LinkedIn is the most popular career networking site on the planet, with more than 414,000,000 users in more than 200 countries and territories.

With the networking success, LinkedIn Groups expanded to include brand marketing groups targeting customers with regular updates on events, products and other items of interest. In fact, two million such groups exist today.

But for many users, these groups have lost their luster recently.  Between the rampant abuse of member self-promotion, as well as the dizzying array of new restrictions from LinkedIn, many are wondering whether they should continue to invest time in maintaining the groups.

LinkedIn Changed Its Focus

In 2014, LinkedIn acquired the marketing platform Bizo.

At the end of 2015, LinkedIn made significant changes to its group functionality, design and interface. Early this year, LinkedIn conceded it failed to accurately forecast the resources required to scale the B2B ad targeting platform it acquired from Bizo. It terminated the offering, but still left users wondering whether its ultimate plan is to focus on integrated marketing and sales strategies. 

And it pushed that vision last month when it released an account-based marketing campaign tool today for customers of its Sponsored Updates and Sponsored InMail. "Sponsored Updates and Sponsored InMail campaigns allow marketers to send highly relevant content and messages to professionals that matter most to their business," Lindsey Edwards, senior product manager for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, told CMSWire. 

For LinkedIn users who rely on the platform for career networking and collaboration, these changes feel dizzying and disconnected from a good user experience. For many brands, LinkedIn no longer focused on making connections and creating communities of interest.

The key question for any brand seeking to engage customers or members online, is to answer whether or not LinkedIn makes sense for your community. Or is it time to set off and form your own community elsewhere? Here are some things to consider when deciding whether its time to move on or not.

Is LinkedIn a solid community choice?

How can you make decisions about your community’s online location and opportunity to thrive in light of LinkedIn’s long term goal of building an integrated sales and marketing machine to target more customers? This won’t help you expand resources and develop connections, but it will help LinkedIn more effectively market to new audiences and acquire customers.

Own Your Data and Your Audience

Your company should be able to curate community conversations and garner client feedback that is useful for both you and your users. If this data lives on LinkedIn, it’s owned by LinkedIn — and that data is valuable. Think about company wins from owning community group data on a dedicated platform:

  1. Crowd-sourced support. You will have unlimited access to user discussions and inquiries about your brand and products. Users can reach out to each other to ask questions and share resources or advice. All of this crowd-sourced support can be collected and collated by your company.
  2. Targeted communications. You collect, store and analyze all of your member information and activity on the community. It’s an opportunity to take new insight and reach out to target audiences about what they need or how they could benefit from your product or services.
  3. Product updates and opportunities. Your own community data will inform your entire client and product feedback cycle.

How granularity and segmentation are a community’s new best friends

In a public platform like LinkedIn, it’s not possible to create new revenue opportunities by carefully segmenting users into sub-groups and hierarchies.

But when you own the data, that user information is easy to sort through from a community. Currently, visionary community leaders create nested sub-groups and user hierarchies in order to capture more mindshare, market share, sales and user feedback.

In turn, those sub-groups — separated by anything from skills and interest to regional or demographic differences — offer information for improving customer services, product marketing and communications. And these sub-groups are malleable when they are in your control, and can dynamically shift over time, depending on their momentum or your direction.

5 Tips on Hosting Your Own Community

If signs are pointing to leaving LinkedIn and hosting your own community, following are a 5-points to consider when making the switch.

  1. Establish Community Goals for Your Company and Users:  What does success mean for you? Whether it’s establishing a resource center that’s self-service or building out a brand ambassador program, it’s important to set goals early and don’t rush the transition.
  2. Communicate with all Stakeholders. Coordinate across departments to ensure the changes won’t rub against any other company initiatives or events. Communicate with group users that the times are changing, but they won’t lose data or access during the move.
  3. Explain the process. Offer users a timeline they can refer to while these changes commence. It might be useful to have both LinkedIn groups and the community open to browse simultaneously, to give users a chance to compare and test out the new experience.
  4. Lower the barriers. Don’t discount the hours of time your users have spent curating LinkedIn profiles and commenting on any number of lengthy discussions. People are busy and it’s often unrealistic to demand extra attention. Try offering a way for users to import profile information from LinkedIn to the new community.
  5. Pull the plug (eventually). After fair warning, it will be time to shut it down. Once the community is up and running, the old LinkedIn group becomes a detractor from conversations and resources already in play on the new platform.
Title image "DSC_8702" (CC BY 2.0) by Pai Shih