As noted in Part 2 of this series, good management is critical to increasing and maintaining the effectiveness of groups of all types. But ultimately the quality and success of any group is dependent on the types of members it has, the content they contribute, and the quality of their engagement. Digital groups are like improv shows: managers may provide a venue, props, and some basic stage directions, but there are no scripts. It is the participants themselves who provide the energy and dialogue.
As in Parts 1 and 2, my recommendations for group members are targeted to both rookie and experienced users and are focused on maximizing the value and benefits that can be derived from engaging in LI groups. Let's begin by addressing the question...
To Join or Not to Join?
LinkedIn allows every member to belong to up to 50 groups. I have no idea what the average number of groups per member is, but I would venture to say based on the hundreds of profiles I've looked at that most people belong to fewer than 10 groups. What a loss! I recommend you seek out and join as many groups as possible, because they enable you to:
Learn. There is lots of great content shared via LI groups, in the form of news items, blog posts, SlideShare presentations, videos, etc. - much of which you're unlikely to get from more traditional news channels and feeds, or even on other social media platforms. There are also great discussions taking place all the time that are both informative and enlightening. I personally have a degree's worth of knowledge derived from LI groups, and I continue to learn from them every day.
Share. Sharing via LI groups is a great way to promote both your professional and organizational brands. If you/your organization create content, groups provide great distribution outlets for blog posts, white papers, presentations, and videos. If you're not a content creator but want to demonstrate that you have your finger on the digital pulse of your profession, industry, trends, etc., groups enable you to do that as well. And of course you can share your awareness, insights, and thought leadership by both starting and contributing to group discussions.
Tap the "wisdom of crowds." I have collected resources, ideas, insights and expertise a number of times through LI groups. Most recently I put out a request to several groups asking for recommendations for platforms and vendors for creating a social intranet for a client. I got a wealth of feedback that saved me from having to conduct internet searches that would have been both more inefficient and less effective. I've also used LI groups to solicit participation in LI polls (another one of my favorite features). I can attribute much of the success with my polls on social media policies and book format preferences (paper vs. digital) to the engagement of group members. (And if you're reading this before November 18, I could really use some "response love" on this poll : ))
Make new connections. One of the most powerful (and too-often underestimated) benefits of group membership is that they increase the size of your LI network instantly. When you are connected with someone via a LI group, you generally have the ability to message them directly, even if you're not first-degree connections. You can also leverage shared group memberships as a means to becoming first-degree connections. I often get invitations to connect from people who've learned about me/my work through the groups in which I engage. I've also become "cyber buddies" with other group members and have had several of those relationships move from cyberspace to the physical world.
Pursue opportunities. Though blatant selling via groups is taboo (more on that later), they can be very powerful business development and career management tools for many of the reasons articulated above. Several of the responses to my query about intranet platforms, for example, came from vendors, both as comments on the group posts and via private messages (all of which were handled professionally). In addition to responding to queries, folks can use the member search function to identify fellow group members who are affiliated with particular organizations they're interested in. And of course people who are actively on the job market can look for positions posted under the Jobs tab (if that feature is enabled).
Signing Up and Setting Up
How do you get to 50 groups? It's easier than you think. The primary choices are groups related to:
- Schools and organizations (i.e., alumni groups)
- Professional associations
- Industry associations
- Specific geographic locations
- Specific topics and trends
How do you decide which groups to join? Like many things, your decisions should be driven by your goals and objectives. If your LI identity and engagement are connected to your job (e.g., you have an externally facing role like business development, sales, recruiting), you will need to join groups that meet your job-related goals and objectives as well as your own career management concerns. If you don't represent an organization via your LI profile/activity, then you only need to consider your own professional brand and career. With your goals in mind, here are three guidelines that can help you manage your group memberships:
Mix it up. Aim for balanced variety in your groups across the main categories listed above. And be careful about just joining groups that are directly relevant to your profession/interests. If you're a marketing professional, for example, there's certainly value in belonging to marketing-focused groups. But you can also get a lot of benefit from different industry groups and even loosely related area (e.g., a BtoB marketing group when your focus is on BtoC marketing).
Split it up. If you are part of an organization/department that collectively wants to use LI groups to achieve its goals and objectives (e.g., for sales, business development, association membership), it may not be in your best interests for you to all belong to the same groups. Make sure you coordinate your memberships so that they make sense not just for each of you individually but also for the group as a whole.
Change it up. Never view your group memberships as permanent. Periodically - maybe once a quarter - review your current memberships and decide which ones are worth keeping and which should be shed. And always keep an eye out for new groups to join.
And a few thoughts on settings:
Group logo. I've always opted in to having group logos displayed on my profile. But when you belong to a lot of groups, they become clutter. As I noted in Part 1 of this series, I would love to see a separate tab for Groups on individual profiles so that logos could be displayed there. In the meantime, it may be wise to limit the number of logos you display.
Group messages. When you first join a group, opt for weekly messages. Review them for a few weeks to decide whether you want to change your settings. For active groups with great content, daily digests are probably a good idea. For less active groups, weekly is fine. And sometimes, when group members post things that aren't particularly relevant and/or the volume is too high, you can opt out of the digests altogether. You may also opt out of the digests if you prefer to visit group pages to check on the latest content rather than receive email messages.
Group announcements. As I discussed briefly in Part 2 of this series, group announcements can be very useful for group managers. LI limits the number of announcements managers can send to one per week, and I've never seen any manager regularly send out announcements that often. Given that managers generally don't abuse this feature, I recommend opting in. You can always turn the feature off later.
Member messages. I recommend opting in here as well. As I discussed above, connecting with fellow members is one of the biggest benefits of groups. And I've never experienced a situation where someone has abused this feature either.
As with memberships themselves, you should plan to revisit and modify your group settings periodically as circumstances necessitate. This summer, for example, I turned all group messaging off when I went on an extended vacation because I knew I'd never be able to catch up once I returned.
Personal Posting Rules
As valuable as it is to be a lurker/listener in LI groups, at some point you may need/want to become more actively engaged. In fact, I strongly encourage it. But many people hesitate because they're afraid of making mistakes. Mistakes are unavoidable with real-time digital conversations, just as they are in in-person exchanges - especially when things are going fast and furious. The difference of course is that mistakes in cyberspace take on a permanence that oral mistakes don't. Everything you post in a LI group (as elsewhere) is a reflection of your individual professional brand, and maybe your organization's brand as well. It shouldn't be taken lightly.
It's super-helpful when groups have a clear focus and well-defined posting rules to guide the contributions and engagement of members (as discussed in Part 2 of this series). But each member is still responsible for ensuring that his/her contributions are of the highest quality possible. In the early days of LI people were relatively tolerant of the variety of rookie mistakes people made, but as the platform has matured that tolerance is declining. Abiding by a set of "personal posting rules" can minimize the chances of doing or saying the wrong thing.
Here are some recommendations for maximizing the value and benefits of your engagement in LI groups:
Don't start posting immediately after joining a group. Take some time to get a feel for the kinds of content that gets shared, how much dialogue there is, who the key contributors and influencers are, and how people interact with one another. In other words, learn the implicit norms of the group to be sure you won't inadvertently violate them.
Share relevant, high-quality content. Before posting an item, check the group's posting rules to make sure it's acceptable. Even when there are no rules, think about whether the item will be viewed as relevant and valuable by other members (e.g., a blog post about an accounting issue is probably not appropriate for a group focused on human resources, and a Chicago-focused group is unlikely to be interested in an event in Seattle). If you want to share an item for which the relevance is not obvious, please add a brief comment indicating why you're sharing the piece. And remember that this is a professional networking forum: with few exceptions, sharing items that are personal and/or political in nature are probably inappropriate.
Put things in the right place. Specifically, if a group has enabled the Jobs feature, be sure you post job announcements, discussions and related resources under that tab rather than as a general Discussion item. Similarly, if you want to share an event and/or promote your organization in some way, post those items under the Promotions feature. Limit the items in the Discussion tab to questions, conversation starters, and links to news items, blog posts, etc.
Don't sell. Generally speaking, any shared item that appears to be self-promotional in nature will be viewed negatively. I recommend resisting the temptation to share those kinds of items in groups, but if you can't resist the urge at least avoid posting them as Discussion items and list them under the Promotions tab (if it's available) instead. And don't try to fake people out by posting something that appears to be a Discussion item but is in fact a thinly-veiled promotional effort. Finally, make sure that any comments you share are presented in a way that's designed to help others rather than to serve your own needs.
Dot your Is and cross your Ts. Although the interactions in LI groups are relatively informal, that doesn't mean it's okay to be sloppy. When you're sharing a link, take the few seconds necessary to ensure that the image is appropriate, the headline is complete/accurate, and the introductory snippet provides a proper lead in (most web pages have this information set up well, but not all do). And don't link with a shortened url that doesn't then expand to provide the necessary information.
Provide full disclosure. You should let people know if you're sharing an event that requires a fee, or a link to a site that requires people to register to access content. And of course if you're sharing something related to an organization you're affiliated with, be sure to make your connection clear.
Listen - and think - before you speak. If you want to join an active discussion, make sure you read other people's comments before chiming in. Avoid misunderstandings by testing your assumptions rather than jumping to conclusions. When you're commenting, remember that grammar counts: use complete words and sentences and check your spelling. People who are writing in a non-native language can be forgiven for grammatical errors, but native speakers should not count on the same latitude. And of course it's imperative to maintain your professionalism: avoid emotional outbursts, and don't engage in ad hominem attacks or get too personal. Keep in mind that it's hard for people to interpret your words if they don't know you, so try to keep things light and collegial. Take conversations offline if they get too heated, and/or step away from the exchange altogether if you think there's no chance of finding common ground.
As I was typing these recommendations, I kept thinking: This is all just common sense, isn't it? Do I really need to tell people this? But then I thought about how many mistakes I've seen people make in all these areas, and I was reminded how uncommon common sense really is...