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Monday, November 9, 2009

Have Linkedin Groups Lost Their Appeal?

I often wonder (usually out of frustration) what the intended purpose of the Linkedin discussion group was. Was it intended as sort of a “Flea Market” to shamelessly self promote or dare I say, a place where folks actually (and I’m going out on a limb here) engage in a discussion?

While I have a firm opinion on this, I’m not sure it matters what the intended purpose was because many people have had it and as a result they are writing off a valuable venue as a waste of time!

Some tell me that they are sick of having to wade through a minimum of 10-12 posts to find “content”, take the time to comment only to have the discussion die. Why? Because 10-12 more non discussions bump the legitimate post out of visibility. For this reason, people who post legitimate discussions get frustrated because their thread never stands a chance. Thus, the overall contributions of the group’s community diminish and people walk away shaking their heads.

So what constitutes a “Non Discussion”?

Self promotion where you create a thread to tell everyone that your company is the bestest company and launch into an infomercial. My response: Can I have some fries with that “spamwich” dude?

Articles and or links to articles: The accepted place for this is in the News section; not in discussions. Why? Um, because it isn’t a discussion. Either people don’t understand this or they weren’t loved enough as a child and need some attention . . . at the expense of the actual discussion that just got bumped. Thanks!

Open Networkers: I have a solution for this and will address it later in this post

Job Hunters: I am very sensitive to these folks because I am here to give back. I would think it makes more sense to post it in the Jobs section. No?

Announcing an event: The accepted place for this is also in the news section.

I guess the million dollar question now becomes . . . Where are the group managers? I kind of feel like they invited us all over to their party and then ducked out the back door! On the other hand, I also get the feeling that many of the people showing up to the group manager’s party are saying “OK, I’m here. Now entertain me circus boy!”

And its not like people aren’t openly complaining either. In one Linkedin group several members openly complained publicly about the excessive non discussions after having had their offline emails to the group manager ignored. She finally responded “I do not monitor this group and leave it up to the group members to self monitor” The response one of them wrote was priceless “Police your group or give to someone who will!”

So, in all fairness does the fault lie with the Group Manager or is it the members of the group screwing it up? The reality is that we are all guilty because a true community is the result of the actions (or non actions) of all who comprise it!

The Solution:

Perhaps its time for an agreement of sorts.

Group Managers:

Post your rules clearly and concisely and take a stand against non discussions. Let everyone know where they can and can’t post within the group. Let’s remember that some people just don’t know. I can personally relate because when I first started with Linkedin I was one of them. Stop worrying about losing members who don’t like those guidelines. Institute a zero tolerance policy and actually enforce it. Understand you will piss some people off but also understand you are pissing more people off who don’t have a chance to contribute.

Make sure you encourage a culture of contribution and non combativeness. Do you remember that movie Semi Pro with Will Ferrill? He had this banner on the wall that read “Everybody love everybody” Learn it, live it and protect your culture!

Have a places for specific things within your group: In my group we have a thread called (get this) “Pimp my Company” This is where we introduce ourselves and what we do. Announce any upcoming events, special promos etc. I’ve experimented with Twitter Directories, Services Needed threads etc. Controlled pimping can be a good thing. I'm just sayin.

Encourage good content by making certain threads featured discussions. While you are at it, understand that every good discussion deserves a fighting chance so please don’t feature discussions for 4 months. Once the discussion gets up and running on its own, set it free dude! If it comes back to you it was meant to be if it doesn’t . . . well you know the rest!

You need to start showing up more. Participate and be a part of the community you started. While you are there, you need to keep an eye on things. The days of the absentee group manager need to come to an end moy pronto!

Understand that you can’t do this alone. You are going to need help from your community. I have 6,000 members in my Sales Playbook group and I have 2 other group managers to help me keep our group and culture in order.

And speaking of not being able to do this alone, that brings us to the other side of this agreement.

Group Members:

When you post a discussion, make sure its an actual discussion. Don’t post glorified infomercials, open networking requests, articles, jobs, looking for a job or anything else that screams “Look at me. I need attention” Aside from being annoying and destroying a culture of participation, you brand yourself as “Clueless”

On the same note, please don’t respond to an actual discussion with an infomercial or a link to your website. Perhaps an offline email might be more appropriate?

With that comes an understanding that if you contribute, unconditionally and in a way that doesn’t self promote you will not only bring in more business, you will create evangelists that love you enough to tell others about you.

When you create a discussion thread, don’t post and run. Stick around, acknowledge those who contribute and be sure to facilitate the discussion. Doing so, keeps it active and encourages others to join you in discussion. I’m curious, would you ask a group of people a question in the real world and then sneak out never to return. Kind of rude. No?

Respect the rules and the culture of the group. When in doubt, reach out to a group manager.
No rules in place? Feel like the group has become Dodge City? Reach out to the group manager respectfully tell them how you feel. Don’t just complain, offer solutions. Heck, send them a link to this thread with a “Hint” or “Wink. Wink” as the subject line.

If they are unresponsive or unwilling to clean up their group, the good news is that there is something like 250,000 groups on Linkedin. Send a final message by taking your contributions where they will be appreciated. Don't reward their behavior by sticking around!

Disagree with something someone is saying, take it outside amigo. Everyone else doesn’t need to be exposed to that and you can’t afford to look like an idiot in front of 10,000 of your closest friends.

Group Managers & Group Members:

Perhaps we all need to lose the whole “In aint my job” mentality, regroup, contribute and most of all; protect the culture of our discussion groups.

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  1. Don't free market principles apply to this like anything else? If you do a good job people find you -- if you abuse the opportunity you lose. Simple enough rule for me. In the end it takes care of itself.

  2. Funny, as it's a timely post. I was just thinking that the LinkedIn Group emails I get are pretty much just junk mail. The degree of shameless self-promotion is ridiculous and the idea of "adding value" seems to have been totally lost.

  3. I agree with you. It is very simple: call a spade a spade. Discussions are where we throw ideas at each other and see if they can fly. Otherwise you ain’t in the right place! There is a place and time for everything; infomercials go in the gratuitous marketing area, jobs offers go in the don`t need to be a rocket scientist to understand this.

    Stephane Benoit

  4. Paul,

    Discussion is not a waste of time however it becomes difficult to referee the "rules" with such a large audience. I would agree that a lot of folks use these groups to promote their "brand". Just the length of your message here shows you are trying and I applaud the effort.
    Stay positive,


  5. Good post Paul. I stopped following many LinkedIn groups because they were a waste of time. Like you, I get fed up with people posting a question like: "How do you increase your sales?" only to find out it's a link to a teleseminar or webinar.

    I think both the group manager and members share the responsibility. If we, as members, see a posting that is inappropriate, we should say something. Unfortunately, too many people (myself included) wait for someone else to take action first.

  6. Some fantastic input. Thank you!

    Paul Castain

  7. I have gotten some use out of closed, invitation-only groups on LinkedIn, but I agree that the groups that are mostly open have become a waste of time. In my opinion, group managers should not aspire to have the most members but the most meaningful discussions.

  8. I was once of the mindset to agree with you Paul, but after asking and finding out that the people who are really driving business with linkedin are really the so called self promoters and webinar links etc.. well let's just say i'm starting to change my mindset. LinkedIn was set up as a way for business people to network with other business people as a way to exchange opportunities, connect, network, and ultimately grow their business. Simply put, we participate because we care but because we also hope to receive a benefit. Otherwise, we are just having fun and the time spent may be less than effective. The question is why do the so called self promoters use the discussion threads to promote? Well the answer i've gotten is because this is where they get the best response and it works! If it didn't they would not use the discussion threads. I personally have just offered value and advice and stayed true to the point of the discussion. Though i've made friends, i've yet to realize any tangible new business from LinkedIn. It does help from a positioning standpoint. However, i'm beginning to wonder if the self-promoters know something that i don't. Just my two cents, but I will admit that following the rules as you post has yet to produce any tangible results. Thus making me wonder.....

  9. Very timely post as I just this morning dropped out of a group I'd been invited to. All I ever saw was advertisements and while they had claimed to want print professionals in the group they had no discussions that remotely involved print, it was pretty much all "hey look at me!".
    Thanks again Paul!

  10. Paul -

    The trouble with the Group Managers imposing rules on their discussions is that a lot of Group Managers started their groups strictly to self promote. One group I belong to, Sales Playbook, has some lofty rules against spamming and self promotion. But occasionally you still find a spammer linking to their own sight.

  11. OK, so posting a link in the discussion to your own post here on your own blog isn't spam? Hmm.

    I actually agree with your post and am sick of spammy emails from LinkedIn groups. I have contacted a few group managers, but they do not enforce the rules.

    My problem is that you seem to talking out of both wides of your mouth here.

  12. I'm still fairly new to Linkedin. Ive spent most of the last couple of months working on my profile and adding connections. Just what do I have to do to realize any business from all of this. If I cannot tell others what I do or that I can do it better than my competition, how does a connection know to do business with me. I realize that blatant advertising is a no-no, but who else will explain what I do for a living other than me?

  13. @Tony Smith Your points are certainly valid. My two immediate thoughts are:

    1) I can't imagine someone who is in a position to buy a product or service, who receives God only knows how many calls and emails from people trying to sell them all day long, saying "Hmm, let me check out who I can buy from in a Linkedin discussion group" Even still, maybe there are Tony.

    2) To your point about spammers showing up because its working, not sure I fully agree with that. My opinion is that they show up because they get away with it. Even so, I guess we can pose a viable point that people posting discussions and contributing value also get a return otherwise they would put their efforts elsewhere.

    By the way, I have felt the way you do on numerous occasions Tony and actually left Linkedin for several months about a year and a half ago.

    Bottom line, I know several people who are getting a pretty good return on their time investment and they tell me, this enhances their other traditional methods of new business aquisition.

    Its a long term investment to say the least and I agree that it aint easy.

    Thanks for stopping by to share your opinion.

    Paul Castain

  14. @Sean and Lisa: Thank you for your comments!

    Lisa: I've been there. Believe me :)

    Mikey: I agree. So they basically figure "I want to self promote so why not let the others have at it too"

    To your point about the Sales Playbook having some lofty rules . . . Guilty! As far as the occasional spammer getting through our defenses; we kill 99% of all BS posts within a very short period of time. The ones we miss (and as good as we are, we aint that good) are usually flagged by our members and we respond immediately.

    And that takes some work. Even though we only have 6,000 members in our group, we have over 475 discussions which puts us right up there with all those groups of 20,000 +

    One of the many reasons why I drink Mikey :)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Paul Castain

  15. So linkedin is the business booty call?

  16. @Anonymous: Posting articles and links to blog posts in the news section is the proper way to post in Linkedin. That's where everyone posts their links and links to other resources as well.

    Not sure I agree with you especially since I don't sell anything here nor can take on any projects due to agreement with CGX but I do respect your perspective.


    Paul Castain

  17. @ Al Lewek: The short answer is at the right time and place.

    The best way to do that involves a strategy. I'm happy to discuss this with you offline as it would entail a long answer that is better discussed.

    Additionally you could read and follow people like Chris Brogan who wrote a fantastic book on this subject called Trust Agents!

    Thanks for contributing!

    Paul Castain

  18. One of the problems with the discussions is that there is so damned much discussion it's nearly impossible to get a discussion in edgewise.

    I like your rules and think they are fair and even-handedly enforced. It's a tough and thankless job and I'm glad you're doing it.

    I'm personally thinking that numbers in a group are overrated. A smaller group with more interaction is doubtless easier to drive and may be more useful.

    That is not to say you're not doing a great job with this one, because you are.

  19. @ Hank: Fantastic point and something I've been thinking about quite a bit lately.

    On one hand, I'm very pleased with the community we have now in the sales playbook group. We have a high level of contribution from our members and it seems to be getting more so each day. On the other hand, I enjoy the fact that we continually add new people with different perspectives and different backgrounds to our group.

    Its something I'm keeping a close eye on and have no problem closing membership if it ever becomes too much.

    Thanks for your input Hank!

    Paul Castain

  20. For me, discussions provide a variety of opportunities. The regular emails from my various groups provide the chance for quick scans for conversations that interest me, and frequently I learn things. Second, I've been impressed enough with some posts to make new connections and pursue a few strategic alliances. Third, I occasionally point out a particular discussion to one of the many sales training experts I know, which permits them to engage.

    OK, not everyone sits in front a computer all day like I do nor is interested in a connector role that I like to play. Nor have I actually created direct business through LinkedIn, but the other benefits balance that out.

    Probably my biggest pet peeve (and I manage two small groups) is the same as Kelley's: When someone posts what looks like a good question and it's really a pitch for some event or service. Grrrrr!

  21. @Paul Simon: AMEN! That is a major pet peeve of mine too.

    FYI: There was this guy who posted a thread on like 6 groups. He gets a great response on most of them only to reveal his hand at the end to tell everyone that he is selling a service that can help everyone sell better.

    We removed him from our group as many members were insulted by his approach.

    The funny thing about word of mouth is that what others say about us packs so much more punch than a "Look at me" approach.

    Thanks and a special shout out to you and all the good folks at Top Sales Experts!

    With respect and appreciation,
    Paul Castain

  22. Dear Paul

    I appreciate this note and I have thought about it a lot.

    Based on your insights I have put up some rules for engagement regarding our group on XING

    So far it has not been a problem on our group but I wanted to stop this trend before it might become a problem.

    But this makes it also tougher for moderators since we now have to monitor and make sure that things work out properly. The policing we thought we will have to start on our Lawyer and Social Networking group on LinkedIN

    We will see if it works without getting people too much upset.


  23. I agree with the "fries with 'spamwich'" comment wholeheartedly. My experience with LinkedIn Groups has been very positive. Posting questions and getting 411 from many others is very, very valuable to me. I also routinely post my blog posts as News and find a lot of good response to that. In the end, communication is a good thing and it will always be unfortunate that profiteers abuse the privilege. In the end, good content tends to shine through, even if it gets a little murky along the way.

  24. @ Paul: Agreed!

    Thanks for contributing your thoughts!

    Paul Castain

  25. I have analyzed the membership of some of the professional business-oriented groups that I belong to. I found that the overwhelming majority of members were people in a sales or marketing capacity with a clear interest in selling to each respective vertical.

    I have had a hard time finding people in LinkedIn groups who are actually the intended members of that group.

    imo, that is why the discussion groups in LinkedIn are useless. I would love to see a best-practice example in use.

  26. Keith Ferrazzi's underlying point in "Never Eat Alone" and "Who's Got Your Back" clearly is what goes around, come's around. Building relationships isn't an instant gratification thing in that you don't necessarily get an immediate tangible return. So it is with LinkedIn groups. Those willing to share, communicate and listen can create warm relationships that may pay off later. Some understand, like Paul C., many or most don't.

    That's why I'm no fan of "connect with me" from people who just want 20,000 connections. That's devoid of any real relationship.

  27. I have become so tired of Linked-in and other social media sites that I have decided to jump off. I wish someone would clean it up because I truelly believe in the concept. But who has the time to wade through all the nonsense to get to the substance.

  28. OK- my ADD kicked in and I'm cerain I've missed some really salient points here from all concerned. My question is this- are you folks kidding?? Who gets to have the title master networker or whatever the heck it's called. Who died and left them LinkedIn police? I had a Consolodated Sales Rep reprimand me for being "spammy"- a sales rep who has had 9-10 jobs for my one- but who thought it right to correct me about LinkedIn. Sorry Paul- but there are no guarantees in life- well except death and taxes. The point?? Cowboy up and stop this whining and reprimanding and other such nonsene about "how" it should be. By the way- the rep I mentioned should frankly be fired for wasting time telling me I'm being "spammy"- he shoud be meeting customers and helping them solve all their vast marketing troubles as his description of himself indicates.

  29. @ John Polvino:

    I do want to apologize to you if you felt that offering things all parties could do to fix a bad situation was whining and as far as "cowboying up" grow some balls and take your matter up with the CGX rep. Not sure what that has to do with me? By that same logic, should I hold one of your reps accountable because I felt you were rude and could have easily shot me an offline email to vent as you did here?

    If you really want to "Cowboy Up" John, offer a solution rather than crying to me about how you were wronged by a rep I have nothing to do with.

    Final point: you are 100% correct that the rep should have been meeting with customers instead of wasting time setting you straight.

    To my knowledge, you are a CEO of a Rochester Printing Co who I would venture to say, makes more money than the rep in question. So here's the million dollar question . . .

    Aren't you doing the same thing dude? I mean go back to work and think about visionary stuff.

    Life is too short John. Learn to relax and stop taking it all so seriously.

    I do appreciate you stopping by to offer your input and wish you nothing but the best.

    If it makes you feel any better, I'll beat the crap out that rep next time I see him so we can be friends.

    Paul Castain

  30. @Paul Simon: I read the Never Eat Alone book just as I made my decision to really get my arms around this crazy world of online networking. I consider it a must read and had numerous take aways.

    Thanks for contributing and mentioning two fantastic books for our sales playbook community!

    Paul Castain

  31. @Anonymous: You have a valid point and its unfortunate.

    I wouldn't give up just yet. That's what I did at one point and it didn't sit well with me. Deep down I knew I didn't give it my all!

    I'm glad I decided to give it another shot and hope you will too!

    Paul Castain

  32. At the risk of not contributing anything valuable here, let me add my voice to the chorus of "Amen"s....

  33. @Jason: Much appreciated my friend!

    Hope you are having a great week!

    Paul Castain

  34. Paul,
    Your group is one in a million compared to most. Everything in its place and valuable content all the time. This is probably one of the few groups where you see responses to discussions, but not just responses but most of the time valuable information. See above posts for examples.

    Your group is by far the leader in intelligent and relevant information to its group members.

    Thank you very much for your work,
    Todd French

  35. @Todd French:

    Thanks Todd that was very nice of you to say that.

    I hope our group continues to prove the point that its the sense of "community" that makes the group. The fact that members like you Todd, continually contribute content and avoid the infomercials makes the community superior in my very biased opinion.

    As for thanking me for my work, no need. The sales profession has been very kind to me and its always an honor to give back.

    Thanks again Todd!

    Paul Castain

  36. Very we continue to evaluate best practices, want to ensure to stay in compliance with the original purpose of discussions -- which is to have a discussion.



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Paul Castain is the Vice President of Sales Development for Consolidated Graphics (CGX) one of North America’s leading general commercial printing companies. Paul has over 25 years of sales and sales leadership experience. He has trained, mentored and coached over 3,000 sales and sales leadership professionals. An accomplished public speaker, Paul has delivered numerous key note addresses. He has authored numerous training manuals, articles, blog posts and is currently working on his first book for release in 2011. Feel free to email Paul This has been a paid announcement by the friends of Paul Castain!

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