When I started in the coaching industry several years ago, I took the advice of the late and much lamented doyen of coaches, Thomas Leonard, to “hang out with coaches”. It was great advice. And I believe it is great advice for any business, profession or industry, to hang out with your peers in that field.

You get to have conversations with people who understand what you are talking about, you get to know the latest events and gossip in your industry, you get – if you can take it – challenges and hopefully helpful, informed critiques of your views and opinions.

Let’s face it, that’s probably why we go to conferences, more than to hear the presentations.

For the social media strategist part of my business, I find it absolutely essential to hang out – online most of the time and then when possible face to face – with others who are professionally focused on social media or at least genuinely interested. It’s also fun.

So where to hang out?

Well, in addition to such freewheeling, fascinating sites like Twitter and FriendFeed, there are organizations which are more or less focused on social media generally or on some particular aspect. Some are free to join, some have fees.

Amber Naslund’s post Social Media Group Therapy lists and comments very helpfully on several of these groups:

I’m a member of and actively involved in the Social Media Club (SMC), including being on the Interim Advisory Board group announced the other week.

I’m also a member of the International Blogger and New Media Association (IBNMA).

Inspired by Amber’s post I’m going to have a look also at Marketing 2.0.

The trick is to find the group or groups that work for you.

All of the above groups, unless I’m mistaken, have originated in the USA and are “headquartered” there. As always, I’m interested to know of other not-for-profit groups based on or “headquartered” in other continents or in other countries. If you know of any such, I trust you will share the details here in the comments.

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).