LinkedIn is Great...But Not as Your Community Platform

I know this topic has been discussed to death, particularly in the association community, but I just can't help weighing in again after seeing it come up yet again in the ASAE LinkedIn group. The topic? Killing a private community in favor of using public social media platforms--in this particular case, LinkedIn groups. If you read this blog you know that I'm obsessed with online community, and that I think that it's incredibly important for associations. Public social media platforms certainly have their place in association communication strategies, but they're not a viable alternative to an owned community platform over which an association has control. In short, here are five reasons why I don't think LinkedIn groups are a viable substitute for a private community platform:  

  1. You don't own it. Remember LinkedIn Answers? Where people could ask questions and experts in whatever given field could answer, creating a knowledge community of sorts? Don't go looking for it now because you won't find it; it's gone. LinkedIn decided to kill it last January. Just like Facebook once upon a time used to have a discussion feature for pages upon which a company could house its community--also killed by Facebook. Public social media platforms exist for one reason--to make money for their company, not yours. If something isn't making money for them, they kill it. If online community is the place where your members go to network year-round, build connections and share expertise, do you really want to encourage those interactions on a platform you have no control over and that could be gone tomorrow? How can you tout that community as a member benefit if you don't know for sure that a month from now it won't just be gone?
  2. User experience. Have you used LinkedIn groups? If so, how do you like that user interface? I personally can't stand it--it's confusing and clunky and just crappy. If you want to provide a valuable platform for members to use to collaborate on, to have discussions based on topics or special interests or to share files in an orderly way, good luck with that using LinkedIn's group feature.
  3. No way to cull lapsed members. Say you want to have your community be for members-only, which many associations do want--after all, it's a valuable member benefit, right? You can do that on LinkedIn using their closed group feature--you just have to manually approve every applicant to the group after checking whether or not they're in your member database. So you look each person up in the database and, if they're a member, approve them to the group. Great, right? Sure, great at that time--but what about if they let their membership lapse? You just run a report of lapsed members they're removed from the LinkedIn group, right? Good luck with that--there is no such capability, unless you consider running a lapsed member query of some sort then manually going through the LinkedIn group and blocking those people from the group. Try that on a group with several hundred--or several thousand--members. *shudder*
  4. Data security. Data security is a big concern for most people these days, so you obviously want to assure your members that their data is secure when they're participating in your association's online community. Assuming so, mitigating questions in light of the class action suit against LinkedIn or the most recent password hack is probably something you should be prepared to do. And how can you, when the reality is that you have no control over what LinkedIn does with user's data? If your members decide that using LinkedIn is too risky or just bothersome, you're out of luck. After all, there are no shortage of other online communities your members can join to connect with their professional peers.
  5. No analytics. Data is the big thing these days, as is asking the ROI of social media activities or online community. Say your association does decide to use LinkedIn for it's member community. Sure, the platform is free but staff time managing the community is not. Managing requests to join. Looking up potential members to see if they're in the database and either approving them or declining their request to join. Moderating posts. Curating and posting content to the group. All those things take time. How do you determine whether it's worth spending that time? By analyzing the community analytics, of course--who's contributing, who's lurking, which discussions are most active, how many pageviews did the community get, click throughs and open rates for digests, member's purchasing activity, etc. Yeah--except? You don't have access to any of that with a LinkedIn group because their group statistics only provide rudimentary information about the group--demographics of users, number of posts, etc. You can pay for more robust analytics from third-party services, but at that point you're just investing yet more money into a platform you have no control over and that you can't guarantee will be there in the long run.

Is the world going to end if you house your association's group on LinkedIn? Of course not. But be aware that LinkedIn is not a suitable replacement for a well-managed, robust private online community platform, nor is it a magic bullet in terms of getting members to participate. If your private platform failed because of lack of community management, moving it to LinkedIn or Facebook won't fix that....and you will be investing staff time to make money for those companies, not yours.