LinkedIn rarely seems to feature in the palette of social media platforms used to help amplify an event. However, as a rich source of predominantly professional networks, it should provide the perfect platform for more formal events to engage with their communities. I have experienced only limited success when using LinkedIn in the past, so I wanted to take the opportunity to explore some of the issues and the opportunities to help consider whether I should be making greater use of the CV-based social network.
So, what can you do with LinkedIn to facilitate amplification around an event?
1. Create an event group
At the JISC Conference 2011 we used an event LinkedIn group as an unmoderated space to encourage more detailed discussion of the issues in the run up to and the days after the conference. There were a few seed discussions planted, but the amplification plan for the event stressed that the group was being offered as a community space “for participants to expand their professional networks” rather than a organiser-driven space. Ultimately, there was a relatively low level of actual engagement, although 140 people did joined the group.
This example demonstrates the general theme I have encountered, whereby LinkedIn groups tend to take a long time to mature and often require a core of regular users to get discussion going and keep it moving. The effort involved is therefore quite high and would therefore only be of value to support an ongoing series of events over time, rather than one off events. That said, groups can be very useful spaces to for participants to make connections and build up their professional networks, even if they do not actually engage in discussions within the group.
2. Create an event and send invites
The events feature is not a prominent one, but it is possible to set up an event listing within LinkedIn and invite contacts to indicate whether or not they plan to attend, thereby helping to provide their contacts with a credible endorsement about the event. However, there is no default option to search specifically for events in the main search bar, nor does the shiny new LinkedIn app allow you to discover or set up events.
The feature does seem to be under exploited, with events attracting very few responses from attendees, even for very large conventions. It also appears to be possible to set up multiple event listings for the same event, potentially distributing the actual attendees across different listings and therefore diluting the effect.
3. Tap other groups
If you are part of a group, you can send private messages to other members of that group – either in reply to a specific comment or more generally – to invite them to participate in the discussion around your event. Unfortunately, there appear to be no metrics demonstrating the effectiveness of such a strategy or how many organisers engage with group members in this way as part of their promotional activities. I get a few emails which start with: “As we’re members of the same group, I thought you’d be interested in…” but invariably I am not. If you go down this route you need to research hard and really personalise your messages to really make sure you are targeting the right person and making them feel singled out, rather than spammed.
Alternatively, established groups can be used more effectively for research, which may attract participants more subtly. Approaching an active group community with a serious question and requesting their input can help them to feel involved with the event and engage with the online discussion surrounding it, whether they attend in person or not. Such questions could take the form of: “We’re thinking of running an event about X, and we know X+1 is a hot topic – what issues do you think we need to be discussing? Who would be a great expert to ask to speak?” You can also link to resources from your event and invite discussion – spreading the materials and the conversation around those materials further.
Observations on LinkedIn Group Culture
In my experience, serious group users and administrators tend to be fiercely defensive of their discussion space. It takes a lot of effort to build up and sustain a genuine discussion group via LinkedIn, with groups tending to be a polarisation between those that permit promotion and those which shun it entirely. Those which permit promotion have difficulty controlling the less tactful behaviour of marketeers and often become wastelands full of billboards, whilst those groups who religiously shun promotional activity of any nature tend to moderate their groups very rigorously. Promoting an event or spreading the word about the amplification of the event discussion through LinkedIn groups takes far more research and tact than simply identifying a group with a common interest in your event’s subject area.
LinkedIn has recently made it possible for administrators to make their groups open, and therefore accessible to non members and search engines. However, not all groups have chosen to go down this route, so it is important to consider this when assessing the amplification potential of engaging and providing resources within a particular group space.
Even when groups are open, the viral spreading of the content of these discussions has to be consciously driven, as notifications about discussions and comments within groups do not appear in detail within the news stream of all of a member’s contacts. This means a conversation is going on, it is being captured, but it is not really be amplified in an easily discoverable and searchable way.
It All Comes Down To Effort…
Part of the problem with LinkedIn from an amplification perspective is the amount of work involved in really connecting with individuals on a personal level so you can share with them without appearing to be spammy. As a platform it is not really as suitable for broad brush sharing techniques possible in many other social networks, making it a more appropriate choice if you are looking for a specific audience, rather than a wide audience.
As with all social media tools, the amount of effort required to make them useful depends entirely on what you are trying to achieve. If you are amplifying to help promote your event, then LinkedIn can help you identify and target specific people, but will involve a much greater investment of time per person. If you are looking for a replacement for the beleaguered dedicated event social network, a LinkedIn group can be a useful asset for longer form discussion, but again will require a high level of investment in time and resources if you want it to be a really active discussion forum in the longer term. Dedicated event social networks require this too, but have the added barrier of requiring participants to complete yet another profile and regularly visit yet another site. A LinkedIn group can be an effective way of replacing the forum functionality within an environment where participants already have a longer lasting presence and can take any connections they make with them.
LinkedIn does have the potential to deliver many of the key aims of amplification: facilities to spread ideas, extend the event community through personal professional networks, and capture online content in a forum where it can be discovered and discussed. If this is where your active community is already engaging, then there should be no reason why you cannot run an amplified event using LinkedIn.
However, the effort required to create momentum around the conference matter can be prohibitive if there is not an already active community within LinkedIn focussed on your topic. The relative lack of reporting from LinkedIn itself also makes it difficult to build a case that demonstrates the value of the tool as part of a wider amplification plan. For instance, I can often see that articles I have written have been shared within LinkedIn through other reporting tools, but I don’t know where, so I don’t know what discussions may have taken place around those resources, even if they have been shared in an “open” group.
LinkedIn is one of the more resource intensive social networks, which makes it difficult to incorporate into an event amplification plan without considerable investment and planning. The new LinkedIn app for iPhone is very smart and has encouraged me to engage with the platform far more, so I can certainly see how an extended events feature could help it to become vastly more useful, should the development team choose to go in that direction.
Assessing the potential for LinkedIn has made me much more acutely aware of the delicate relationship between event amplification and event promotion, and the ways in which more sensitive, discussion-based amplification activity could inform event marketing much more than it currently does. It has also highlighted the value in researching your event audience closely to identify the social media platform that is most applicable to them, and looking for opportunities within that, no matter how unlikely it may seem or how little evidence may exist to support its use. LinkedIn may not be the event amplifier’s dream of an open, wide reaching platform, but there certainly is a place for it within their repertoire of tools.
Photo Credit: Sheila Scarborough.