Monday, November 4, 2013

So you're creating a Group on LinkedIn? Here are 5 Things You Should Know...

Did you know there are over 2 million groups on LinkedIn?  We have open networking groups and we have alumni groups.  Some users create groups centered around their companies.  And now you've decided to create a group on LinkedIn, too. What do you do now?  This post is not another boring tutorial on how to set up a LI group.  Here, we are going to look at the softer side of group management strategies, and talk about the things that aren't shared in tutorials.  Are you aware that owning or managing a group on LinkedIn will require posting planning, and a regular time commitment?  Below are some tips to help you prepare yourself for real group management duties.

1. What's the objective of the group?

What do you expect to your group to accomplish, and who are your target members? Perhaps you are trying to use the group to establish yourself as an industry expert.  Maybe you're using the group as a means to drive traffic to your site.  Or, the group may serve to satisfy the need to vent and share frustrations. These sound like basic questions, but they are the most important questions to answer when you are starting a new group. The answers to these questions will give your group focus, and will help you determine what discussion topics will fit.  

2. Do you want your group to be informative, collaborative, or both?

When creating a group, LI gives you several options for 'group type', such as alumni, corporate, nonprofit, networking, professional etc.  While you are selecting your group type, think about whether or not you want your group to be informative, collaborative, or both.  Again, the reason is to help focus on the type of postings you would like to see within the group.  An informative group may have 'how to' postings and discussions that offer tutorials or instructions on how to do something.  A collaborative group may post more direct questions that encourage discussion or debate.  In a hybrid of the two, we might find a follow up on an informative post with another post that presents a thought provoking question.  

3. What's your posting plan?

You can't create a group and expect the group to just post discussions on its own. A good group manager needs to be an active participant in the group.  If you know the group objective, and whether the group will be more informative or collaborative in nature, you can outline a plan for your own posts.

For example, let's say you've created a group to establish expertise on a topic. You've decided to keep the group informative in nature.  Your posting plan may be a tutorial series of weekly discussions.  Each week, you have a new post that offers a 'how-to' step in a process.

Following a plan or outline will give you direction on what to post next (instead of randomly posting on different topics).

4. How much control do you want to have?

Yes, there are group rules you can establish.  The rules set the guidelines, but real control comes from monitoring and moderation.  As a group owner, you can control membership and postings.  New memberships can be controlled by making the group closed, or private.  This is done through the 'Request to Join' during group creation.  You can also elect to make members submit comments and discussions for approval, or you can allow all members to post freely.  You can even allow members to post comments freely, but require approval for discussion submissions.

There are pro’s and con’s with each level of control, and they all revolve around the moderation queue. Join requests and submission requests are all held in a moderation queue until released by the group owner, manager or moderator.  Moderation is a great way to filter out spammy posts, and to deter LI users that may not bring any value to the group from joining.

The same moderation techniques may also deter well meaning users who would be a great boon for the group.  This may be due to the growing number of LI users complaining that their posts never see the light of day.  If you do elect moderation, please consider the amount of queue time deemed acceptable to group members.  Holding posts for two weeks or longer will certainly discourage member participation.

Which brings me to my last question...

5. Are you ready for the time commitment?

You already know that you will need loads of time to plan and post your own discussions.  But have you thought about these areas:

How often do you plan to check your moderation queue?  Daily? Weekly? If you elect to have a members only group, how often do you plan to check for membership requests?  A good way to turn off members to a group is to keep a group moderated and not check the queue for a few weeks.  I once joined an SAP group on LI.  It was members only, but I did not get approval to join until 6 months later.  Seriously?

If you have an open group with no moderation control over submissions, don’t think housekeeping is not required.  Un-moderated groups are easy to spot; just look for the groups with the same users posting link after link after link.  Spammy content can be as big a turn off as not allowing any content.  If you go with an open and un-moderated group, plan on checking your forum daily.

How much time do you plan to dedicate to checking other posts and offering a comment or two? Remember, a good group owner is an engaged owner.  Group members are well pleased when others take the time to read their content, and many reciprocate.  Read a posting or two and leave a thoughtful, meaningful comment to let members know their contributions are appreciated.  Participating in your own group will encourage other members to join in the fun.  

Setting up a group on LinkedIn is easy, but management takes a little more work.  Knowing the answers to the questions above will help you manage your group with finesse.  Good luck!