I monitor a whole bunch of LinkedIn groups for various reasons.  They can be wonderful assets, but there’s a few of them which have been nearly destroyed by misuse of the technology.

Here’s a scenario that plays out in many of these groups:

  1. It starts to grow in popularity, because it has interesting subject matter and some people who are giving great value to others.
  2. The group membership swells as it becomes more and more popular.
  3. People start thinking, “Ah!  There’s a lot of readers here!  I can use this to get free publicity for what I’m doing!”
  4. You start seeing an increase of “discussions” which are either an ad for a paid product/service, or a pointer to someone’s blog post. These kinds of entries almost never elicit actual discussion, because they didn’t ask a question or offer interesting information right there on the page.
  5. These entries then become 90%+ of the group’s content, as other peoples’ actual discussions get lost in the noise.
  6. People drop away, stop following the group, and all that’s left is an empty shell of everybody talking but nobody listening.

I’m thinking of one group right now which is solidly stuck in stage five:  I get the daily digest update which usually has 30 or more “new discussions.”  I don’t even have time to look through the list, much less click through to look at it on LinkedIn.  Occasionally I’ll see a title that tweaks my interest, go have a look, and almost always will just see the pointer to a webinar or blog post.

The group’s a zombie.  Even though it’s walking, it has no life anymore.

Think about online discussion groups the same way you’d think about a physical meeting.  Groups where everybody just shows up to promote what they’re doing, and not listen to anybody else, can only succeed if all the attendees understand that’s what’s going on.  Trade shows have their place, but they’re declining in popularity.

And you wouldn’t go to a trade show every week!  Yet here we are, with bloggers churning out new content every day or week, and we want you to pay attention to our every word.

Yes, I’m conflicted about this with my own blogging.  Some people appreciate my posts, but I try not to push them on people and generate noise.  I’m happy with having fewer readers, if they’re the ones getting value out of what I write.

If you’re using social media as a way to get visibility for your products, services and information … remember that these tools are most useful for INTERACTIONS and DISCUSSIONS.  If you’re not helping people to become more of a sharing community, there’s a good chance you’re just annoying them.