How Not To Suck At Running a Networking Group – Communication
Late last year, mostly by request, we gave you How Not To Suck At Starting a Networking Group.
Well, it’s been a couple of months now, and so hopefully you’ve figured out if this is something you actually want to do.
If not…well, then you can pretty much stop reading right about now, since the rest of this has no meaning to you.
If so…well, let’s try to keep you from sucking at running a networking group…
Determine your primary method of communication. Odds are good you’re going to fire up the three basic ways to do this – get a LinkedIn group, setup a Facebook page, and grab a Twitter account. There are other methods as well, but those three are free. We’ll talk about some options that will cost you something down the page a little bit. While all three have their advantages and drawbacks, you’re probably going to want to pick one to be your focus.
LinkedIn group: It’s a necessary evil. LinkedIn is where a lot of people are, and especially if you’re running a networking group for professionals, you’re going to need to have one. Groups also give you the ability to email to your members (if they say you can…and never more than once every seven days…literally down to the hour, minute and second…), launch polls, start and encourage discussions, etc. Groups can be open (accessible by anyone) or closed (members only), and are a good starting point for a new group.
Facebook: well, who doesn’t want to be “Liked”, right? Right. So, you’re going to need a Facebook page. The upside is that there are hundreds of millions of people on it that are always clicking around looking for new things. The downside is that there are hundreds of millions of people on it that are always clicking around looking for new things and so it can be really hard to find the ones you actually want to be on your page.
Twitter: I swear, I still don’t really “get” it…but hey, go ahead and build your kingdom of followers and get your message out in 140 characters or less. Good for short, real-time snippets of information, quick links, nothing too deep…but, again, you have to get people to find you and pay attention to you or else you’re dancing by yourself in front of the mirror.
Now, nowhere have I said that you can’t do all three. Or that you shouldn’t do all three. Or even, like I said earlier, that these are the only three. We happen to have all three running with our group here…you can find us on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/groups?mostRecent=&gid=91763, at www.facebook.com/ITintheD/, or @ITintheD. We’ve also got our experiments out there with a Youtube channel, which is also free…but, honestly, we keep mocking everyone that does videos and haven’t managed the time to pull off the one really awesome idea that we’ve come up with in a manner that would make us happy…so it’s just “there”.
Now if you don’t mind spending a few bucks, there are some other options out there for you:
Website: it’s always good to have a home base. Even if it’s just that you go out, buy a domain name and direct it over to your Facebook page…it’s nice to “brand” yourself. Now, if you have the opportunity and means to do it fully and stand up an actual website, that’s obviously the best way to go. The advantange is that you have complete control over the environment and everything that goes live. The disadvantage is that you’re relying on your members to remember to come to you to find out what went live. You can always mitigate that with an email list, RSS feeds, or by using the other methods mentioned earlier to remind people to come back to you. You’ll have the cost of the domain itself, as well as whatever monthly fees come along with whatever hosting provider and plan you choose.
Meetup.com: Meetup is a clean, easy to use interface that replicates a lot of what LinkedIn is doing for free, but does have some advantages. You can setup events…and you can also take payments for those events. You can find and allow for sponsors, both for your group and any events that you have. You can still use a custom domain if you want – for instance, we have a “presence” out at http://www.meetup.com/ITintheD/ using the Meetup.com platform,…but we still have no idea what the hell we’re doing with it other than planting the flag and saying “We’re here”. We’re there for many of the same reasons we’re on LinkedIn – there are people there who might want to find out about us, and so it makes sense for us to let them. We don’t really use the discussion forum capability or a lot of the other features…mostly because none of us want “one more thing” to have to keep an eye on. But it’s an option, though one that comes with monthly or annual fees depending on how you want to pay for it.
Again…it’s all about determining your primary method of communication.
For us…for the most part…it’s our website. Everything we “do” is out here at www.ITinTheD.org – blogs, events, etc. However, we still use the other methods as well. Our Facebook page is, for the most part, little more than a broadcaster for the RSS feed from our site…because we still don’t know what we’re doing with it. Our events still get published out to LinkedIn and Meetup…because that’s what they’re there for and help get the word out. Twitter gets used when something goes live and we want to let people know about it. But in all cases…everything we do drives people back to our website. That’s the method of communication channel that has our focus.
- Regardless of where you are, the best way to suck is to never engage. People have to feel involved in order to want to be a part of your group. If you’re not the social type that can easily engage with people…well, go back to How Not To Suck At Starting A Networking Group and make sure this is for you.
- If you really want to suck, make sure you put “placeholder” content on the services you’re not really planning on using all that often, but make zero mention of where you plan to engage more frequently. For instance, when someone joins our Meetup group, they immediately get an on-screen message and an email that says “Hey…thanks for joining. We have no idea what the hell we’re doing here, but we’re here…if you want to actually find us, here’s the link for our website and our LinkedIn group…”
- If you’re using LinkedIn groups, and you set it to be “open”, be prepared for spam, and take quick action about it. A group full of spam that’s off topic is a group that gets abandoned.
- If you’re using LinkedIn groups, and you set it to be “closed”, then don’t let people’s requests to join linger for more than a day or two at most before either approving, declining, or contacting them. You’re not hiding in your house to avoid the Jehovah’s Witnesses at your door…this is your networking group, and you’re the bouncer.
- Do not…repeat…do not under any circumstances join one of those silly, ridiculous “twitterstorm” or “facebook frenzy of likes” groups. Remember – LinkedIn is not a Video Game, and neither are Facebook or Twitter. You are not impressing anyone with your 10,000 likes…of which 9,943 are from people from the other side of the globe and have no impact on your Greater Atlanta Geek Group of Linux Experts (GAGGLE, haha…and if that exists somewhere, cool for you…if not, you’re welcome) and probably hid you from their feeds as soon as they clicked “like” or followed you. Stop it. You know who has a lot of followers on Twitter? Charlie Sheen. You know why? People were hoping he’d completely flame out and die live on the internet. Is that really what you’re hoping to be known for?
- Another good way to suck is to have no focus. Sure, we all get off topic once in a while (Star Wars chat, anyone?), but you have to stay to your core focus if you want to retain people and help your group grown. You can’t run a networking group for Boston Area MainFramers (BAMF! …another cool name, there you go) and yet only post, tweet, and discuss the latest Bruins loss or how the Celtics are shaping up this year. Keep your signal to noise ratio proper, and the traffic and discussions will come.
- Nothing sucks worse than a lack of consistency. Your focus and message must be the same regardless of the medium, and so remember that when you start branching out into other ways of doing things. If your events wind up on LinkedIn, Facebook, Meetup, or anywhere else…make sure the messaging stays consistent, and that the details are identical. And then remember to change them all if you change any. Just because you don’t go to Meetup all that often doesn’t mean that the 40 people that joined your group there follow you on Twitter or are connected to you on LinkedIn to know about that last-minute venue change you just announced.
So that’s how not to suck at running at networking group…at least when it comes to communication. Down the line, we’ll take a look at venues, events, and all of the other fun and excitement (read: “migraines”) that come along with running your own networking group. And, of course, trying to keep it from sucking…and remember – don’t go for “perfect”…just want things to suck less.