I love the idea of LinkedIn Groups!  The reality, however, from my perspective leaves much to be desired!

As a huge believer in social networking as a business tool, but so far disappointed in the impact this has had on most businesses, I really hoped that LinkedIn Groups would work for me.  Let me define “work for me”:

Create a positive return on my time investment in being active in a select set of groups around topics of great interest to me.

Sporadic Success

Over the course of about 2-3 years, I’ve joined 12 groups, been very active in 4 of these, and co-moderate one of them.  There have certainly been periods where activity blossoms – often started by someone posting an interesting, challenging or provocative question or opinion, with others then weighing in, adding perspective, insight, and experience.  But these peaks of constructive activity seem to be few and far between.  In the gaps, a given group can drift from endless self-serving commercials for offerings that have nothing to do with the group’s mission, to periods of total inactivity.

Lazy Learners

I recall reading The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Eric S. Raymond’s seminal paper analyzing how and why the open source movement works so well.  Eric wrote about the culture of the communities and forums and the importance of ‘hanging out’ long enough to learn the ‘unofficial’ protocols of participation before you can be accepted as a credible member of the community.  I contrast that with the mindless posts I see from new group members who clearly have not taken the time to look back over the discussions in order to familiarize themselves with the group, or to find answers to their questions.  For example, (fictitious, to protect the guilty!) you might see a post from a new member of the Enterprise Architecture network asking, “What is EA and how do you do it?”  I’m not saying that naive questions don’t have their place, but questions like this have been beaten to death, and if the new member had taken the time to familiarize themselves with the group’s activity, they would never have posted such a question.

Spammers

A particular peeve of mine is people who trawl a whole bunch of groups posting some self-serving promotion, then “Like-ing” all their posts!  To this point, I was participating in two groups serving virtually identical missions (one of the downsides of self-organizing networks – I guess that over time one of these groups will fade away or the two will merge).  One of the groups was closed – you had to apply to join.  (This was the group I was co-moderating, which gave me an interesting perspective on the types of people requesting membership.)  The other group had started off closed, and then was made an open group.  Given the time I was spending moderating requests to join, I was tempted to make our group open, but I held off, preferring to see how this other group would fare with open enrollment.  Unfortunately, it did not fare well.  Spam reigned supreme – it was actually amazing to me that some people will put their name on inane and/or offensive posts, “like” them, and keep repeating the offense day after day!   As a result, and many complaints from group members, the moderator returned the group to a closed model.

A Total Waste of Time?

It would be irresponsible of me to damn all LinkedIn groups based upon my own experience.  I am hanging in with the groups I get the most value from, and will continue monitoring other groups of interest.  It may be that based upon the groups you chose, or what you hope to get out of/put into a group, you are having a very different experience.  Please let us know your own experiences – what works, what does not, and how to get more from the LinkedIn group capabilities.

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