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LinkedIn groups: true networking tool or time waster?

Date

Sylvia Pennington

The jury is still out on belonging to online IT groups.

Craig Deveson, angel investor and Cloudsafe365 CEO.

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.

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17 comments

  • Why is belonging to 40 or 50 groups deemed as 'ridiculous'? If there are 40-50 groups offering 40-50 different ideas, industry viewpoints or challenging notions, why do we have to commit ourselves to a lower number? To me, the decrier probably has never tapped into the vast information repository that is LinkedIn, and probably does not understand how beneficial it can be. Perhaps if this article quoted some LI mega-users, a more enlightening story would develop.

    Commenter
    Scott B
    Date and time
    March 09, 2012, 11:26AM
    • My experience with LinkedIn groups was they were nothing more than pretentious forums for Americans. Also the default settings of daily emails was ridiculous, and un-subscribing too longer than it should have. I'll be avoiding these until LinkedIn make some changes to actually get them working properly.

      Commenter
      Cameron
      Date and time
      March 09, 2012, 11:54AM
      • Well there are already a vast number of forums for discussing technical issues online.

        LinkedIn groups are mostly people self promoting rather than discussing issues. This is similar to many other professional groups on LinkedIn.

        After all LinkedIn has a focus on professional connections and job searching. You don't want to be seen online posting questions about your IT problems.

        I belong to writers groups which are really fantastic.Lots of questions, support and other things like that.

        If you want to change it, start asking questions on LinkedIn groups to encourage their use in this way.

        Commenter
        Flingebunt
        Location
        Brisbane
        Date and time
        March 09, 2012, 12:52PM
        • LinkedIn is predominatly groups of (clever) techy people who really don't mind somebody trawling for jobs or starting a "discussion" that may eventually promote their own products...we are people who see through a lot of this phoney stuff (at least I do) and we move on...personally, it's good for me - I am in the IT (distribution) business and often seek specialist people and corporations. It works well.

          Commenter
          ob1
          Location
          Melrose Park
          Date and time
          March 09, 2012, 2:12PM
          • LinkedIn is good for initial introductions, but nothing beats face-to-face networking to build meaningful relationships. Down4Lunch.com connects professionals over lunch or during other workday breaks to discover new ideas, information, or opportunities. And it's totally free. Join and invite your existing contacts and friends, who'll invite others.

            Commenter
            Down4Lunch
            Date and time
            March 09, 2012, 2:33PM
            • I have used linked in for many years and now there are two types of users Recruiters trawling for candidates. Indian IT workers spamming everyone trying to get a job in australia.

              Its also targetting towards earning revenue via gold membership and advertising jobs. So nowadays the networking concept seems to be secondary.

              Commenter
              Linkedout
              Location
              Sydney
              Date and time
              March 09, 2012, 3:02PM
              • What annoys me about LinkedIn is its unethical operating procedure. I often get invitations from LinkedIn saying that a colleague had joined and had invited me to also join. When I talk to the colleague, they deny asking me. Some other aspects of the way I receive the invitation from LinkedIn suggests that LinkedIn has trawled my colleagues' contacts' email addresses without telling them.

                For that reason alone, LinkedIn is never going to get my involvement.

                Commenter
                ErikH
                Date and time
                March 09, 2012, 4:39PM
                • For the (moderate) number of connections I have and groups I belong to, the amount of "useful" communication is very minimal. Most notifications are of limited or no interest. My informative online communications from via other means. Not as bad as Facebook, but that doesn't pretend to be informative, and can still be enjoyable.
                  I think a lot of people joined LI because they thought they would be missing out on something if they didn't, but now realize that they're not.

                  Commenter
                  Fred
                  Date and time
                  March 09, 2012, 5:45PM
                  • LinkedIn is the social media number 1 for businesses. It's easy to grow your network on LinkedIn. Much better for business than Facebook or Twitter.

                    Commenter
                    tamara.vuorinen
                    Date and time
                    March 09, 2012, 6:28PM
                    • I agree with ErikH. whenever i have tried to use LinkedIn I have had to find a way through a maze of requests to contact other people. Mostly these 'others' seem to be my email contacts. I don't need LinkedIn for that. Nor do I need it for professional networks.

                      Commenter
                      wotnext
                      Date and time
                      March 10, 2012, 10:06AM

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