One thing that differentiates many online networking sites from other online communities is that many of them (Ryze, Ecademy, et al.) started out as face-to-face get-togethers and then later evolved into online communities. grew out of the cocktail parties that Glamour magazine contributing editor Laurel Touby started holding for her fellow journalists to get together, talk shop, and socialize. She started realizing the tremendous potential for what she was doing when she started getting feedback that her cocktail parties were “changing people’s lives”. That cocktail party has since grown into a thriving online community with over 150,000 registered members and cocktail parties in more than a dozen cities around the world.

Touby defines “media” pretty loosely – the site is open “to anyone who creates or works with content, or who is a non-creative professional working in a content/creative industry. That includes editors, writers, television producers, graphic designers, book publishers, people in production, and circulation departments — in industries including magazines, television, radio, newspapers, book publishing, online media, advertising, PR, and graphic design.”

Basic membership is free, and includes access to the extensive discussion forums, the cocktail parties, classes and seminars. It also includes the ability to post your résumé and access to several hundred job listings. Being a niche site dramatically increases the success rate for placement via online listings. One U.S. member was recently hired for a job listed in the board in Hong Kong.

Premium membership in the “Avant Guild” is just $49 a year, and gives members the ability to create their own personal portfolios, access to health and dental insurance, premium educational content, and discounts on seminars, classes, and other events. The site is also full of user-contributed articles about the media industry and their personal experiences within it.

While the online community has grown far beyond the cocktail parties, with a substantial portion of the members only participating online, Touby sees the continued face-to-face opportunities as an essential element to sustaining online community. The fact that people know that they can go meet people in person, even if they choose not to, is very important in building trust. “Everyone wants options,” she says. “They don’t want to feel trapped on the web.”

Touby also resists calling what they’re doing “networking” because of some of the negative connotations some people may have with the term. “It’s not about what you can do for me, it’s about bringing a personal element into their professional lives.”