LinkedIn: Exemplary response to member criticism of new policies

On the ridiculously popular My LinkedIn Power Forum a great debate has ensued following a letter from LinkedIn management announcing that group owners within the LinkedIn universe will need to pay for an upgrade to Premium Group to gain access to specific services and capabilities. Group owners that don’t upgrade will have a Basic Group, with fewer capabilities. This is about the LinkedIn for Groups service only, notice.
Shades of the brohouha, eh?
The messages between group owners in the Forum have been interesting, but what I find excellent, exemplary, is the long, thoughtful explanatory message that LinkedIn Director of Marketing Robert Leathern posted to the list…

With his kind permission, I’m reproducing it here for your edification. As you read this, notice how it’s not threatening, judging, critical, or negative and how it never once lapses into commentary that’s other than completely professional.

I’m director of marketing at LinkedIn and responsible for the LinkedIn for Groups product. We welcome the feedback of all group administrators and group members as well in discussing this decision. So firstly, a few points of clarification. One is timing: we wanted to give group administrators the chance to offer us any feedback and have their questions answered � so the switchover is planned for June 24th. We told group administrators about the changes on Monday June 6th, and are encouraging them to send us their questions and comments about their group designations before then. We’ve also grandfathered many groups to Premium and Partner status (details below).
Why are we making changes to LinkedIn for Groups (LfG)?
Several reasons here. First, I personally believe groups-related functionality is going to be an important part of LinkedIn’s future. Many groups currently find it to be extremely valuable for helping them keep current with their members, provide a nice bit of branding for their organization, and allow opportunities for members to connect with one another. While the current functionality is being used and appreciated (e.g. by conference organizers to facilitate networking before and after events, by alumni organizations to keep current with their membership and let them find jobs and opportunities without sending an email broadcast message to everyone etc.), we know that there are many things we can improve.
We would like to invest additional resources into building more features for LfG, and making it even more useful. In order to do that, there needs to be a business case. However, we also don’t want to take this functionality away for smaller groups that would not be able to afford such functionality. LfG group services are going to stay completely free for all group members. So by charging fees for different value-packages, we’re able to provide a level of group services for free to everyone while charging certain groups for additional value-added services.
As people like Paul Risman, Bill Vick or others have pointed out � we need to charge people for various services in order to pay for all the other services we offer and keep many of them free. In general as part of our overall strategy, we want to keep a level of LinkedIn services free for everyone, and by charging for other parts of the service to certain audiences (like posting jobs to hiring managers, or for big organizations charging for groups) we will be able to do this and everyone will benefit.
How is LfG going to change?
We’ve created three tiers for now. Over time, we will add features to various tiers based on feedback from users and group administrators. The tiers are Basic, Premium and Partner. This weekend we will have more details on our website on the differences between the tiers but one of the chief differences is between the visibility that a particular group enjoys. When a non-member of a particular group is searching for someone on LinkedIn, a Partner group is visible within those search results next to a person’s name. A Premium group shows up on that member’s profile when you click through to it, and a Basic group is not visible to non-members. The functionality for members of these groups (in terms of being able to search, view and contact fellow group members) is completely unchanged, however. As a group member you’ll be able to identify a shared affinity immediately with your fellow group members and go ahead and contact them without referral (as long as they haven’t turned off this feature by their own choice) as you always have been able to. In terms of inviting and administering your group, even as a Basic group, nothing will have changed.
If I have a Basic group, how can potential members find out about my group and join it?
One important point to stress here is that LfG is a product that is designed with offline groups in mind who want to strengthen and extend that relationship to LinkedIn, and offer their members a valuable online networking tool. So in terms of promotion, for the most part people are going to join as a result of receiving an email from the group organizer or going to their website. LfG is not designed specifically for ad-hoc groups to form on LinkedIn. We’re looking at ways to facilitate those types of interest groups, it might look different from the current LfG, and I would appreciate your thoughts and feedback on what would be valuable for you. Email me (see below) if you have further ideas on this.
So everyone has to pay for LfG right now?
No, in fact we’ve grandfathered many of the existing groups to Premium and Partner status. And while we have established introductory (beta) pricing for the different tiers of groups, we are open to discussing ways in which the price can be reduced in certain cases for certain qualifying organizations. Contact us for details as obviously this is treated on a case-by-case basis. Each group manager has been informed of their pending status and has the opportunity to discuss with us over the next two and a half weeks their particular status and find out more. We encourage feedback and want to have as open a dialogue as possible.
We actively participate in forums such as this one to involve our customers and discuss some of the changes and feature additions we are making to our products. We welcome their input. One of the reasons we sent out notice to group administrators two and a half weeks before making a change is to give the administrators the opportunity to send us their feedback and comments *specific to their particular group* ahead of any actual change so we can make sure that everyone involved, even if in certain cases not agreeing with the changes we’re making, can understand our rationale for doing so and have a chance to have their specific concerns heard. We also spoke to a few group administrators and potential group administrators about the change and in general they were understanding about the impending changes.
As mentioned above, there will be additional features that we will built into the product over time that will further distinguish the tiers, based on user needs and feedback. We look forward to being able to do that, and we cannot if we cannot have a business justification for doing so. I also think that the extensive free functionality that we will continue to provide to groups is a good deal for them.
Grandfathering: Some groups are indeed being grandfathered in, others are not. The decision to grandfather particular groups was made individually taking into account a number of different factors including usage activity levels, age, brand of the group etc. It’s not being done on a group-user basis but on an individual group basis. I encourage group managers who feel that their group should have a different status to contact me personally to continue the discussion (this can be sent to me at rleathern at with me � in some cases as I point out in my email to group administrators it is an ongoing discussion and there may be other ways to “earn” additional group features as well as pay for them. Sorry for the long post: I look forward to continuing to work with individual groups and their administrators and help continue to improve the LfG product.
Robert Leathern
Director, Marketing

No question, it’s long, but if you’re looking for a fine example of how a company can communicate with its users in the forum of the user’s choice (My LinkedIn Power Forum is a Yahoo Groups mailing list, not a discussion board on the LinkedIn site) this message is well worth studying. Kudos to Robert Leathern and the team at LinkedIn.

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