January 9, 2009

LinkedIn Groups - Managing the Rogues

There has been a lot of conversation this week on the ASAE Communications and Membership List servs about LinkedIn Groups, and how to handle certain situations that arise with them. Instead of responding to the messages on the list serv, I thought I would do a post because I have a decent amount to say on this topic.

The Issue

The main issue in the discussions on the list servs was about how to "police LinkedIn Groups that are using your logo and representing the organization without the org's permission." Many people responded that the association should talk to their General Counsel about this.

There are a number of steps to take before you need to include your General Counsel:

1. Prepare your response and plan of action. - Do you want to take over the group and manage it in house? Would you like the person who has started the group to serve as a volunteer moderator for the organization who can serve as an extension of your office in this capacity? Do you already have a branded social networking site that you are pushing to members, and not want to have a presence on LinkedIn at all?

It really depends upon your association's workload and philosophy on how you handle social media efforts on how you want to handle this. If you are restricting membership in the group to only members, you may want to have a staff person managing the group so they can check the credentials before someone can join. If you are having it as an open group, having the member who took the initiative handle the group as a volunteer might be a great way to engage them in the organization. It's really up to your association's philosophy.

2. Reach out to the member who started the group. - There's a good chance that if you reach out to the person who started the group and engage them in conversation about how you'd like to handle the situation, they will follow your advice. It's my guess that in most instances someone has started a group in LinkedIn because a) there wasn't a presence for the organization on the site in the first place, b) they didn't know you already had a group set up, c) they just wanted to help get the name of the organization out and network with fellow members.

By reaching out to the member and explaining your reasoning for wanting to take the action you want to take, you are creating another opportunity to engage a member and explain how the association will benefit by taking your course of action. By going in guns a blazin' talking about the legal ramifications and that you have spoken with your General Counsel, you may lose that opportunity to educate your member, and may end up losing them completely.

3. If engaging the member doesn't work, contact LinkedIn. - LinkedIn has policies (see the bottom Note) about how to handle situations where someone is misrepresenting a group within LinkedIn. It is easy to handle, without having to bring in the organization's General Counsel.

One great idea that I read actually in the discussion on this topic in the YAP discussion came from Andy Steggles, who said about handling groups who don't want to fold in with the main group's presence:

"I would create a slightly different version of your logo with something like "Proud Supporter of" in front of it. That's what we've done at RIMS and then we ask all our "partners" to use it with a link to our site. This way it indicates they are not "RIMS" but are a supporter of RIMS which more accurately reflects what they are trying to do."

You can read the whole discussion here, which was actually about groups using your logo on Facebook. You may need to join the YAP Group to be able to access it, but we hope you'll join us anyway!

These are three easy steps to take to help when there is a situation that happens like someone using your logo or starting a group on LinkedIn before you can do it yourself.

I would echo many people who in the past have said that LinkedIn is an invaluable tool for not only the association, but for your members. They can connect with people for employment, for business purposes, and for networking.

Just think about it... They made those connections because YOUR ASSOCIATION made it possible by creating a group. What better PR can you get than that?

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