If you post updates to LinkedIn groups, think twice before you click the "Share" button. Say the wrong thing and you might get sent to the LinkedIn penalty box for an extended period of time. According to LinkedIn policy, if a group moderator feels for any reason that your post is irrelevant or is spam, he can temporarily blacklist you from posting to that group and to all your other LinkedIn groups as well.
LinkedIn may still be the reigning champion of professional social networking, but it won’t be for long if it continues to alienate its most active participants.
In LinkedIn’s own words, “we maintain a system that helps the group’s community identify undesirable activity in all groups, and prevent that activity from recurring in other groups” This practice, popularly known as "site-wide automated moderation" or "SWAM," is an automated response, so once the moderator’s hits the kill switch, you will be locked out of posting to any of your existing LinkedIn groups for an undisclosed amount of time, but likely several weeks.
You don’t have to post to get SWAM-ed. Responding with an unpopular comment to a post can also put you in the doghouse. If a group moderator has it in for you, any activity within a group can block your participation for weeks on end. And with typically tens of moderators per popular group, it isn’t hard to get SWAM-ed, especially if you have an opinion about a controversial topic.
LinkedIn instituted the policy in 2012, and states it's intended to reduce the amount of spam posts. Apparently it has worked, reducing spam by 30 to 50 percent according to some estimates. But the outcome of this policy is that if one moderator flags someone as persona non-grata, LinkedIn assumes that person is spamming other groups as well.
To keep the site clean, LinkedIn decided to automatically penalize posters from all the groups to which they belong, to compensate for the fact that most moderators are asleep at the wheel. Apparently many group moderators are largely inactive, which is surprising considering many groups have tens of moderators.
When you've been identified, you aren’t explicitly notified that you have been SWAM-ed. You discover it when you visit any group, where you will see the following box displayed in the right column on the screen.
When you try to post to any group, you will see a similar message displayed at the top of the screen. When this happens, chances are you won’t realize what happened. The innocuous message appears to be a new site-wide policy. But it’s not. Here is what one SWAM-ee got when turning to LinkedIn technical support for help:
I'm sorry for not having a quick answer about this matter. I've forwarded your message to another group for additional review and advice. We'll be in contact with you as quickly as possible but your issue may require additional research which may extend your wait time.”
Customer Experience Advocate
A follow up email to LinkedIn Technical Support elicited this response:
I understand you're very concerned about this matter. However, please understand that it is not possible for me to make any changes to your permissions as a matter of protecting the integrity and privacy of each group's management. We do not have the functionality available to reverse the action and cannot disclose the particular posts or group name.
Please note that the length of time your posts are submitted for moderation typically lasts a few weeks. This can vary depending on the number of times you have been moderated. After that time, the moderation will be lifted automatically.
At this time, your best path for regaining immediate access to post in your groups is to contact the owners/managers of your current groups to request they change your permissions. Here's how to contact your group owner or manager: Contacting Your Group Owner or Manager….I will forward your suggestions on this process to our product team. -- Premium Products Advisor
This might sound like an isolated incident, but it’s not. A bit of research reveals the extent of SWAM. One source of good information is ironically, the LinkedIn SWAM Support Group started by Gary Ellenboggen, a Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. This group page is replete with SWAM horror stories, including an account of a woman who accidentally SWAM-ed herself and was unable to undo the damage.
Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200
Once SWAM-ed, how do you get out of LinkedIn group participation purgatory? According to Elizabeth, LinkedIn’s Premium Products Advisor:
At this time, your best path for regaining immediate access to post in your groups is to contact the owners/managers of your current groups to request they change your permissions. Here's how to contact your group owner or manager.
But the reason that site-wide moderation was automated was because group moderators are inactive. Waiting for group moderators to manually respond to SPAM allowed an inordinate amount of junk to appear on LinkedIn group posting boards -- something that LinkedIn was eager to avoid.
If moderators are inactive, how useful could it be to turn to them for help? Apparently not much. Matt Mansfield, a business consultant who got SWAM-ed last year reports that he received a grand total of two responses to the 50 group moderators he turned to for help. Two. The rest were unresponsive. Which means if your posts are subject to manual approval, the chances they will ever see the light of day are slim. In short, if you have been SWAMed, there isn't much you can do about it.
What is harder to understand is LinkedIn’s policy refusing to inform customers about which group blacklisted them. According to LinkedIn, the reason is privacy concerns for moderators. Which is a bit odd, considering that with typically tens of moderators per group, it’s unlikely you'd figure out who blacklisted you. On the other hand, if a moderator has it in for you, they can ostracize you from all your LinkedIn group activities, practically indefinitely. And not only from one group, but from all your groups. Site-wide.
The tradeoffs that LinkedIn makes for privacy versus legitimate social interaction are unbalanced. Getting locked out of a group that considers your content unacceptable or irrelevant is one matter, but site-wide sanctions are unreasonably draconian. A far better solution would be an anonymous email from a group stating "your posts aren’t welcome here anymore." While devastating to your ego, it would allow you to participate in other LinkedIn groups.
Get Out of Jail Card
Over the last year and a half, LinkedIn has apparently indicated that changes are in order, but it doesn’t appear that anything has changed significantly. So if you do get SWAMed, here are your best options:
1. Follow LinkedIn’s advice and write to all your groups’ owner, asking to be reinstated. Click here for instructions how to do this. Here is a sample letter you can use:
My discussions and comments in your group are being submitted to manual review because according to LinkedIn’s automated policies, my settings have been changed for all my groups.
Seeing that I have contributed valuable and relevant content in the past to this group, I ask you to change my settings so that my discussions and comments can be posted automatically, without review.
I appreciate your consideration.
Even if this clears you from a few groups, it’s better than nothing.
2. Quit all of your groups and join new ones. Apparently, posting restrictions apply only to those sites to which you belonged at the time you were SWAM-ed.
3. Offer to become a moderator of your important groups. This is a time-consuming effort, but for important groups, it might be worth your time.
4. Quit LinkedIn and move elsewhere. Google+ is one option. There is even a LinkedIn® SWAM (Site Wide Auto Moderation) Support group already on Google+.
No one would argue that they want the spam back (except perhaps the spammers). But professional social networking without the opportunity to debate is the equivalent of small talk at a party: pleasant, innocuous and at the end of the day, inconsequential. There are methods to control spam without blocking debate: SWAM isn't one of them.