Slack, initially set up for internal collaboration at companies, has morphed into a tool for communicating outside of work. Marketers at brands, agencies and startups are using to Slack communities to get immediate answers to their most pressing questions as well as access to individuals they can connect with and possibly hire.

Much like forums in the early days of the internet, Slack communities are often created around niche topics. There’s #Launch, where marketers from brands including Uber, Salesforce and Apple connect with entrepreneurs and designers to discuss new product launches and feedback. Designer Hangout is a community for user experience designers, OpenBazaar convenes companies interested in building commerce around bitcoin and eCommTalk is for Shopify enthusiasts. There are also communities centered around women in tech, small businesses, freelancers and gaming.

Some of these groups have broader focuses. When Zach Schleien, analyst and business technology leader at Johnson & Johnson, wanted to get feedback on a Facebook ad he made for his side business Lift Protein Muffins, he turned to Online Geniuses, a Slack community with more than 11,000 digital marketers.

“It was amazing. I instantly got five people who critiqued it,” said Schleien, who has used Online Geniuses daily for the past year and a half. Now, he is in the process of hiring one of the people who critiqued his ad to manage his company’s Facebook ads. He also brings whatever he learns in the group, whether it’s information about new technologies or best practices for Facebook analytics, back to Johnson & Johnson. “It’s a great way to stay in the know on digital,” he said. “I can bring lessons I’ve learned to my business partners I support at J&J.”

David Markovich, CEO and co-founder of PR agency Jumping Squirrel, founded Online Geniuses in 2015 as a way to connect like-minded people across companies in the same industry. Today, more than 50,000 messages are shared a week, according to Markovich, in channels dedicated to specific topics such as #seo, #social and #paid. A #hiring channel also allows marketers to post job openings, and the community hosts about two guests a month for discussions where marketers such as VaynerMedia’s Gary Vaynerchuk and Allyson Davis, vp of integrated marketing at Red Bull, answer users’ questions.

Beyond quick help, the chance to build relationships with new people with different experiences draws marketers to these Slack communities.

“I don’t think I’d be able to have access to the same breadth of people otherwise,” said Jevin Maltais, president of BoomsLabs Ai, a Canadian startup that works with companies to deploy artificial intelligence platforms. “When I have questions about Google AdWords, or Facebook ads or PR, these people all have different experiences, and it’s easy to throw something out there in the channel and have a discussion around it.”

Not only are people connecting online, they are also taking their relationships into the real world. Maltais hired a person he met through Online Geniuses, and that person has become a close friend. “I was just playing video games with him,” Maltais said.

Online Geniuses itself hosts 10 official meetups a month across the world, including Sweden; Barcelona, Spain; New York; and Atlanta. The next one is in Tunisia. Attendance at these meetups ranges from 10 to 500 people, Markovich said. Having a community wherever you are is one of the best things about joining a Slack community like Online Geniuses, he added. “Wherever I travel, even to random parts [of the world], and I have a half-hour to spare, I send out a message, and within 10 minutes, someone is there,” he said. “It’s that fast-paced.”

The number of spammers on other social sites, including LinkedIn and Facebook Groups, is a large reason why marketers prefer to communicate on Slack.

“They’re just very spammy,” said Schleien. “People are just trying to push their services. It’s not about conversation, and it’s low-quality.”

While the majority of Slack communities don’t require marketers to apply, Online Geniuses has a stringent application process, designed to keep out groups known to ultimately kill collaboration — namely, recruiters and salespeople. To apply, marketers must fill out a form at Out of the 20 people who work at Online Geniuses with Markovich, there are 15 moderators who make sure applicants work in marketing. Markovich said if the group accepts everyone, it would easily have around 60,000 members.

“Running a community for marketers is the hardest thing because we naturally want to spam — that’s what marketers do,” said Markovich. “But if you’re going to make the community annoying for other people, we don’t want you there.”

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