Is there a point to LinkedIn groups anymore?
I seem to have developed a love / hate type of relationship with LinkedIn.
On the one hand, I totally get that it’s a super platform for networking, sharing content and having conversations about business and the like.
Hell, I’ve even got hired through it a few times.
On the other, I can see that - particularly over the past couple of years - the range of features and functionality, as well as the (in my view) poor user experience has meant that LinkedIn has not been making many strides forward, when we really think about it.
Cue finger-in-the-air Twitter poll:
Conclusion: I’m not alone in my thinking.
Now add in the fact that the Microsoft-owned social media giant has started stripping out some native features and putting them behind a paywall, in order to force our hand on signing up for a subscription. You may have already noticed that the ‘Who’s viewed your profile’ bit is now limited to seeing the first two or three people - before it asks you to upgrade.
And guess what? With the offer of a 30-day free trial of LinkedIn Premium at my door, I was duped into signing up on the spot…
Word of warning though - I discovered that I’d been immediately billed £24.99 through the Apple Store. (See right for the original offer I was shown by LinkedIn)
Which is it LinkedIn? Free or not free?
Example of poor user experience right there > > > >
But anyway, to the matter at hand.
Early last year, it was estimated that there were around 2 million groups in existence on LinkedIn. Despite this high number, I think there was a general sense that it was not exactly a sterling part of the overall platform offering. However, presumably thousands on thousands on thousands of LinkedIn users thought it would still be worthwhile setting up a group to bring focus to a particular interest, industry or niche.
The initial purpose of the group setting on LinkedIn was to have a place where people could conduct meaningful discussions about topic x, and share content and views which held potential value for fellow group members. It didn’t matter if the odd bit of cheesy crap or salesy fluff was posted in it - it could be easy removed by the admin at moderation stage. It seemed fairly easy to spot repeat offenders too, and chuck them out if you so pleased.
Of course, a drawback of creating a LinkedIn group would be the rate at which you could grow them - you’d mostly be relying on a search by a user resulting in a request to join (unless you promoted it as a social post over and over and over…). So when the UK Digital Marketing Group was set up, I was manually inviting people into the group to try and accelerate the growth of group membership over a shorter period of time. I was employing that tactic for about two years. LinkedIn made us admins work hard for it.
Pain in the arse. But I thought it would be worth it in the end.
Being a group admin meant giving your virtual greenhouse some attention, on and off. In truth, LinkedIn didn’t really give you any tools or a leg-up to help you do that, so it was left to your own ingenuity and effort to keep the quality posts, comments and likes coming in.
Now I look back and wonder why I bothered.
Because, during summer 2018, LinkedIn did their classic ‘we’re making some changes - x has been temporarily suspended / removed’ thing on the groups feature. And that’s when I knew they’re going to mess things right up. And this wouldn’t be the first time.
Soon, the ability for admins like me to moderate posts was gone - along with the group channel image, and they then set about slowly fading out useful things like the 'group announcement’ and ‘templates’ functions.
I knew that it would now be some months before they finished applying all these ridiculous changes. And lo and behold - when the ‘new’ version of the groups side of LinkedIn was quietly relaunched, it really didn’t look like the new and improved version we were hoping for. In fact, it looked pretty much the same, but perhaps a little more scantily-clad this time round. It was the same bit of LinkedIn, but someone had lopped some otherwise very useful chunks out of it.
It became clear that admins had now permanently lost the ability to:
Control the quality of content (new posts now just go live as they’re posted, whether they are relevant to the group or not)
Contact all their members with important messages or group news
Pin featured content to the top of the group feed
Brand your group so that it has it’s own visual identity (as much as it could ever have, anyway)
It’s a real shame. You only have to look at what Facebook are doing (one of the only instances I’ll be positive about Facebook, ever) to get a sense of how groups can work when the right elements are stitched together for the user. LinkedIn is just not delivering the same kind of experience.
I don’t really understand why they decided to remove this functionality. Just what is the role of a group admin now? I have no idea. I can’t really do anything in my own group - it’s a free flowing river of ‘whatever’.
I’ve recently noticed some well-established LinkedIn groups such as the one Econsultancy ran, suddenly disappear. Perhaps they just didn’t think there was any point of having a group on LinkedIn anymore. I don’t blame them.
And if you’re driving respected organisations like them away, surely something is going pretty spectacularly wrong here; especially at a time when developing and nurturing social communities is at its peak. Dedicated Community Managers. An ‘always-on’ medium.
In summary, LinkedIn has failed to see things from their users’ perspective yet again. Their recent changes to the ‘groups’ function is them doing a silent UX fart; one which will ultimately make everyone leave the room.