Updated 25 September 2012 in light of recent Group ownership experience
Creating and moderating a LinkedIn Group may seem a daunting task. Yet the benefits for industry figures, companies and organisations can also be substantial. By the end of this article you will have a much clearer understanding of whether LinkedIn Group ownership is for you - and if so, how to establish a group in such a way that it does not become a full time job just to administer...
I have an extensive LinkedIn network of ~10,000 first degree connections, built up from over a decade of interacting with candidates and recruiters all around the world. That's a huge number I realise, but these are predominantly loyal readers of my online careers sites or people I've met at careers fairs and industry conferences. I stress this simply because my approach to LinkedIn Groups is selective - quality rather than quantity. I'd hate for you to be put off the rest of this article thinking my approach is at odds with yours.
Anyway, midway through April 2012 this Social-Hire site came out of beta testing, as a place where candidates and recruiters could discreetly discuss potential career moves. Around the same time we created our LinkedIn Group Ask Me About Careers At... - the aim of which was to complement the site here and allow candidates and recruiters to have those discussions over on LinkedIn if they preferred.
In the first 3 months the group has grown to ~2,500 'vetted' members, including a host of major employer brands and a candidate population that is broadly executive / professional in terms of background.
I'm a member of 50 LinkedIn Groups (the maximum permitted) and try to maintain an engaging and active presence on these. However there are some distinct advantages that come from owning / managing your own group. I would stress the following:
- The ability to put forward a timely, consistent and effective message to your group network. The trouble I have found with a lot of LinkedIn Groups is that they have fundamentally been created to serve the aims of the group owners (which in my space is often a recruitment company), rather than acting in the best interests of the broader group membership. Examples of this would include:
- Group moderators being able to add discussions and comment on questions instantly; whilst members are subjected to lengthy delays in their new discussions or comments being approved. You can lose a lot of time responding in groups, only to find your responses appear only some time later - or never at all if you are pointing members to an external resource that answers their question (when the group owner would rather their questions be answered by members of the group owner organisation)
- Group moderators ensuring that their own discussions - rather than those initiated by other members - remain the most active within the group (through selective moderation of comments), so that the coveted place in "Still Active Discussions" within the group digest email alert that goes out to members reinforces the credentials of the group owners rather than someone from another company.
- The credibility that is bestowed on your brand (personal or corporate) from running a growing and well moderated group. Certainly for smaller businesses - or those trying to strengthen their position in a niche - this can be a very worthwhile reason for proceeding. Seasoned LinkedIn Group members will know that many groups are poorly run and spam-ridden, so a well run group really stands out and reflects well on the group owner. A spin off benefit is that there's also a flow of invitation requests that come over time as you interact with group members, so your regular LinkedIn network is also strengthened.
- The ability to engage your LinkedIn Group members by email. Whilst group owners cannot control (other than through selective moderation) what appears in the weekly / daily group digest emails, there are two valuable email touch points:
- Firstly, at the point of joining, new members are sent a welcome message from the group owner, customisable so that you can provide links to your website, brochure, social media profiles, etc. This is automatically emailed out and appears to have a very high deliverability rate.
- Secondly, once each week the group moderator is allowed to send an email broadcast to group members - providing the opportunity to seek group feedback on a particular issue, flag a forthcoming event, point members to other online resources, etc. This helps to maintain engagement and provides a form of email subscription that many individuals and smaller organisations might otherwise not have at their disposal.
- The search engine benefits that can come from group discussions. Depending on the settings you choose for your group (covered below), it may be open to being indexed by search engines such as Google. Our own experiences have been that LinkedIn group content ranks highly on Google and so provides a means of garnering search engine traffic that is of itself quite valuable.
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Unfortunately, LinkedIn is a victim of its own success. With 165 million+ "prospects" there to be targeted by spammers, affiliate marketers and the like, successful groups can be quickly over-run by the cancerous spread of ill-targeted and inappropriate posts.
This is made worse by the fact that LinkedIn derives the lion's share of its income from recruitment advertising, recruitment services and promotional advertising. Within each group you have the discussion board (the first thing you see when you enter a group), a jobs discussion area and a promotions area. Whilst LinkedIn allows people to easily share links across their 50 groups at once, they only allow this into the discussions area. Jobs and Promotional posts have to be manually posted group by group - and even then are in a position of lower real estate because they are not on the group homepage. I assume there's a reluctance at LinkedIn to make it easier for those who want to promote services or jobs to do so in a way that's free rather than using their paid services (although I've never seen an official explanation for this discrepancy in posting facilities, so the above is just what I surmise).
The upshot is that a lot of niche sector groups have their discussion areas quickly and overwhelmingly polluted by job postings (and worse still ill-targeted links to external jobs boards) or promotional marketing messages, so that those members wanting to engage in meaningful discussion are effectively crowded out. As I said, the spammers spread like a cancer.
So the main cost you will need to consider is the potentially hefty cost in terms of a significant investment of your time.
To my mind, the upsides of Group Ownership far outweigh this - but it's essential that you set up your group and establish ground rules from the start so that the time investment doesn't quickly spiral to the point of being overwhelming. Fortunately there've been some great posts written on this topic elsewhere, so I point you to these - with my comments alongside each. Read these and you'll be well placed to run a well moderated and successful group...
This first post takes you step-by-step through the settings choices you'll be presented with when you first set up your group. The author's take is that you should police things extremely vigilantly and only allow discussions and the like to be posted after you have moderated them. For some group owners this will be the preferred route.
I personally wanted to make it slightly easier for new members to join and contribute to the Ask Me About Careers At... group, given my desire to see the group spawn interactions between previously unconnected candidates and recruiters. So my alternative approach - which has proven pretty effective - is to allow people to join and comment straight away. New discussions (~sharing of links) requires moderation for the first X days someone is a member of the group.
In practice, most spammers try to post shortly after joining, at which point they are permanently blocked from the group and so their spam posts never appear. But there is now a growing social media "industry" that revolves around the creation of fake LinkedIn profiles, whose sole purpose is to join groups and begin spamming in links to external websites. Some of these are savvy enough to realise they must wait a while after joining a group before they start to post - and then their posts will make it into the group. With email notifications enabled, we're essentially aware of this as soon as it's happened and act accordingly. But if you don't have the resources to have an inbox manned day in day out, the more draconian settings suggested in the article above may be for you.
Update: as our group has grown further - and become more attractive for the LinkedIn spammers to target - we have had to switch settings so that all new members are now subject to our approval. We were reaching the stage that we were having dozens of new members join each day who were pure spammers - and who were canny enough to wait several days before posting content. So it became a nightmare to police in the manner described above.
I would counsel anyone with aspirations of having a group of 2,000+ members to require approval of new members from the outset. The spammers don't waste any of their 50 group allowance trying to join such groups - and we've ceased to be troubled since we've changed this setting. Undoubtedly there will be some people who've been put off joining as a result of this extra step (people do like instant gratification after all); but overall this has made the burden of group ownership far less.
This second piece focuses on the more fun side of marketing your LinkedIn Group to attract members - and then ensuring people have a good experience once they are members so that a thriving community is established. The tips within this really resonate with me, certainly in terms of seeding conversations, ensuring people feel appreciated, setting the tone and policing content. I hope you'll finish reading this piece with a greater sense that LinkedIn Group moderation / ownership can also be a lot of fun!
Last but not least, this third piece provides a checklist of 10 things you should be considering when setting up and managing your LinkedIn Group. A very quick concise read, but definitely adds to the above too.
Good luck setting yourself up a successful and rewarding LinkedIn Group. If you've experiences of your own you'd like to share, please do so via the comment field below so that we can all benefit from the collective wisdom.
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