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Why The New LinkedIn Group Changes Are A Community Manager’s Worst Nightmare
LinkedIn's new Group changes are aimed at improving the quality of content shared and overall user experience. This Community Manager sincerely doubts the likelihood of either occurring.
A little less than a month ago, LinkedIn announced it would make a round of changes to its Groups platform — changes LinkedIn claimed would “revamp the experience” Groups offered to socially engaged professionals the world over. Indeed, LinkedIn is of the mind that these changes will improve the quality of conversation within a feature that many complain is often filled with spam and self-promotion. To that, I say, “Are you freakin’ kidding me?”
Let me rewind. I am the Community Manager for Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. I spend every day curating and caring for the social communities that have grown around these brands. I spend much of my time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and, yes, LinkedIn — among many other social channels.
Our LinkedIn Groups are particularly interesting and unique because they are very much self-directed — here, I share branded content only a few times a week and otherwise let the community use the space as an open forum to pose questions and hold conversations about anything and everything under the digital marketing sun.
I’m pleased to say that the content Search Engine Land LinkedIn Group and Marketing Land LinkedIn Group members share is generally of rather high quality. A month ago, I rarely had to moderate these discussions, beyond a quick skim of the Moderation Queue twice a day, to approve the goods and delete the spam or blatantly self-promotional.
Once posts were approved, the community, genuinely interested and engaged, took care of the rest. This gave me time to devote to the more… unruly platforms, where comment threads could go from zero to WTF in about ninety seconds (*cough* Facebook).
The biggest changes LinkedIn thought would “improve the quality of conversation” have, for me at least, done the exact opposite. Furthermore, the time I have to spend in LinkedIn Groups has increased threefold, and for all the wrong reasons. I don’t take issue with all of the updates, but a couple really have me seeing red. They kind of go hand-in-hand, and here they are:
“Better” Content Filtering
LinkedIn has “improved its filters” to strip out spammy and low-quality content. “Improved” is a debatable term, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The Promotions tab has been removed, and instead, posts flagged as promotional are sent to a Moderation Queue. The only problem is that I never see anything in my Moderation Queue any more. And why is that? Hmm…
Here’s where things get tricky, and by tricky I mean headache-inducing and gut-wrenching.
Let’s break down these handy bullet points.
- “To ensure groups are effective as timely conversation forums, conversations will now be posted instantly to a group without the need for manager approval.”
Wait, what? No, no, no — You’re taking away the chief power I have as a Community Manager, the ability to moderate user content? This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. “Without the need for manager approval” translates to “without the need for quality assurance.” Some Community Managers may value timeliness over quality, but I’m not one of these — and I think the majority of our community members would share my preference.
LinkedIn has become the new Community Manager of these Groups, and, no offense, it’s doing a really, really poor job. Okay, in the interest of candor, I fully expect LinkedIn to take offense, though my intention is solely to explain the problem and ask that it return some of these powers for the good of all concerned.
- “Group owners, managers, and moderators can still remove off-topic conversations and place members in moderation.”
Great. So, after spam is posted to the Group, then I’m able to remove it. No big deal, I just have to monitor the Group page every waking moment (and maybe not sleep any more, because time zones) and be ready to pull the trigger should any less-than-acceptable posts make it in.
Only the reality is that I have more than a dozen other communities to pay attention to every single day. There is no way I can be on top of what gets posted to LinkedIn 24/7. Which means, clearly, that spammy and self-promotional posts will appear. <Sarcasm>That looks great to our legit and dedicated Group members, who expect a quality experience when using LinkedIn Groups (which, ahem, is what LinkedIn is trying to achieve with these “improvements”).</Sarcasm>
Also, heaven help me if I don’t get around to deleting unsavory posts soon enough; they will then be EMAILED to Group members as part of a daily digest — and sometimes, they’ll be the only thing in that email. Oh, and the horrendously spammy post title the spammer used? Yeah, that’ll be the email subject. Right next to your quality brand name. Every Community Manager’s dream come true (read: worst nightmare).
LinkedIn might think it’s offering a silver lining with the newly-given ability for Community Managers to hold certain members in moderation, but that simply doesn’t scale for, say, Search Engine Land, which has more than 68K Group members.
- “Other group members can also flag inappropriate comments and conversations after they’ve been posted.”
Just copy and paste my rant from the previous bullet point here, too.
And while we’re talking about flagging and banning, I have a tangential question: Why can’t we ban users who are obviously spam-monsters within the Group discussion area, right from their spammy posts? Facebook, Twitter and other platforms offer this helpful functionality. Instead, I have to hunt down these offenders in the back-end of the Group and ban them there. Not the best use of my time.
All Groups Are Now Private
I don’t really take issue with this update, except for the fact that LinkedIn seems to be using it as an excuse to forgo content moderation. What I’m getting from this update is, “You approved them, so you approve of them — and expect them to post only high-quality, valuable content.” But it’s not that simple. I don’t have the time or resources to do background checks on everyone or investigate their behavior in every other LinkedIn Group of which they’re a member.
When people request to join the Search Engine Land or Marketing Land Group, I approve anyone who doesn’t have a completely obvious spam name (“Nancy SEO (>‿◠),” for example). The beauty of the Moderation Queue was that I could get a sense of these users and the kind of content they post before it made it to the Group page.
If I noticed repeat spam/self-promotion offenders waiting for me in the Moderation Queue, they got the ax. Now, and for no good reason as far as I can see, I no longer have this ability… and the quality of these Groups is taking a hit because of it. I worry that valued members will unsubscribe from these communities as a result of this uptick in auto-approved spam, which I certainly wouldn’t blame them for. Our LinkedIn Groups were a positive, rich user experience for them. Not so much any more.
Furthermore… the credibility of competent Community Managers is taking it a hit, as well. It is incredibly embarrassing to have someone else — a colleague or Group member — point out the hideous spam that has made its way into your community while you were busy checking in on the other channels. Fortunately, I have team members who are sympathetic to these changes and the control they yank away. Not every Community Manager is so lucky.
LinkedIn writes, “Timeliness and high engagement go hand-in-hand and are key to a successful group.” That’s all fine and good. But LinkedIn, you have assured neither with these new updates. And if other Community Managers out there feel my pain, and I know they do,* the overall quality of LinkedIn Groups will suffer.
Here’s hoping the site reverses or offers options to these changes before the quality degrades to an extent that LinkedIn Groups become valueless, as well as pains in the butt to manage.
*I am a member of the Group Moderator Community on LinkedIn. It’s private (as they all are now), but if you have access, you’ll see I’m far from the only one irked by these updates.
Postscript: We can already chart the negative impact of these changes; Megan Singley, Social Community Manager at Moz, announced yesterday that the Moz LinkedIn Group would be closing its doors this coming Friday, November 6th. The reason?
Megan writes, “… we started our LinkedIn group with the hops of creating a forum for people to share quality insights into online marketing and help others. Unfortunately, we’ve found that LinkedIn is not the best platform for this… with LinkedIn’s recent group changes… we’re finding this very difficult and, unfortunately, we can no longer justify keeping it open.”
The Moz LinkedIn Group had nearly 30,000 members. I have little doubt that unless these changes are reversed or modified, more esteemed brands will follow Moz’s lead and close down shop.