This is the second of 3 posts offering recommendations for how LinkedIn, group owners/managers, and members can improve the quality and value of LinkedIn (LI) groups. The initial post focused on suggestions for LinkedIn. This post focuses on suggestions for LI group owners/managers. Both pieces invite others to share their recommendations as well.
I've always been a fan of LinkedIn (LI) groups. My memberships usually hover around the maximum possible number (50), and I've started about half a dozen groups myself, two of which I still actively manage*. I've learned a lot from my group memberships, especially through articles, blog posts, and other items people share. I've also gotten value from some of the active discussions I've joined/followed, from both learning and research perspectives. As a blogger and thought leader, I've been able to drive traffic to my posts by sharing them through LI groups, and I've gotten great feedback and fresh insights on my ideas. My engagement in LI groups has led to some interesting connections and more than a few opportunities.
But LI groups are far from perfect. Though there's a lot of "gold in them thar hills," there's also TONS of dirt! And digging through all that dirt to get to the precious nuggets can be aggravating and time consuming. For many people, in fact, the potential rewards are not worth the effort. We've all heard the lamentations about the poor quality of group content, the spammers who seem to have no respect for other group members (or themselves?), and the overwhelming volume of information. As a result, many people tune out, sacrificing the good because of the bad.
In a LinkedIn poll last winter, only 36% of the 789 respondents responded "yes" to the question, "Do you actually open and read emails from LinkedIn about group updates?" Forty-six percent replied "sometimes" and 17% said "no" or "never" (click here to view the poll results and/or read the comments). Given that active LI users are much more likely to participate in polls than less engaged users, these results probably should be viewed conservatively - in other words, with a more representative sample, the percentage of "yesses" would be much lower.
As an active group participant and manager*, I thought I'd share my thoughts on how LinkedIn, group owners/managers, and group members can each do their part to ensure that groups are viewed as "treasure troves" rather than "trash heaps." Rather than combining everything in one mega-post, I've divided it into three parts. In the first post, I offer recommendations for LI and invite others to share their recommendations as well. This is the second post, focused on suggestions for group owners and managers. The final post will focus on group members (please subscribe to the blog if you want to be notified when it's published).
*The groups I manage:
I welcome additional recommendations for LI group owners and managers, as well as other comments and questions.
- Courtney Shelton Hunt
PS - You may also want to check out these other posts related to LinkedIn:
- LinkedIn Poll: "Company" Status Updates
- LinkedIn's Activity Stream: Managing the Flow, Reducing the Pollution
- Twitter Cross-Posting to LinkedIn: Stop the In-spam-ity!!!
Good group management is key to increasing and maintaining the effectiveness of groups of all types. Here are my suggestions for both rookie and experienced managers of groups that are both extensions of existing organizations/brands and those focused on specific interests and/or professional networks of various types. This is not a basic how-to, in that I don't describe the features and functions and how they can be used. Nor is it an exhaustive treatment. Rather, it's a selective set of considerations and recommendations that focuses on particular elements that in my experience tend to be the most important and/or trickiest aspects of effective LI group management.
Before You Get Started
As a group manager for 2 ½ years, I can attest to how time consuming the responsibility is. It's incredibly easy to start a group, but growing and sustaining one is a big investment of time and energy. Here are some questions and other considerations to help you look - and think - before you leap:
- What do you want to achieve with the group? What are your goals, for both individuals and organizations (yours or others)?
- Is the group really necessary? Have you done your due diligence to see if there are other similar groups that pursue the same basic goals? Does your group satisfy a unique niche that is neither too broad nor too narrow?
- Rather than starting a new group, it may be better to look for established groups that you can co-manage or take over. This is especially important for groups that represent a brand or organization (e.g., various alumni groups). In other words, rather than starting a competing "official" group, it might be better to acquire and convert an "unofficial" one.
- Can the group attract a decent membership? Bigger is not necessarily better - in fact, I've quit most of the biggest groups I have joined because the volume of activity was just too great. But too small can be problematic too, especially if you're the only active member. The ideal group is probably fairly moderate in size (a few thousand, perhaps?), with a focused membership and relevant engagement. Although there are no guarantees, at the outset that should seem doable.
- Are you willing/able to invest in building the group? I've seen groups skyrocket in membership as the result of an active recruitment campaign, but those groups also seem to get junked up pretty quickly. Both quantity and quality matter. Do you have the patience and discipline to pursue both?
- Are you willing/able to do the necessary work to manage the group? Do you have a team who can help? Group management requires a long-term commitment and regular engagement. Is this doable?
Cyberspace is full of what I refer to as "digital ghost towns" and "digital detritus," neither of which is in an organization's or brand's long-term best interests. If you aren't in a position to manage a LI group (or any other digital platform for that matter) effectively, it's better to not even start down the path. That said, it may be worthwhile to capture the digital real estate "just in case," and hang a "coming soon" sign. That way, when you're ready, you won't have to worry about the fact that someone has already beat you to it (here's an example).
As I noted in the first post, the LI group function is pretty well developed, and there are many features and options that enable good group management. Here are some considerations and recommendations for the basic set-up tasks:
Logo/Name: Choose a logo and name that accurately reflect the group's focus. If you don't have an official logo, use a representative image - just be sure you have a right to it! You also want to make sure you won't get in trouble using a well-known brand name without permission. If there are multiple similar group and yours is the "official" one, be sure to include that in the name. Finally, remember to choose your logo/name wisely. LI frowns upon group managers changing group identities, and they limit the number of times you can do it.
Summary: You don't have a lot of text here, so you need to be pithy. Since the Summary is what is listed in the Groups Directory and accessed when people search on groups, you want to make it keyword rich - content is more important than elegance! (click here to see an example for SMinOrgs) You can provide an elegantly-worked, fully-fleshed out overview in the group's Description. (click here to see an example for SMinOrgs)
Access: Your decision whether to allow people to join automatically or wait for approval depends on your goals and objectives. Personally, I like to know who has joined my groups. I learn so much from knowing the kinds of professionals who have opted into the group: what parts of the world they're coming from, the organizations they work for, their functional areas, their positions... It's like instant market research! We've been capturing basic profile information for SMinOrgs since its inception, and one day I hope to be able to create/share a membership analysis. I'm capturing profile information for GCDEL as well, and using it to create a Member Map, which is really cool. If you want to track who's joining your group, a word of caution is in order about allowing members to invite others to join the group and pre-approving folks with certain email domains. If you enable these two features, people will be added to the group automatically and you won't have visibility to all the new members who join.
Members Only: People have different points of view on Open versus Members-Only groups. The discussions in Open groups are effectively public and can get picked up by search engines, which some people find attractive. I personally like the exclusivity and quasi-privacy that Members-Only groups provide.
Once the group is set up, you'll also need to make some decisions about Group Settings, including:
Promotions and Jobs features. Enabling these features is a great way to handle the posts that folks might consider junk or spam in the main news/discussion feed, so I think enabling them is a good idea.
Member posting permissions and restrictions. In the beginning of a group, I would suggest having no restrictions. You can always go back and tighten things up, but why add another management burden if it's not really necessary?
And here are some thoughts on a few more set-up tasks:
Group Managers: Whenever possible, have several set up, so that when someone leaves the group/organization you can still continue to manage the group actively. Having multiple managers can also reduce the burdens of group management by spreading the responsibility around.
Group Rules: As far as I'm concerned, every group should have them. They're a critical component of effective group management. Not only do they provide clarity around the group's focus and intent, they offer guidance for effective engagement by group members. Most importantly, they enable managers to moderate and manage shared content with minimal conflict and minimal reputational impact. I am a member of a number of groups that have unofficial rules, but because they don't make them explicit it's difficult to know what you can/cannot share. And it's never fun to find out that your content has been rejected without knowing why. It's also not fun to be constrained by rules that don't make sense. I belong to one group that has a rule that people can only initiate one discussion a week. The logic is presumably that having certain people appear to dominate the posts stifles contribution from others, but I've never found that to be the case. What's even odder is that the rule applies to a "chronological" week (i.e., 7 days) rather than a calendar week, which means that you aren't allowed to post something on Thursday of one week and then the following Tuesday. I'm not kidding...
Newsfeeds: I would love to see LinkedIn disable this feature, as I think it detracts from both group quality and engagement. If you visit a group that has this enabled, what you'll find is an uninviting, undifferentiated list of posts with generic RSS-looking logos rather than the colorful and image rich posts shared by individuals. If you want to promote dialogue and sharing, anonymous content is not the way to do it.
Templates: LI allows you to set up templates for the following kinds of messages: Requests to Join, Welcome, Decline, and Decline-and-Block. Ata minimum, you'll want to set up a Welcome message, and I strongly encourage managers to include posting rules in that message.
Subgroups: This is another feature that seemed like a good idea when it was rolled out, and one that some people strongly advocate, but in practice I haven't seen it add much value for a host of reasons. Generally speaking, unless your group is going to be really large and there are distinct subgroups that will be substantive in their own right, I wouldn't pursue it. The benefits won't justify the effort.
You may be surprised at how much effort it takes to set up a group properly, but your work has just begun! I recommend that group managers revisit their set up at least once a quarter and review and revise group information, settings, rules, and templates as necessary. Here are some additional considerations and recommendations...
Recruiting/accepting new members. There are lots of things you can do to grow your groups. You can encourage members to share the group (as a status update, with specific groups, and/or with individuals both inside and outside their LI networks). And you can initiate periodic recruitment campaigns in which a core group of managers/members invites people to join. If you require approval for new members, be sure you regularly review and act on the requests to join. I tend to approve them in bulk, once I have at least five requests. I also try to accept people early in the morning (CT) so that news of their joining will hit the news feeds of their connections at a time when they are likely to see them.
Contributing content. In the early days of a group, the owners/managers are likely to be the primary content contributors and dialogue starters (which are more likely to be monologues). Be prepared for the sounds of silence, but don't underestimate the importance of listening as a form of engagement. For longer than I care to remember, I was the main voice in SMinOrgs, but now I'm happy to report that I am rarely the Top Influencer thanks to a core group of folks who regularly share news items and engage in discussions. As with gardening, you must be prepared to seed and nurture the group's content to promote healthy growth...
Moderating content. Weeding is also critical to a group's health, but moderation is the bane of a group manager's existence - no matter how good the group is! Some managers like to pre-moderate all content, but I'm not a fan of that idea. As a group manager I find it unnecessarily burdensome, and as a group participant I find it annoying. But, it's your prerogative as a group manager - do whatever works best for you and your group. Regardless of whether you pre- or post-moderate content, you'll need to monitor the group's activity regularly (daily if possible) and act quickly to clean up/move inappropriate content. As noted above, to ensure your moderation activities are perceived as fair, you should create a set of posting rules and communicate those rules to members via the Welcome message and other means (e.g., periodic announcements). And please make sure the rules make sense...
Connecting to Twitter. As far as I know, I'm the only group manager who does this, but it's a trick that's worked well for me, not just in terms of sharing content, but also in terms of increasing engagement and membership in both places. Because my groups are connected to an organizational Twitter handle (@SMinOrgs and @GCDELstream respectively), I tweet out all items via the LI group, attributing posts to individuals using their Twitter handle whenever possible. Using HootSuite, I schedule the posts to go out throughout the week, which is a great way to manage the task.
Announcements. I've seen group managers use the Announcement feature (limit one per week) in a variety of ways: to summarize the week's activity, to provide special offers, to promote certain types of activity, to remind people about group rules, and more. Fortunately, I have never seen any group managers abuse this feature, and I encourage people to use in ways that make sense with their groups. I wish I had more time to take advantage of it myself...
Managing member activity and memberships. If you have group members who consistently post inappropriate content, or post things to the wrong place, you can change their permissions so you can pre-moderate all their content. You can also block all their content and/or remove them from the group. In many key respects, groups function as dictatorships, and you should use the authority and power your position gives you. That said...
Although group managers should be disciplined, consistent, and fair, they should pursue their responsibilities with a light touch. Although it's important to provide a clear sense of purpose and focus, as well as clear posting rules, you shouldn't make things unnecessarily complex. Many group managers - including me! - undermine their own goals by having set-up structures that are too much work for most group members to pay attention to (e.g., discussions only, no sharing of news items; requiring events to be posted in specific subgroup). Less is most certainly more - it's much better to keep things as simple as possible, and to cut people as much slack as possible. But when someone crosses a clear line you've drawn in the sand, you shouldn't hesitate to do whatever is necessary to maximize the quality of the group's content. And don't feel you need to follow up or explain your actions. I used to message rule violators about their infractions, but I've decided that being proactive about that isn't really a good use of my time. If you do decide to follow up, remember to keep things friendly and collegial - no need to be heavy-handed.
Calling it Quits
All good things - but especially bad things - must come to an end. There are a number of reasons why individuals and organizations who have started groups will realize they need to call it quits, including:
- Poor fit with goals/objectives
- Low membership
- Limited content sharing and/or engagement
- Poor content quality
- Large, unmanageable membership
- Inability to commit the time and energy needed to manage the group effectively
A group owner/manager can simply delete a group, but if the group is fairly large and/or active, it may be better to seek out a new owner and transfer ownership to that person rather than disbanding the group. It might also be possible to find and assign new managers who can revitalize the group and fix what's broken. All of these options are better than the alternative - which I've seen several managers do - of simply leaving the group to its own devices. That's when the graffiti and weeds and litter really take over...