One of the most common conversations on private social networking platforms centers around whether it's better for an organization's online community to "live" on a public social networking platform versus a private platform. Many believe that the sheer number of daily active users on public platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn means that an organization is better off housing their community there as opposed to on a private platform. I often hear, "But LinkedIn is free, why not send them there?"
I'll touch on other platforms in the future, but today I'm focusing on LinkedIn. For those who are just testing the water with online community engagement, LinkedIn is a great place to start. But if you're serious about online community engagement, then why send everyone to LinkedIn? Why not send them to your own private community within your own website where there is no spam, users are not blocked from accessing and everyone is more accountable for their postings?
Here are 5 reasons NOT to rely on LinkedIn as your "go-to" community for your members, customers and/or prospects:
- Too much SPAM. The top complaint I hear from LinkedIn users is the level of spam. For most, it is beyond annoying and is a reason they unsubscribe from discussion groups. First impressions are everything and presenting a user with a ton of self-promotional messages tends not to sit well with most.
- No Integration. LinkedIn is not able to integrate with your AMS/CRM (your customer database). Data is the buzzword of 2013, and it's something that organizations have in spades with regard to their members or customers. If your member community "lives" on LinkedIn, all of the data is in a silo and you can't leverage any of the industry specific demographics, committees, chapters, events, purchases, etc., within the community. And as for writing engagement data back to your AMS/CRM...forget it!
- Member Management. This is another element of point #2 above. There is no easy way to manage members in a LinkedIn group or it's sub-groups. Most organizations tend to just leave the group wide open since there is no way to automatically remove expired members and that sort of thing. For example, if you wanted a sub-group for each of your committees and chapters and then later wanted to manage who the members should be in those groups, it is almost impossible to do on LinkedIn. As new members join or expired members leave, or as new committee members roll on or off of a sub-group, there is no way to effectively manage this. You also can not automate the 'roll on or off' process based on activities which are happening in your AMS/CRM. Also, something to keep in mind, especially given the recent focus on information privacy, is that uploading member information into LinkedIn is often a breach of privacy and in some cases can be illegal.
- Poor User Experience. As functional as LinkedIn is, their discussion group emails can be overwhelming to a regular user and provide too little information in a non-meaningful format. For example, most people subscribe to the daily or weekly digest option for their discussion group emails but the emails themselves only contain the subject line of each posting and force the user to go the web to view the content of the discussions. This works well for LinkedIn since driving traffic to their site is what generates a huge part of their ad revenue. However, members often don't have the time or wish to make that extra click to view the content. Members want the content delivered to them, or at the very least, to have that option available. If some or all of the content was delivered in the email, they would be much more tempted to simply scroll down the email vs. having to click through to LinkedIn's site. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad thing to drive members to YOUR website (vs. LinkedIn). If the community were in your own website then you could choose which strategy is right for you and your members would benefit vs. LinkedIn being the only one who benefits.
- Missed Revenue Opportunity. LinkedIn profits, your organization doesn't. Why would you send members and prospects to Linkedin when you could be bringing that traffic - and potential ad revenue - to your own site? LinkedIn's projected sales for 2013 are $1.46 billion, more than American Airlines, Netflix, Zygna, Salesforce & Avon combined. Marty Saggese, Executive Director of SfN.org, (a Higher Logic client) summed it up nicely when he told me his 'ah ha' moment was when he was on the SfN LinkedIn group and saw ads for a competing conference. Why not sell the ads yourself on your own community? Typical Higher Logic clients see anything from between 1 cent to 10 cents per generated email if they sell ads in their daily digests. For a 10,000 member group this equates to between $100 and $1000 per day in new non-dues revenue!
Notwithstanding all the above, I do think LinkedIn is a great platform and definitely has a place in the business world. However, I also think there is a tremendous opportunity for organizations to empower their members or customers within their own, branded website, providing higher quality conversations, greater accountability and improved transparency.
My recommendation with LinkedIn is to use it as a bill-board to drive traffic to your own community. In a few days I'll write about the best ways to do this and provide the details of the hybrid solution where you allow people to sign up for your LinkedIn group but then use it to entice them to migrate over to your organization.
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