I’m grateful to Sarah Arrow who runs a Linkedin group for Essex businesses, for alerting me to this problem, which I’m sure is of concern to many of you who use the Groups feature on Linkedin. Groups have become a very important feature of Linkedin with some real potential, but many are going astray.
Groups are New
A few years ago Linkedin didn’t have twitter integration, it didn’t have groups and it was purely focused on connections, which is what made it attractive to the rather conservative professional market. Now that Linkedin has introduced some of these features from other platforms it is important not to let the bad aspects of them damage what we have and put off the core, very special Linkedin audience.
Linkedin Groups are in essence a type of online community of interest. A group of people get together in a group to focus their networking in a common subject – in the case of Sarah’s group, “those that wish to network and do business with Essex Business people.” It is this common interest that should always be the focus of any postings to a Linkedin group.
Focus on Shared Interest
I defined Push and Pull marketing here when I said,
“Push marketing is when the customer doesn’t want your product or service. Pull marketing is when the customer does want your product or service.”
A special interest group can be a good thing for marketing because it narrows the field of people you network with to a smaller group with a shared interest, and if that shared interest is related to your business you’re in benefit.
For example if you run a guesthouse in Essex, people interested in getting a recommendation for a guest house in Essex might ask someone they know in Essex, and they might get that recommendation from someone in the Essex network, so it makes sense to join the network and get to know the people there. The important thing is that you are getting to know them because they may become your advocates, in the same way as they are getting to know you because you may become an advocate for them. Don’t sell to them – you are then a spammer.
Sales masquerading as shared interest
The problem with groups is that the opportunity exists (as it does with your status updates) to post marketing messages as if they were discussions. For example, I recently saw this on a property networking group on Linkedin:
“CHEAP LONDON BUILDERS
We are a building contracting company operating in London, having expanded vastly due to recommendations and clients satisfaction – We have grown in size, quality and ability
WE ARE ABLE TO DO ALL TYPES OF BUILDING WORK including: Extensions (Rear, Side, Single or Double…”
This is not a discussion, it is an advert.
The reason why these messages don’t work on Linkedin Groups is what happens next.
The Damage Sales Messages Do to Linkedin Groups
Linkedin Group discussions are not indexed by Google, so this plea for help isn’t shared with the world. Instead it is emailed directly, or in digest form, to everyone in that group who has chosen to receive updates.
Those people have volunteered to get involved in the activity of the group, and one thing they offer up gladly is their email address. It is clear that the majority of people who receive an ad like ‘CHEAP LONDON BUILDERS’ are going to be rather cheesed off if it arrives in their inbox masquerading as valuable contact from their Linkedin group. A less charitable person would say the ‘CHEAP LONDON BUILDERS’ are hijacking linkedin to do their direct mail campaigns.
Of course this type of behaviour is very bad for your brand image. But worse for all of us, it also damages the group – I have left numerous groups where this type of activity is unchecked, and turned off updates from others. Those groups don’t get much of my attention any more.
What you should do instead
So instead of spamming a Linkedin group with your content, what can you do to generate some genuine good value leads for your business? Here are some suggestions.
1. Get in the shoes of your audience
A linkedin group is relatively closed, so your audience is the people in the group. What do they care about? What issues have they identified? How can what you know and who you know help the situation?
2. Join a conversation
Look at what other people are discussing and see what useful contribution you can make. If you comment on other people’s discussions others may respond, and you may find they contact you privately as well to start building a relationship. This is how you get genuine advocates.
3. Demonstrate your expertise
Remember no-one has your specific knowledge and experience, so share information and opinion which shows you know your stuff.
4. Join the Community
When people start truly participating in a Linkedin group like this, things really take off. In fact, the group really stands out from the crowd and you’ll find more joining. And more people means more people reading your useful, interactive content, which is specifically targeted to them as members of a special interest group.
It is in your interest that a Linkedin group works – or why bother? So stop spamming people on Linkeding groups and join a conversation instead.
Image: Hackney the Old Hospital by L-Plate Big Cheese (creative commons>
Paul Castain says
Well done Stu and I couldn’t agree with you more!
One of the worst things about spam in a group (aside from just the fact that its there) is having to wade through it to get to a legit discussion. Before you spam a group, think about the person who in good faith is trying to get everyone to (get this) have a discussion who now gets their thread bumped out of sight because of each person who spams the group. I’ve had it done to me several times and it discourages you from contributing in those groups.
I would also add that people have to start complaining more to the group managers because some are absentee at best.
If you find yourself in a situation where your complaints are being dismissed, go to another group or start your own like I did back in 2009.
Thanks again for such a timely post. Passing this on to my network!
.-= Paul Castain´s last blog ..Leave It At The Office Dude- =-.
Roberta Ward says
Reading this post it struck me that there is a real similarity on groups within Linked In and regular forums. The etiquette and behavior should be the same. Go there to read, enjoy and participate if you like what you read and can add to the group discussion with your knowledge or experience.
The principle is exactly the same. Ive met loads of people in the real world that started off reading my posts on various forums, I’m sure the same rule will apply to Linked In too.
Johanna Hoffmann says
Absolutely, the sales pitches are a huge nuisance. Unfortunately, I don’t see them going away any time soon. If anything, they’ll get worse, because LinkedIn is in the same boat Facebook is: they need to better monetize a cumbersome platform. They have to go beyond their core constituency and also keep up with Twitter and the other social media networks that are changing how people interact on the web. Most everything they do will alter the culture and the tenor of the discourse.
Better group management is definitely a must, but ultimately LinkedIn will have to put in place better systems to manage the deluge of spam, like Twitter has, and we participants will have to get used to more sales pitches, like on Twitter…
Paul Castain says
It really needs to begin with the Group Manager. Many either don’t want to bother policing or they are nervous they will lose members because of anti spam rules.
We grew by 10,000 members our first year (now 13000) and are continually told by our members that its a nice change from the tone of many of the other groups. So I’m thinking our anti spam policy fast forwarded our progress.
Last note and then I’ll get off the soapbox. File this under corny if you like but everyone has a story, has a thought, has an opinion and wants to be heard.
As a community we need to help facilitate that! I have this crazy feeling that its very rewarding for all when we embrace that mentality 🙂
.-= Paul Castain´s last blog ..Leave It At The Office Dude- =-.
Hi Paul, Johanna,
I think group management is important Paul, you’re right, but also I understand Johanna’s concern. Linkedin groups are getting a bad reputation – I’ve heard many people say they are a waste of time, so they give up finding good ones. This has the potential to do damage to Linkedin.
So will Linkedin introduce a spam management system to its groups? It is possible, but unlikely. In the meantime people will vote with their feet like they do with all social tools.
The strength of these platforms, something I really like about them, is that they are opt-in, opt-out. If we don’t like what someone’s doing we can choose not to participate, or collectively stop the behaviour.
However it happens, I’m guessing in the long run Linkedin groups will lose their spammers, either via Linkedin management taking action, or by us doing it ourselves.
Next time you see a spammer, pipe up! A dozen people will be right behind you as soon as you do.
Andrew Eagles says
Great post. Thank you.
Have to agree with you Paul, Sue and Johanna. I suspect many people do not know the ettiquette. It is so easy to join groups, that many people do so without realising the purpose is discussion and learning. Is the moderators role but could also be our role to call people on it. Wonder if there are any stats showing dicussing/engaging is more productive than adverts? Have a good week.
Robert Easson says
The spam in linkedin groups appears to be getting worse. Even moderated groups are losing their value due to adverts posted as discussions rather than promotions. Also and referencing your other post on networking, there is also appears to be a huge number of Lurkers (non-participants)
Sad but too true
It’s a shame. Linked in groups can be a great source of knowledge exchange and networking (esp for us folks who live far over the hills and away away).
So there could/should be more pressure on moderators to moderate their groups and encourage the lurkers out of the closet and into the virtual lounge.
You’re right, I think it is a real shame. Like the posting of twitter, it devalues the tools that Linkedin has by making them impossible for others to use properly.
I’ve recently set up a group for my Linkedin Training participants and have included some rules in the ‘Group Rules’ tool, including:
“5. Don’t sell your services to the group. Your profile is the place to do that.”