In May 2013, LinkedIn reported that it had 1.5 million Groups. LinkedIn insiders now put the figure at over 2 million. There are Groups for just about every brand, business discipline and professional interest under the sun, and any LinkedIn member – including you - can start one.
But what's the key to effectively managing these communities in order to ensure that dialogue within them is interesting, influential and informative? Light touch or firm hand on the tiller? High visibility or strictly background presence? Proactive intervention or a “keep your distance” philosophy? We explored the views of LinkedIn Group managers to give you some helpful guidance.
Group tips from the LinkedIn frontline
Here is the broad-brush counsel from those who manage LinkedIn Groups every day:
Share visibility and responsibilities
The Group manager's visibility is important – members expect the Group to have leadership. But the practical demands of managing the Group, day in, day out, through absence, illness, holidays and resignations, mean you're going to need some help.
As social media expert Courtney Hunt comments, “Whenever possible, have several [managers] set up, so that when someone leaves the Group/organisation 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.”
Get outside help if you need it
Group managers need to effectively “prompt” Group discussions with timely questions and themes, as well as produce and share interesting and helpful content themselves. In reality, this workload can prove excessive.
Dave Sumner Smith, CEO of WordZone, runs and manages many LinkedIn Groups of his own, and on behalf of businesses. His approach is to use a handful of professional freelance journalists and copywriters that he can call on at short notice to complement the contributions of the Group managers. He focuses his freelancers on generating, updating and refreshing content – from starting new Group discussions, to contributing comment to existing threads, to putting together Group Announcements that can be sent once a week direct to members' inboxes.
Monitor and take action
The debates around how Group managers should moderate content, and whether they should screen membership, can be thorny. There is arguably a balance to be struck: an encouragement of lively and responsive discussion threads - critical to the usefulness of a Group and its ability to attract and retain members - versus apparent leniency towards the publishing of inappropriate content, which risks driving members away and may even expose you to legal perils.
In the same way, choosing whether to run an Open Group (i.e. anyone can join) or a Members Only Group (where membership requires a formal application) is often not a clear-cut decision. Open Group content is picked up by search engines, and the membership of these Groups tends to get up and running quickly and grow quite rapidly. These Groups have (inevitably) historically attracted proportionately more abuse in the form of thinly-disguised sales pitches, but this is changing; you can now set much tighter limits on Open Group membership than was the case before, and moderate their content.
Members Only Groups, on the other hand, have the more attractive aura of a specialist “club” and the application process enables you to collect member data that is useful in building target marketing personas. However, in practice, it's not difficult for abusers to lie about their job title, location, experience, or any other admission criteria, and gain access to the Group anyway.
The reality for Group managers is this. Firstly, you will never get away from the need for some form of moderation (Courtney Hunt neatly describes it as “the bane of a Group manager’s existence – no matter how good the Group is!”)
Secondly, unless you aim to spend time and effort requesting copies of passports, employment contracts and utility bills from your members (and yes, some Groups do) your membership screening will never be bomb-proof either.
Pragmatically, the key to addressing both these challenges is to closely monitor Group activity, enlist members' help, and, where there is action to be taken, take it quickly.
Sumner Smith explains: “We encourage a culture of feedback from the Groups, through direct messages to the Group managers, so that the members themselves take a full part in regulating the Group's activities and preserving its integrity.”
“They flag inappropriate content, and individuals who don't appear to share the Group's values, proactively. It's very effective, because it complements our own moderation and screening efforts.”
Have strong Group rules
This is good Group etiquette, but it's also far more than that. When you are faced with public accusations of outright censorship (because you moderated someone's post), or discrimination (because you rejected an application or ejected a member) you need a clear and strict Group policy that you can point to to defend your actions.
Each Group has its own policy needs, but Stephanie Sammons outlines an excellent approach to producing, deploying and publicising Group policies in section 2 of her post 5 Tips for Effectively Managing a LinkedIn Group
Groups are good for business
As mentioned in our last blog post, with 250 million members worldwide, resolutely business-focused content, and a high percentage of upper-income decision-makers as members, there can be little doubt that LinkedIn is now, in Steve Rayson's words, the “preferred B2B social marketing platform.”
Equally, there can be little question that, upon that platform, Groups are where the lion's share of LinkedIn's B2B social media value now lies. Sumner Smith states that some 97% of LinkedIn members belong to at least one group and the average member belongs to seven. And with one Group for every 125 members, the only question remaining would appear to be this: member or manager, how will you get involved?
Image by melaclaro