I have seen a growing interest in LinkedIn Groups from my networking contacts recently, and in addition to the common questions of What LinkedIn Groups Should I Join? and How to Use LinkedIn Groups Effectively?, there is a growing interest as to what the proper etiquette and best practices should be after joining a group. As someone who is both a member of the maximum fifty LinkedIn groups while also owning two of my own groups, I can see things from both sides of the court, and would like to offer my own thoughts as to what the proper etiquette should be when joining LinkedIn Groups.
First of all, as I mention so many times, we are in uncharted waters when we talk about social networking. There really are no rules written in stone about best practices. We are generating the content on the fly, and through that LinkedIn is slowly evolving into something new with each day. LinkedIn Groups are miniature networks, subsets of the entire database of LinkedIn users, that people join because of some common interest. LinkedIn provides the ability for each group to display member information, do member searches, post and respond to discussions and news, and even post and look for targeted jobs. Within each of these groups, then, what are the rules by which we should abide by in our communications?
- The heart of each LinkedIn Group community, assuming that it does not have an external ning.com site or service like TopLinked, is really in the discussions board. This is where members of the group will end up congregating the most and hopefully engaging in conversations that not only help group members connect with each other but also provide value to the larger group community. Thus, being the centerpiece for the community, the discussions board is also where group etiquette will be the most important to follow.
- Group etiquette starts with each group manager. It is up to each group manager to set the tone for his or her group by posting a distinct mission for the group as well as its policies. This should be not only in the introduction to the group that is included in its profile, but also as the featured discussion when necessary. If you join a group, this is the first place to look to understand what is and isn’t proper “behavior” in that group. Most importantly, discussions board posting guidelines should be posted here.
- As for the etiquette on posting a discussion, it really comes down to: a) is what you post aligned with the group mission and policies and b) does your discussion post add value to the Group. There is a significant uptick in people and companies that are looking to the discussion boards as a new marketing channel. They are trying to cash in on the LinkedIn demographic. And, I argue, if what they are saying is both aligned with the group mission and adds value to the group, there is nothing wrong in posting messages that, for instance, may have a link to an external site in them. I would add, though, that you have to believe that you are adding value to the group and prepare to respond intelligently to a group manager who may have a different opinion. If you are not sure as to whether or not it is appropriate to post a particular discussion in a particular group, your safest bet is to first ask the group manager for his or her permission.
- I recently posted a new policy on my group asking members to limit their new discussions to a maximum of one per week. LinkedIn recently told group managers that they could only send out one general announcement to all members a week, and I think that this is a good guideline to keep for discussions posting. The potential problem with groups is, in the case of 3., someone could be posting many discussion posts “over-advertising” something directly or indirectly. That is why I think frequency of discussion posting (and I don’t mean commenting on other people’s posts but starting your own discussions) is an important part of group etiquette. If you find yourself creating more than one discussion a week, you need to ask yourself why you don’t create your own group or ask the group manager for a larger role in managing the group.
- My last rule I will call “KY”. “KY” is an abbreviation for “Kuuki o Yomu”, one of my favorite Japanese terms, which means to “read the atmosphere“. There are many groups where there are no policies governing the discussions. If this is the case, after joining, spend some time to KY and see what other people post on the discussions board as well as those discussions that seem to get a lot of people’s comments. It is really common sense, but by KY, you should be able to gauge the proper etiquette for the content of your discussions posts as well as ensure that you are providing value to that group when you do post.
These are just my initial thoughts on the subject of best practices for group etiquette. Would you add any others to the above list?