One of LinkedIn’s key principles is that social learning and sharing is good. I’ve been talking for some time on this subject, as persuading people to engage in conversation or debate on LinkedIn can be rather like pulling teeth or swimming through syrup. And on the subject of swimming and sharing, it’s worth noting that even lemon sharks instinctively understand the importance of social learning and sharing knowledge.
With that in mind, I’d be interested to understand how many individuals using LinkedIn actually look at group stats – a useful tool that lets you see (broadly) the community size, demographics, and level of activity and engagement. It should go without saying that as a group manager, the stats are invaluable.
But I suspect not enough members use them, and those who don’t are missing a chance of helpful insight either when considering joining a group or in understanding the make up of the groups already joined. For example, I’m currently “culling” my groups (starting with those whose emails I now just delete unread)! I know there are about 10 groups that I really want or need to be part of. I’m expecting to lose at least half of the others and I’ll use the stats to help me make the right decision.
The stats summary page looks like this, and provides a dashboard of how many members there are in the group, their seniority, with further information on geography, market sector and function to be found in Demographics. You can also see the level of new members under Growth.
And, under Activity you can see how many discussions and comments have taken place in the last week, and review a graph that shows trends over time.
This shows how different the “activity” levels can be and how they can change over time. The group on the left looks to have good activity level, but a recent trend towards a disproportionate number of discussions (green) to comments (blue) suggests that the group manager might need to review the quality of the discussions or start to think about some kind of reactivation strategy. In the example on the right, though the number of discussions is relatively low, the comments ratio is excellent at 4:1 comments to discussion.
For both the groups above, it is worth looking at the discussions in question to see what’s going on and the quality of the conversations. By doing so you can see that, in relation to the graph on the right (from Modern Selling group – another of my favourites), the members of the community are engaged and interesting, the quality of discussions, debates, comments and insights is excellent and the range of topics fascinating. And that’s largely because of the effort and energy put into the group by Neil Warren. His contribution to the discussions is substantial, his management of the group and debates is strong, and he has some great group members. The result is a group that it is a pleasure to be part of.
Here are three more examples of Linked In group and community characteristics.
1. Looks good on paper but disappoints
I have a particular fondness (at least in theory) for one of my groups – which focuses on direct and digital marketing. This group is a decent size (nearly 15,000 members), full of good people, many of whom I know and have worked with, and who have the knowledge and experience to provide a valuable contribution. In other words, I would expect them to participate.
The number of discussions posted per week runs at around 100. The number of comments seems to range from 6 to 18. The number of “commenters”? Roughly 9. And that’s from a group of direct and digital marketers! More worrying is that the discussions posted are not from different individuals, so there is a very low engagement level.
So why is engagement so low?
As ever, there are any number of reasons, ranging from “I’m too busy” to “I know I should be properly LinkedIn, but I keep forgetting about it” to “I don’t have anything to contribute to this debate” to “I only joined the group so I’d get access to the members”.
But there are other issues too. There are groups that aren’t managed properly. There are groups with no clear aims or obvious reasons for their existence, and there are groups where it seems that the community has just lost interest, energy and motivation (if they ever had it in the first place) and are effectively dormant.
Too often there is little or no discrimination between discussion posts and promotions. And to an extent I sympathise with this problem. If a group is receiving literally thousands of “discussion” posts per week, it can be tricky and inordinately time-consuming for the manager to work through them all – at the same time staying within the LinkedIn group rules.
The result is that too many so-called discussions are really just self-promotions which (with honourable exceptions) tend to be posted by those whose intention is to broadcast to the available audience, and who do not intend to do much – if anything – in the way of listening, sharing knowledge or joining a debate. Let alone the straightforward “spam” postings. Not only that, but the self-promoters are highly likely to post without even considering the audience to whom they are broadcasting.
And it is precisely those large-volume groups that need to be managed. When a group runs along lines that allow self-promotion to be included as a discussion it gets painfully “noisy”. It becomes time-consuming and, frankly, irritating to have to trawl through all the junk to get to the relevant posts that would actually benefit from a debate or discussion. So of course many group members just don’t bother. Let’s face it, time is always at a premium.
2. Huge engagement, interesting discussions, well managed group
The group I’m using to illustrate this category, TED is also in my Top 10 groups. The discussions are fascinating and are not specifically business related. They cover an enormous range of subjects from poetry to religion to archaeology, history, science, conspiracy theories and aliens. Not to mention some interesting business debates too.
This is the group that, as articulated by Regan George in his Schmooz.me blog, has, from a single discussion (or in this case, poll) so far generated in excess of 40,000 comments.
In his blog Regan makes (among others – have a look) two great points – the first is that the use of polls, strongly targeted to the group audience, is a great way to increase group engagement. The second is that the kind of question that creates most engagement tends to be emotion-based.
Which is a very good reminder. We should never forget that, regardless of our ability to rationalise our decisions, emotion is always a key driver both personally and in business.
3. Engagement slipping – needs reactivating
The founder of one of my other groups, Lets Talk Here, came too close to hitting the delete key on his group, because his community was simply not engaging as strongly as it had previously. This group is a particular favourite of mine because (like Modern Selling) it is properly managed by somebody who completely understands how social interaction – both online and offline – should work. Mark Longbottom gives enormous amounts of time, energy and effort to make the conversations interesting, relevant and engaging. There is a clear purpose to their groups. And the rules are clear cut. A discussion’s a discussion, and a promotion’s a promotion.
Lets Talk Here strikes a great balance between business insights and discussion, genuine chat and getting to know each other. It is small and intimate, and though I don’t know the community in “real” life (yet) it feels like a group of friends. And I’m looking forward to meeting many of the individuals in person or on Skype or through any other method that works.
But though the group had previously been very active, engagement was slipping. Mark needed to decide whether the community was still viable, or whether he should simply close and delete it. Lisa Marie Dias summarises the story beautifully, including explanations from Mark himself to explain the thinking and philosophy behind his group, and to share the level of re-engagement he achieved, and how he did so. It’s a great case study if you’re struggling with getting engagement from your own group or groups.
Which brings me to my final question.
What’s the point of LinkedIn anyway?
I’m a huge fan of LinkedIn. It’s a great network for the business community. I’ve seen it provide enormous benefit for me and our clients. It’s an excellent way to meet and communicate with people, it’s a potential tool for sales, and it’s a database of sorts. It’s also, both potentially and currently a great place for high quality debate and discussion.
Like all social media networks, it’s vital to remember that just because it’s online, it doesn’t mean that you’re not dealing with real people in the real world. I see too many people forget their basic manners and rules of social interaction when they go online.
But to get the most out of any social network – online or offline – it’s essential to use it properly – to contribute when appropriate, to help where you can, to share your views, knowledge and opinions.
After all, even lemon sharks know the value of sharing knowledge!
We’re all for sharing knowledge and information and enjoy a healthy debate, so if you have any questions, views, tips or knowledge, please just “reply” below.
Victoria Tuffill – Partner Tuffill Verner Associates – firstname.lastname@example.org
01787 277742 or 07967 148398.
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