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Puzzle Me This: Connecting Women to One Another, Part 2

  |  May 22, 2001   |  Comments

Andrea hopes that all of us online marketers facing teeny- tiny budgets and tearing out our hair will thank her. For what? For reminding us of what can be done by returning to the basics of puzzle building.

In Part 1, I took a "puzzler's" look at connecting women to one another. I gave a couple of examples of healthy networks that seemed to develop organically, forming around mutual interests. In this second part, I had planned on examining some of the more well-known women's community Web sites, with the puzzle analogy in mind, but I have been so intrigued by this particular site, womensforum.com, that I decided to linger there.

My hope is that by the end of this article, all of you online marketers facing teeny-tiny budgets and tearing out your hair will thank me. For what, you may ask? For reminding you what can be accomplished by returning to the basics of puzzle building.

Here goes...

I had the chance to talk recently with Jodi Turek, president and cofounder of womensforum.com, and was wowed by the large-scale collaborative connecting of online women entrepreneurs that is taking place. These women don't merely root for one another's businesses through cross-promotion and content sharing; their sites, as a group, offer big-name advertisers/sponsors unusual and powerful ways to reach women consumers.

It all started in 1996, when 13 small women-focused online businesses -- mainly home-based and fueled more by passion than by any significant income potential -- joined together to share leads and to cross-promote. Today, womensforum.com is made up of more than 100 "partners" (notice that they are not referred to as "affiliates" or "Web properties") and is going strong, and the entrepreneurs who run them go out of their way to help one another. Because the starter pieces were so strongly linked -- practically glued together in mutual support -- the thriving master puzzle has seamless integrity.

womensforum.com is all about connecting women entrepreneurs and leveraging their noncompetitive human nature to create something special and powerful for their online businesses and their consumers.

A womensforum.com visitor may frequent one partner site for help with her teens and may end up on another partner site about financial planning or women's health. So now we see not merely the puzzle edges of the womensforum.com partner businesses fitting together across mutual business interests; we see a massive 3D interlocking structure, including powerful relationships with consumers, developing as well.

So, yes -- the altruistic mission of womensforum.com is indeed the glue that joined the 13 original sites based in various locations and across many industries. And that glue continues to hold as these online business owners, none of whom would have described themselves as "entrepreneurs," have been able to leverage opportunities and build an incredible community. They share content, cross-promote, swap ideas, and generally support one another through email, discussion groups, and even, occasionally, small "real-time" gatherings across the country.

womensforum.com has certainly become a place "where women hang out"; and with every new customer, more partners sign up, and more advertisers hope to join the community.

What, specifically, is different about womensforum.com? Here are some things:

  • The community provides content created by amateur writers, yes, but these women (and a few men) are all experts in their respective fields and know their topics first-hand.

  • The community of womensforum.com partners, as a whole, forms long-term relationships with advertisers who fit their standards, not just any brand willing to pay the fee. (February's "Valentine Diva" campaign sponsored by BMG Music is a powerful example of the highly customized advertising relationships possible with this model.)

  • womensforum.com has not spent a dime (that's right!) on advertising. Witness the mind-boggling power of tapping into how and where women connect to one another rather than trying through ads to drag women over to your site to check out your brand.

  • And (fanfare here...) womensforum.com partners, even those in the same channel, are not competing, but collaborating. They know each other, drive traffic to one another's sites, share content, and offer business and personal support. womensforum.com partners encourage and inspire each other to make connections with outer-edge puzzle pieces, finding even further strength in numbers.

Before you suspect that I've been paid to write this piece, I will allow that womensforum.com may look like just another site with multichannels to appeal to all women. After all, aren't women online getting more savvy and heading for the "boutique" or specialty sites because they've become experts in searching for exactly what they need? Yes. But even the most branded women's communities have been criticized for trying to be everything for all women -- and have been slow to figure out what to do about it.

But, somehow, each of the mini puzzle sections that form womensforum.com is thriving on its own, all the while together forging ahead toward master puzzledom through great relationships and collaborative synergies.

Who'd have thought that noncompetitive mutual support could be so innovative? Keep an eye on womensforum.com as it makes further progress in the "supersizing" of a puzzle of connections.

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Andrea Learned

Andrea Learned is co-founder and creative director of ReachWomen, a marketing-strategies and consulting firm that helps clients build lasting relationships with women customers, online and off. She is also the editor of Reaching Women Online, a biweekly newsletter with articles and tidbits about... just what its title says.

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