LINKEDIN GROUPS: RUN THEM LIKE A PRO, NOT A PR**K
LinkedIn launched on May 5, 2003, and (as of April 2016) there are now over 20 million LinkedIn members in the UK alone - with a total global membership of approximately 450 million professionals.
It's been hard to track down a solid, verified figure for the total number of LinkedIn groups that exist on the platform, but a bit of online digging seems to commonly throw up a figure in the region of over 2 million (groups).
I'm a member of about 50 groups at the moment, and although I'm not a prolific contributor, I dip in and out of a great many of them often enough to see what's happening. Lately, I've actually had my first negative experience as a group member (I won't say which group) and it made me ponder on the 'responsibilities' of being a group owner.
What had essentially happened, in my case, is that I'd been a member of this particular group for a good year or so I'd say, and it seemed like a pretty good group on the face of it; full of relevant, articulate professionals sharing content, etc.
The problem was that in the last few weeks I'd posted a couple of links to Digital Drum blogs, and the group owner had taken to publicly commenting on the content and basically saying it was self-promotion:
At first, I just felt very unwelcome and as though I'd made an error (I think I apologised!), but actually, when I looked around at other content links posted by 'peers', they were getting much the same treatment. (The group description actually stated "Please share your information freely on this group" - and marketing is a pretty accessible topic, so...)
Some posts by others had even been subject to some clearly bitchy feedback by the group owner and other members. In addition, the group owner was telling people off quite regularly, using a tone akin to that of a teacher telling off naughty schoolchildren. Content contributors were chastised for 'self-promotion', when the group owner themselves did exactly the same throughout the feed - plugging their own business / website / content.
I realised this group was actually pretty toxic, and not nearly as professional as I'd been led to believe. And with a membership of around 3,200 people, I wasn't the only person who'd noticed this. More and more, I was seeing a number of very polite, but firm comments from members who were calling this behaviour out.
To cut a long story short, I deleted all of my posts, and I left the group there and then.
I've therefore written this blog to give some focus to the 'duties' of group owners (and because it might be cathartic for me to be honest).
Becoming a group owner
I've been managing organisation / company channels on various social media platforms for a number of years now, and this includes LinkedIn group ownership. At the moment, I manage seven groups. It's pretty easy to set up a group - a few clicks, and then you're off. You don't have to be an experienced marketer or social media whizz to do it either. The beauty of LinkedIn groups is that they can be set up by anyone, for any audience; whether the topic is niche or pretty generic.
But once you've set the agenda and 'terms of reference' for your group, then starts the real work.
You open the gates. You've made a commitment to start a group and manage it, but you have no members. There's no environment, credentials, no existing kudos, or local presence.
Month on month, the process of building up the group begins. It takes ages to get any real traction, and as a group owner, you're basically investing time - pretty much on a daily basis - to:
- manually invite new members to your group
- spread the word outside of your group to encourage join requests
- moderate incoming content
This is all fine if you're patient, and happy to follow through with the commitment and build up membership. And in all likelihood, eventually you'll reach a point where you've achieved a pretty decent-sized group.
So here are my pointers about how to be a good group owner.
1. CLEARLY SET THE GROUND-RULES
If you're flying a plane and your passengers are not told when they can board, get up, eat, etc, then you can't be mad when they start to do whatever feels ok to them. It's the same with groups - setting simple, clear terms of reference about how the group should be used is always a good idea. Ensure you've utilised the auto-send invite email function so that when new people are accepted, they get sight of these ground-rules immediately.
Having something solid in place allows you, as the person responsible for managing the group, to refer people back to these guidelines should anything off-piste arise.
2. IMAGINE YOURSELF AS AN EQUAL, NOT 'KING OF THE GROUP'
Yes, you're the group manager, but essentially, the point of your LinkedIn group is be an open space for discussion, sharing content, and providing insight and help to others.
It goes without saying then, that this is not your vehicle for going on about yourself every five minutes, being all salesy, or making snipey comments if you disagree with the angle / message / content of a post:
Good group managers treat everyone equally, and should only speak up / post when they've got something of value to share. They also follow the same rules as everyone else, no exceptions.
3. MODERATE OBJECTIVELY
So you're not a big fan of that new Facebook trend that someone's submitted a blog link about? So what? It's actually not about you. If it's a valid contribution which others in the group might be interested in seeing, let it through the moderation process.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to moderate post submissions from members, but remember to be fair and balanced in your judgement.
4. DEAL WITH BROKEN RULES DISCREETLY
My natural tendency when something annoys me is to basically let it out and externalise it, however, the professional in me knows that it's best to try and deal with things with as little fuss and carnage as possible. In the case of your LinkedIn groups, if you see that someone's contravening the group 'rules', whether it's a genuine error, or a deliberate p***-take, do your best to deal with it away from your other members.
The best way to approach this is to send a direct message to the group member in question, and have the conversation there. Nine times out of ten, it will get resolved with very little upset caused or feathers ruffled. And if that doesn't work, you of course have the power (and the right) to click a few buttons and remove the troublemaker from the group in an instant.
5. DON'T THINK OF YOURSELF AS 'TEACHER'
Avoid telling people off publicly on your group newsfeed.
It's potentially embarrassing for the original postee, it sends a negative message to the rest of the group about you, and it doesn't set a great example for others.
In the recent experience I've had, I saw a number of snipey comments made - and clearly condoned by the group owner, because quite frankly, the commentators in question probably thought "well, it's ok for me to say that, because the group manager is doing the same..."
It's just not on.
Well... that does feel a bit better now I've got that out of my system.