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LinkedIn groups
LinkedIn groups are used extensively by colleges and universities to coordinate alumni communications, fundraising and other activities. To see just how broadly adopted they are used in higher ed check out the LinkedIn Groups directory and drill down to your favourite institution to see a detailed listing of all presently operating public Groups. Of course there are also many private Groups not listed here so consider the directory as the tip of the iceberg.

LinkedIn groups directory

Recent changes made by LinkedIn to the rules of how Groups operate and are managed have raised serious debate in online communities about the utility of Groups. At its core, the debate centers on changes to administrator’s abilities to approve membership and to moderate posts before they go public. These are changes that are also critical to Alumni Group administrators.

To understand the rationale for these changes it’s important to consider LinkedIn’s business challenges. In the constantly evolving world of social media where the rule is grow or die, LinkedIn has working hard to maintain its growth and relevance. LinkedIn’s stated priorities here are to improve the quality of content and user experience. More practically, it seems likely they are also to increase usage and engagement by its members.  Automatic membership into public Groups is one way to expand usage of Groups. They also believe that automatic posting of members’ posts (without any moderation) will increase engagement of Group members. The question remains whether these rather fundamental changes to how Groups work are acceptable to Group moderators.

So what exactly are these major changes and implications?

There are now two types of Groups – standard (previously called “open”) and private (previously called “unlisted”). All content is private. Reference to the standard Groups shows up in searches and the LinkedIn Group directory but the private groups don’t show up anywhere. Members of standard Groups can invite and approve their first-degree connections as new members to a Group.

Linkedin groups invitations
Private Groups add new members by administrator invitation only. And here is the most controversial new element: all content gets posted immediately, but can be removed after the fact by the administrator.

These changes are built on three main assumptions:

  1. Private is better. Generally they know members will engage more actively if their content is privately contained within the Group.
  2. Engagement of members will increase as a response to the immediacy of automatically published posts.
  3. Spam and self-promotion are bad. The promo tab has been removed and the ability to self-promote has been structurally limited by these changes. Spammy content will apparently be more actively filtered by the increased sensitivity of their content filters.

Linkedin groups content moderation
Content related changes include the new capability to add images to conversations as well as mentions of other members using an @membername reference.

How do these changes affect how you operate your Alumni Group?

  1. Loss of control over who joins your group (if it is maintained as a standard Group). Group managers will no longer be able to vet new members against their alumni database. Opening up of the Group to members’ first-degree connections and approvals will dilute the integrity of your alumni Group “segment” and their interests.
  2. Complete loss of public visibility of your Group if it is a private Group. Of course this is the flip side of the first point but even private Groups need a bit of public branding to assert their value to their membership.
  3. The admin of your alumni Group will need to take more time and care monitoring conversations on the Group. Disruptive or offensive content can easily get published on the Group and it will stay there until your admin gets to it, and removes it. The option of putting all posts from a specific individual into a moderation queue may be available but this assumes pre-knowledge of problematic members.
  4. If you previously had sub-groups set up, i.e. for local or state-level alumni chapters, they have now been automatically elevated to full Groups. If this has happened to your institution, you will need to determine how to reintegrate these individuals from your sub-groups back into your main Group.

The impact of these changes on higher ed Alumni Groups will take time to be fully understood. New normals for membership rates, quality of content, engagement levels and the required time on task by your Group admins will define themselves in the coming months. There is also a lot of discord about these changes right now, and it is not unreasonable to suggest that given pressures by major corporate brands who rely heavily on LinkedIn Groups, that some of these conditions might change. We’ll have to wait and see if it all sticks, but in the meantime you’ll need to pay more attention to your Groups to weather the transition and well see where all of this takes us.

What are your reactions to these new operating conditions for LinkedIn Alumni Groups? How will they change how you use Groups in your alumni relations?