Craig Deveson, angel investor and Cloudsafe365 CEO. Photo: Glenn Hunt
A round-the-clock forum to exchange tech smarts and business leads or another Facebook-style time thief?
LinkedIn groups promise unparalleled networking opportunities – but for some they're just another way to be spammed and sidetracked.
LinkedIn - the professional social network - has around 150 million users worldwide, including two million Australians, including around 133,000 IT professionals. Users are permitted to join a maximum of 50 groups and, with more than a million to choose from, those who want to jump on a soapbox or press the flesh in cyberspace are spoilt for choice.
SR7 social media consultancy partner James Griffin said LinkedIn groups could be a powerful conduit to the wider corporate world – but only for the focused and discerning user.
People who were members of more than 10 or 15 groups had probably joined most of them for the sake of it, and belonging to as many as 40 or 50 was 'ridiculous', Griffin said.
"There's a lot of noise about social media revolutionising business but you need to be clear what your purpose is," he said.
"Unless there's the ability to work on prospects or new business, they can be a useless place to be. It's ok to budget to put some time aside to participate in groups but as with other social media, it's easy to get distracted on the highways and byways and find you've spent an hour and a half essentially wasting time."
Chief technology officer at IT start-up Lockbox Rick Harvey said this was most likely to occur within 'ad hoc' groups.
"[They] are usually aimless, unbalanced, un-moderated and often contain self-appointed megastars spurting emotional drivel that rarely has any latent value," Harvey said.
As well as offering the business equivalent of wasting 20 minutes looking at hundreds of ski trip photos of a friend of a friend on Facebook, participating in groups can carry privacy risks.
"It is yet another mechanism for LinkedIn to get social graphs of the way people operate and gain intelligence on discussions that may be semi-confidential," Harvey said.
On a positive note, the medium allowed cohorts to self organise quickly across diverse organisations, Harvey added.
"This is good if the aim of the group is some higher goal such as a working group looking at productivity issues in a given industry."
LinkedIn regional managing director Cliff Rosenberg said successful groups all had a clear raison d'etre, and readily identifiable target participants.
"Groups where these points aren't clearly defined are the ones that are apt to lose their way," Rosenberg said. "You need to think about how the group will add value to members. Groups are about quality not quantity of connections."
Cloudsafe365 CEO Craig Deveson agrees: "A good group is one where there is constant interaction of like-minded people," he said. "I set up and managed a few groups in the early days; however that was before the trend to open groups, which is more about volume and less about quality sometimes."
'Bad' groups were those taken over by members with a secondary purpose for being there - recruiters trawling for business being among the worst offenders in this regard, Deveson added.
Rigorous moderation, including the exclusion of members who do not conform can prevent this sort of hijacking. Rosenberg said moderators could – and should – exclude group members who strayed from topic or pushed their own unrelated products and services onto other members.
"People need to think of the LinkedIn group as being like a business meeting – and be more selective about who is allowed in," Griffin said.
"You wouldn't allow people to wander in off the street and sell products at a real meeting."
What is your experience? Have you found an online IT group worth belonging to? Comment below.