Monday, August 27, 2012

Think You Have Control Over Your Company's Linkedin Group? Think Again

It's A Trap! (237 / 365)
Photo by somegeekintn on Flickr
The fact that depending on free services to house your organization's online community is a risky business is something I've blogged about before. Like when Facebook just decided to remove the Discussions feature from pages, so if discussions happened to be a valuable asset to either your org or your members, you were SOL. Or why businesses should think twice before investing a lot of staff time and/or money on developers or third-party apps on a platform over which they ultimately have no control. Also, how being in a career dependent in large part on using free services is stressful as hell. The bottom line is that free is free for a reason, especially in the world of social media sites: these sites are free to use because they have other ways of monetizing. Which ultimately means that if you invest a bunch of time or money building a community on a platform that cares about one thing--ad revenue--you need to be prepared for the inevitable hurdles that lay ahead of you.

Usually Facebook is the subject of my tirades about this subject, but today I'm talking about Linkedin. Here's what has happened. I have been the manager of my org's Linkedin group for over four years now. At first, the group was closed and members-only, and I used to manually look up each person who requested to join and either approve them to the group or let them know that sorry, the group was members only, but they could find us on other public social media platforms. As time went on, this practice proved to be time-consuming and also futile--once people are in a group there's no way to easily go through and cull lapsed members. So we eventually opened up the group to anyone. Then we launched our own private community platform and moderating discussions in two places was time-consuming and counter-productive, so we decided to turn off the discussion feature on Linkedin and direct members back to our community.

Easy enough, right?

Wrong. Linkedin doesn't exist so organizations using their platform for free can do things in a way that works best for them; after all, in a time when Facebook's stock is in the toilet, Linkedin remains profitable. Linkedin's discussions serve to keep users on Linkedin, and discussion email digests exist to drive traffic back to Linkedin. So what happens when you disable discussions for a group of almost 10,000 people and they no longer are spending that time on the site and no longer clicking through from digest emails? Linkedin doesn't like it and overrides your group preferences. 

I am signed up to receive a daily digest for this group. Since I disabled the discussions feature, most digests just list pending submissions and requests to join (did I mention that even though you can set a group to be open, there is a Linkedin glitch that prevents the group from ever being open and for some reason requests to join continue to queue up?). But every few weeks, even though the discussion feature no longer exists, the digest includes a new discussion post. When you click the link, it just takes you to the list of group members.

Obviously this is an administrative nightmare for the manager of a group of almost 10,000--many of whom get these digests and email me saying they thought the discussion feature was gone, or wanting to know why, when they click the link to this "new" post, they just end up on the main group page.

And getting help from Linkedin? Good luck with that.

This is not to say that companies shouldn't use free social media platforms--not at all. But just do so knowing that their own business interests--not your company's--are what's important to platforms like Linkedin and Facebook.

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