and fun that way.

I am a choleric subject, though an introvert. Weird combination, I know. But we do exist “in the wild.” I am living proof.

When I’m at a conference, I make an effort not to sit at tables where my long-time friends sit (at least, not during the formal part of the conference).

This behavior of mine has even been taken for arrogance at times (of which an industry old-timer once straightforwardly accused me). It’s far from it though…

Out of Comfort ZoneWhenever possible, I try to land at a table with strangers (though, trust me, it is pretty stressful for me nearly every time) — to make the most of the conference/meeting, taking away new connections and with them, hopefully, new opportunities for growth and development.

However warm and cozy they are, I believe “inner circles” to impede growth. We prefer to hang around the same tables, same crowds, same events (How many of us get out to speak at conferences not related to affiliate marketing? I can count these folks on the fingers of one or two hands). And could it be that affiliate marketers often do not get a seat at the table (of digital marketing professionals) because we tend to confine ourselves to our own cozy and comfortable companies?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this (whether you agree with my observations or not), and that’s what the “Comments” area below is all for.

14 thoughts on “Does Affiliate Marketing Have a Problem of Inner Circles?”

  1. As long as the inner circle permits new members, I feel that it is a good thing. Feeling special makes one feel more motivated. A closed “inner circle” will become a disaster.

    In my early days, I was fortunate enough to be invited into an inner circle. Connections were made, friendships developed….but the best thing that happened is that trust was developed. In my opinion, these things happened because we were in essence in a closed environment for a while which gave us time to bond.

    I have attended events where I was sitting at a table with total strangers and nothing developed…mainly because we did not have time for enough interaction. Maybe this is a personality deficiency of my own.

    1. Buck, thank you for taking the time to chime in! Invaluable comment. You are 100% right. “Inner circles” do have their benefits and I, myself, dearly treasure the company of my friends in the industry. I will hang out at the bar until way past midnight (to catch up and deepen the relationship). Hence, the clarification about me referring to “the formal part of the conference” above.

  2. This is always a struggle for me at Affiliate Summit. Over the past 10 years I have come to count some of my closest friends as ones I only see at conferences. Because of that, I treasure my time with them there. We probably do seem like a clique a lot of the time, but I try to balance that with attending and holding events where I can meet new people–either ones new to ME or ones new to the industry as a whole.

    I try to take the “inner circle” opportunities to introduce small numbers of people to a lot of influential networking all at once. For example, I’ll meet someone new early in the day and when it becomes apparent that they don’t know anyone at the conference, I’ll invite them to hang out with me at the ShareASale party or find me at a PMA event. I find out everything I can about them and then introduce them to all of my friends and anyone I know who I think they might be able to do business with.

    I’ve found as a result that my “Inner Circle” continues to grow with every conference. While I obviously have some people that I spend more time with (like my mom!), I also try to create at least a few new relationships each conference that will grow to be very strong ones in the future.

    3-4 days at Affiliate Summit can be exhausting when you are speaking and meeting and “hustling” the whole time. So it’s nice to spend some of that time just chilling with people you are already comfortable with. But I think the veterans among us owe it to the people who helped US make our way to continue to expand our circles and give the new people the same help and opportunities we were once given.

    1. Beautiful thoughts, Tricia! Thank you for putting them “in writing” here.

      You’re right, the “inner circle” phenomenon doesn’t have to be a problem, but can (and should!) be leveraged as a bridge and a solution …to bringing in new people and giving them “the same help and opportunities” that you, I, Buck, and others were once so generously given.

      Once again, thank you for your “two cents.”

  3. There is certainly an inner circle in affiliate marketing that is apparent at Affiliate Summit, but that is certainly not unique.

    When I have spoken at ad-tech, NMX, Pubcon, and other shows, I have been the outsider.

    It can be tough to break through, and that’s one of the reasons we started the Newcomer Program, so people new to the conference could have an entry into one of the circles.

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  5. I love what Tricia said. I agree that there is an “inner circle” feel at Affiliate Summit (and as Shawn mentioned, every other conference I’ve ever attended), but I find them to be inclusive.

    I find it enormously valuable to surround myself with people who are seeing success with affiliate marketing, or social media, or content marketing. When I meet people who have great ideas and are working hard, I immediately invite them to meet the individuals I spend time with.

    I had a great experience with that this last summit. I met a woman with an amazing new app. I saw how hard she had worked and how eager she was to learn. I dragged her in to lunch one day to meet with those I consider to be my “eagles” (from Brian’s keynote). Several of them took time to meet with her, share ideas, and inspire her.

    I agree that it can be dangerous if we aren’t taking the time to reach out and meet others, or shutting others out, but I also believe that having an inner circle can be the best business growth tool out there.

    1. Ashley, great approach! It certainly makes all the difference in the world when our “inner circles” open up becoming inclusive (vs exclusive) and welcoming to newcomers and those that don’t belong to the circles.

  6. Excellent reply Tricia!

    When I walk into the room for meals I usually take a quick scan and see so many companies all sitting together filling a table. I usually find one with a few affiliates and squeeze in.

    I also like the newcomers meetup because you can find some great affiliates that are eager to work and make money.

  7. Like most things in life, one needs to find a healthy balance. Relying too much on Inner Circles can limit your opportunities to expand your network and make new, valuable connections.

    At the same time, one should cherish those relationships that have taken years to develop.

    I agree with the general sentiment of the previous responses.

    Try to make yourself available to new opportunities while maintaining your long-term relationships.

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  9. Sorry for the late response, I just saw this post and love it.

    I agree that there is an inner circle. I have never seen a group that consistently meets without one. This inner circle is inclusive but can be intimidating with many inside jokes and traditions. However, the knowledge in this circle is outstanding and worth breaking out of your comfort zone to learn.

    I also work to meet new faces at the conference by scheduling less meetings and providing an opportunity for more connections

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