aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Locked Down – Counter to All Social Media Advice

Posted by Ellen on July 30, 2010

I haven’t ranted in awhile but I just got an e-mail that ticks me off. I won’t name the organization here — at least not yet — but here’s essentially what the message says [italics added and the association’s name — obviously — changed]:

Thank you for your subscription to ZZZ Association’s LinkedIn Group.  A recent review of our records indicates your LinkedIn profile does not link to our membership.   Because subscription to this group is a member benefit which provides access to key connections and discussion opportunities your subscription will end effective August 13, 2010 unless it is affiliated with a current ZZZ Association membership.   If your membership has expired, you can reactivate it today by going to XXX Website or you can call our member service center at ZZZ-ZZZ-ZZZZ.

Well how about that! I didn’t know I had to be an association member to connect via “their” LinkedIn group.

First, is this permitted within LinkedIn?

Second, what about that letter makes me want to renew? (Hint: nothing)

Third, isn’t it just wrong to handle this situation in this way? (Hint: obviously I think so)

Or am I just being too grumpy?


Okay, I’ve slept on this… and I realize that, of course, anyone who sets up a group in LinkedIn can decide who joins and who doesn’t (not a LinkedIn policy issue but rather the choice of the group about its members).

Which leaves the last two questions, which I’ll address again in reverse order, in more detail… please chime in…

Isn’t it just wrong to toss someone out of your LinkedIn (or other non-proprietary social network [SN]) group because they’re not a member of your association? I guess it depends on how the organization defines its purpose for the SN:

  • If the purpose is to replicate what already happens within the organization’s listservs, forums, and any white-label SN it has, then it makes sense to ban all non-members.
  • If the purpose is to widen the association’s reach, entice non-members to join (by giving them a taste of the sort of dialogue that already goes on inside the association), keep non-renewing members in touch (so they’ll be more inclined to re-join later), and provide another online avenue for current members to contact each other, then it doesn’t make sense to tighten the cinch on the network.

I have contributed to the organization as a volunteer in several ways over the years (writing for its publications, serving as a presenter at its conference, etc.). I haven’t renewed for several reasons, primarily because I’m no longer employed by an association that can take on the (for me) significant dues payments.

So getting an e-mail that’s as starkly clear as “Pony up your renewals dues or we’ll lock you down” ticks me off. It conveys all kinds of things, but primarily it says this to me:

All we really want is your money. We don’t want you to get any value from our organization unless you pay us for it. We are a closed group and only those who pay the admission fee are permitted to enter and interact.

So to the final question: What about this letter makes me want to renew?

Let’s see… do I want to pay $XXX to be a member of a group that doesn’t seem very interested in the voices of those outside their membership?

I’m thinking… no. I’d rather be a member of a group that

  • listens to its members: all the SN experts within the membership (at least those I know of) would advise this organization to keep the LinkedIn group open to everyone. The point of a SN is to connect people, not disconnect them.
  • listens to those who are not members: otherwise you live in insularity. There’s a huge difference between seeing the world through a window from the safety of your house and going outside to experience it. So if you have to be inside your house, isn’t it a good idea to be in touch with people who are out in the world and can inform your worldview?
  • appreciates the opportunity to stay connected with a member who has contributed in the past: isn’t a LinkedIn group a perfect (and inexpensive!) way to keep in touch with those former members? Otherwise, aren’t you suggesting that you could give a rat’s butt about what they’ve done for you in the past? 
  • isn’t all about the money: yes, dues are important revenue streams (though some experts have been saying for quite awhile it’s a model that must change) but as soon as I get the feeling that all I am to an organization is an open wallet, then I’m turned off.

What am I missing? Am I still just being grumpy, despite a good night’s sleep?


6 Responses to “Locked Down – Counter to All Social Media Advice”

  1. vtlau said

    Those paid LinkedIn group wants to make a profit on a essentially free site. good effort though.

  2. Jeff Hurt said

    I don’t think you are being grumpy. I think you are asking valid questions. Associations that don’t allow nonmembers into the group are missing an opportunity to convert people to membership. They are bringing their membership firewall to LinkedIn and unfortunately omitting valuable contributions to the profession. I’m with you on this one.

  3. Ellen, this happened to me, too. Same association that shall remain nameless.

    I understand that any association can keep their LI groups for members only. As the moderator for one of my association chapter LI groups, we wrestled with this, too. In the end, I recommended that we accept anyone who wanted to join, albeit, if s/he wasn’t a kook or salesperson trying to access the list.

    If we can excite prospective members abut our programs and issues, then perhaps, we could recruit them as members. Especially, if we reached out to them on a 1-to-1 basis. After all, that’s what social media is all about.

    And you weren’t being grumpy at all. Just miffed at such a poor brand experience. 🙂

  4. Ellen said

    Elaine and Jeff — Thanks so much for reading and commenting, and for easing my mind about feeling totally out of whack about this.

    I’d participated in our assocation’s social media task force, and made the recommendation to our leadership that an internal network (behind the firewall) can be very valuable for linking members to each other, but that an open system would do just as both of you expressed.

    Hopefully others will speak up and this organization will change its stance. Feels a little like David versus Goliath (or at least I hope it turns out the way it did for David).

    Vtlau — Not sure how they’re making money with this policy; in my case it’s not enough for me to want to pay money to renew my membership. If anything, as I said in the post, it’s accomplished the opposite. Not sure I want to be a member of such a closed society.

  5. Years ago, in the classic Up the Organization, Bob Townsend of Avis had this advice for executives:

    When you’re off on a business trip or a vacation, pretend you’re a customer [me: or maybe a prospective member]. Telephone some part of your organization and ask for help. You’ll run into some real horror shows. Don’t blow up and ask for name, rank, and serial number — you’re trying to correct, not punish….

    Then try calling yourself up and see what indignities you’ve built into your own defenses.

    I think that’s relevant here. If an association wants to be exclusive, that’s fine, though I think they’re missing on many benefits that can flow from a more open policy.

    My own experience is that the local-chapter-once-a-month, international-confab-once-a-year model is breaking down (it certainly has for me). As a professional who’s seasoned (if not past his sell-by date), I’m looking to learn without having a lot of organizational hoops to jump through. For those, there’s always grad school.

    • Ellen said

      Dave — We’re on the same page! The model you describe is very deeply ingrained in the association program and business models. What’s unfortunate is that they could very well get squeezed by three converging factors.

      The first factor is the retirement of (or other change of employment by) large numbers of baby boomers — individuals whose organizations have, for many years, covered the cost of their association memberships and their travel and other costs to attend the events you mention. The second factor is the influx of younger people into the workforce. Yes, they’re said to be more social (and might appreciate those in-person events) but not very many organizations are doing a good job of welcoming these younger professionals into their membership nor grooming them as members. The third factor is the increased scrutiny every expense is getting by those who sign the approvals and checks for association membership and activity expenses. Again, associations aren’t doing much to address this — assuming (incorrectly, I believe) that when the economy turns around that they’ll be back in the groove again. Not so fast, I say.

      Is this what you’re seeing as well?

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