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LinkedIn for Associations: Some Love It—for Others, the Jury’s Still Out - 12/1/2009 -

While some association professionals believe LinkedIn offers the most benefits for associations, others aren't as convinced. Here are comments from the associations that have harnessed LinkedIn as well as from those who still have reservations.

By Carla Kalogeridis

WHILE SOCIAL MEDIA CAN BE A GREAT TOOL FOR EXPANDING YOUR ASSOCIATION'S REACH AND OPPORTUNITIES, many association media professionals aren't sure where they should be putting most of their time between Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

"While Facebook and Twitter are great tools, LinkedIn is the best tool for professionals,” suggests Steve Fretzin, an avid LinkedIn user and president of Sales Results, Inc. Here are Fretzin's top five reasons why:

  1. LinkedIn lowers the separation gap from six degrees to two. LinkedIn not only allows you to connect with people you know, but also it shows you the degree of separation between you and others you are not yet connected to.This allows you to discover who your connections are connected with, and many times they're just the people you need to know, Fretzin says.
  2. It allows you to reach the white-collar crowd. LinkedIn is the best tool for reaching executives because it is used by so many white-collar workers, Fretzin says.This helps you not only reach a large audience, but perhaps more of your target audience.
  3. You can easily find people you know through school and work. Because the LinkedIn profile includes an extensive area to profile your school and work experience, it's a great way to re-connect with people you've lost touch with along the way and someone you went to grade school with who could now be a new member, advertiser, or sponsor.
  4. You can use LinkedIn to get quality introductions. LinkedIn has a very unique tool that allows you to ask people you are connected with to connect you with people they know in a professional way. "A quality introduction like this is a great way to get your foot in the door and gives you more credibility than a cold call would,” says Fretzin.
  5. LinkedIn stays professional. Because it was designed specifically for the business professional, LinkedIn users follow good business manners, and unlike the other social networking sites, you won't have to weed your way through party pictures, says Fretzin.

"In addition to these reasons, LinkedIn now allows you to link your Twitter update to the site, so you can seamlessly stay in contact with the people you know through multiple networking sites,” he adds.

These are all valid points, but what does the association world think about LinkedIn?

"I'm concerned about LinkedIn,” says Gary Rubin, chief publishing and e-media officer for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), andamemberof Association Media & Publishing's board of directors. "Even though social media sites are ubiquitous, by encouraging members to engage with them, associations lose control and erode unique ownership of their membership lists. I prefer models where membership data is protected.”

However, when it comes to specific uses for association publishers, Rubin agrees that LinkedIn has some advantages because it is easy. "LinkedIn is well known and widely used, but it is also like quick-sand,” Rubin says. "Once you drive your virtual strategy into it, you will have a lot of difficulty getting out.”

On the flip side is Emily Allen, managing editor of OfficePro, and manager, communications/publications for the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP). IAAP started a LinkedIn group last year for IAAP members, but decided to let in non-members as well. The association also tweets and is active on Facebook, Flickr, and Delicious. "I spend time each day connecting with members and non-members through social networking,” says Allen. "By far, we have more participation on LinkedIn. Our news section, jobs, and discussion are all very active.”

Allen says she looks at LinkedIn as a vehicle for the association to reach non-members. It's also a way for IAAP members to network outside of the organization's own social networking site. "While I look at all vehicles for social media as valuable— the ones we are involved in fill different roles—LinkedIn seems to be the most popular based on the number of subscribers,” says Allen. "I like it better than Facebook because of the expanded capabilities for jobs, discussion, and news articles. I also like the subgroups and the ability to send out an announcement to all my members.”

Allen also likes the ability to promote IAAP's programs and services outside the organization. "We have non-members join who are interested in our certification programs or membership. They post questions which other LinkedIn members answer. Peers answering peers seems to carry more weight with seekers. The benefit of LinkedIn outweighs the time I spend maintaining it.”

In addition, Allen says that while employers may have a problem with their staff surfing on Facebook, that stigma doesn't seem to cross over to LinkedIn.

Anna Lisi, manager, member communications, for the American Chemistry Council, says her association uses Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and has determined that LinkedIn is the more valuable tool for the organization's goal of reaching and delivering messages to industry employees. "It all depends, however, on the audience you wish to reach and the message you want delivered,” she says. "We believe Facebook is best for consumer-facing issues, and our Twitter has some media following.”

Melissa K. Swanson, communications products program manager for the National Guard Association of the United States, says her organization also uses all three, but the association has more activity on Facebook and Twitter and practically none on LinkedIn. "However, people keep signing up,” she marvels, "so we're looking at how to get our LinkedIn members to start or participate in discussions. I've tried the question approach and I've tried the event posts approach...nothing.”

One Association Media & Publishing member who manages LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter accounts for association clients says she just doesn't find LinkedIn to be as feature rich and as friendly in the social networking space. "Of course, each of these social media has its own strengths, and I think associations are getting better and better at really figuring out how to maximize those strengths strategically toward their communications goals,” says Marlene L. Hendrickson of Stratton Research.

Hendrickson believes associations should be using all social media applications because for the most part, their members are using them already. "The strategic part is matching each social media's strengths with the association's goals, its members' needs, and the best return on investment.”

Carla Kalogeridisis editorial director of Association Media & Publishing. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaKalo. She welcomes Association Media & Publishing members' comments on how they are using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media sites for future articles in this e-newsletter.


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