This is the final article in a series that offers recommendations for how LinkedIn, group owners/managers, and group members can improve the quality and value of LinkedIn groups. The initial piece focused on suggestions for LinkedIn, and the second provided suggestions for group owners/managers. This article focuses on LinkedIn group members. The ideas can also be extended to other kinds of digital communities.
Assuming LinkedIn groups are worth saving, there are a number of ways LinkedIn can improve the feature, and a variety of ways in which group owners/managers can improve the quality and function of groups for which they're responsible. But as LinkedIn group members, we can also do our part to maximize the value of groups for both ourselves and others. 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: a property owner may provide the venue and supply basic resources, and managers may provide props and basic stage directions, but there are no scripts. It is the participants themselves who provide the energy and dialogue.
Here are some of my thoughts on how both rookie and experienced LinkedIn group members can help enhance the groups feature by being thoughtful about their group settings and following some basic personal posting rules.
Group logo. There can be some professional value in having group logos displayed on your profile; however, when you belong to a lot of groups they become clutter. As I noted in Part 1 of this series, it would be great if there was a separate tab (or perhaps a collapsible element) so that group logos could be presented in a more streamlined way. Until there is, 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.
Caveat: The groups message functionality may be broken. I can't remember the last time I received an email with a recap of group postings, even for the group I manage.
Group announcements. As I discussed briefly in Part 2 of this series, group announcements can be very useful for group managers. LinkedIn 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 in Part 3 of this series, 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. For example, you may want to turn all group messaging off when you go on an extended vacation so you don't have to worry about keeping up with them while you're gone or catching up with them once you return.
Personal Posting Rules
Although there's nothing wrong with LinkedIn group activity serving as a de facto news feed, the groups experience is definitely richer when there is dialogue. And as valuable as it is to be a lurker/listener, at some point you may need/want to become more actively engaged. In fact, I strongly encourage it, especially in groups that are strongly connected to your professional goals.
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 LinkedIn group 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 LinkedIn group members (as discussed in Part 2). But each member is still responsible for ensuring that his/her contributions are of the highest quality possible. 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 LinkedIn 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 piece 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 a lunch-time 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 is 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 category 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 as Promotions. Limit the items in the Discussion section 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 Promotions 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 a LinkedIn group are relatively informal, that doesn't mean it's okay to be sloppy. The best two options for sharing items from the web are posting directly to a group and/or using the LinkedIn bookmarklet. Avoid using services like HootSuite, as the links are unlikely render properly.
When sharing a link directly to a group, be sure to post the url in the detail box, not the Discussion Title field. Also, regardless of how you share an item, take the few seconds necessary to ensure that the image for the link 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.
In both the Discussion Title field and the detail box, be sure you're spelling, grammar and punctuation are all up to snuff. Autocorrect and other errors may be okay when texting with friends and family and in private messages, but they're less forgivable when communicating with professional acquaintances and strangers in a public setting.
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.
Participate and engage with others. When someone shares an item from the internet you find interesting or useful, let them know by giving the item a quick "like" after you've read it. You can also add a quick written thanks, share your own thoughts, and/or ask questions.
Of course, generating your own discussions is also a great idea. Crowdsource ideas, ask questions, solicit input, start a relevant conversation...
Although there's nothing wrong with LinkedIn group activity serving as a de facto news feed, the groups experience is definitely richer when there is dialogue.
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 always, I welcome your feedback. What questions has this piece raised for you? What would you add to, change, or delete from the recommendations provided?
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