At the start of this week, I was a member of more than 30 professional groups on LinkedIn.
Public relations, social media, marketing, crisis communications, tourism. You name it, I joined it.
Why? Because I actually believed (and I still do, despite what I'm about to say) that LinkedIn can be more than just a networking site - a convenient way of re-establishing links with old contacts, or developing new relationships.
Yes, LinkedIn can be great for new business
, for finding jobs or recruiting people. And, let's face it, those are the main reasons why roughly 11 million people in the UK
are registered on the network.
But LinkedIn also promotes the opportunities to share knowledge with your peers, to start (or contribute to) discussions with people in your industry, to be a thought leader. Generally, to have thought-provoking debates about relevant issues with intelligent, like-minded people from beyond the four walls of your own office. Who wouldn't want that?
I certainly bought into it. I like a good, healthy debate about PR, marketing, football - whatever. And I'm from the "you never stop learning"? school, so I enjoy finding out new things about PR or picking people's brains.
By joining relevant LinkedIn groups, I thought I could share my opinions and experiences with others, and join in some lively debates about the issues of the day. I really thought I'd learn stuff I could take into my day job.
Sadly, the reality is that there appear to be very few worthwhile discussions going on, and instead the forums are populated with links to blog posts, or they are blatant promotions - such as "How to earn income online - free training"?, which popped up yesterday.
And that's on the groups where new posts do actually appear. On many, you can go from one week to the next with no new content appearing. I've started discussions on those groups and had the digital equivalent of tumbleweed.
Yet I get emails on a daily basis from many of those groups. I have a quick scan and, more often than not, it will be the same old guff from the last email. No new discussions. No new comments.
It's not like there's a shortage of people on those groups - one or two of the PR and marketing ones have more than 100,000 members. They just don't contribute. Maybe they're as fed up with the banal, self-promoting posts as I am?
One group administrator told his members last week that he'd delete any new discussion posts that didn't pose a question designed to prompt debate and comments.
You have to applaud him for it, but I think he's fighting a losing battle. Just a quick look at the first page of discussions for that group reveal that most simply link out to blog posts or other articles. Very little content is being originated on LinkedIn. Will he delete those also?
More and more 'discussions' on LinkedIn groups are advertorials in all but name. Yes, you can flag them as 'inappropriate' and have them moved, but what's the point? The next one that pops up will probably be no different.
I think that's why so many people who join professional groups just completely ignore them. They have so little value.
If LinkedIn wants to be more than a jobs market, group administrators have to get tough. They have to encourage quality, not quantity. One promotional post (such as no real content within the post, just a link out) gets you a warning. A second one and you're barred from the group.
Likewise, group members have to flag discussion posts that don't meet the group's quality benchmark.
In the meantime, I'm on a group purge. If the quality of the group's discussions is below par, I'm ditching it. Ten have bitten the dust so far.
If nothing else, it's freeing up my inbox.
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