Lancaster PA Chamber Set to Remove All Non Chamber Members From LinkedIn Group. Good, bad? What Do You Think?

Lancaster PA Chamber Set to Remove All Non Chamber Members From LinkedIn Group. Good, bad? What Do You Think?

This morning I noticed that the Lancaster PA Chamber of Commerce is planning on removing all non paying chamber members from their LinkedIn group.

“In an effort to create The Chamber’s Linkedin group as an added benefit of Chamber membership, we will be removing any nonmembers who are currently part of the group.”

This struck me as a bit strange and a few questions came to mind.

The first question and the big one: Is this is a good use of social media?

LinkedIn is a free platform (with premium accounts available) for people to network with other professionals. If the Chamber is worried about exclusivity of it’s members is this the right platform for them? If they are just looking for a closed network for members, why go outside of their own site?

Social media is a way to engage your clients, a way to give them an outlet for discussion and a way for them to communicate with your brand/company. It is also a way to entice new customers. Is the chamber shutting out new potentials by creating a gated community on LinkedIn?

This morning I posted the question on Twitter and Facebook here are some of the responses I received.

@jeremywalter Yeah I saw that – I think it’s a good move for the Chamber … not so much for non-member marketers. Chambers thrive on exclusivity.

@wisegrass (Paul Stoltzfus) Seems a little controlling to me. But it makes sense. Still it seems weird. I guess they feel like if a person is on the LinkedIn group it implies current membership with the Chamber. #2 It doesn’t cost the Chamber anything to allow members to be part of the Chamber LinkedIn group. Maybe the LinkedIn group could be the “free giveaway” that begins a relationship with the Chamber and then turns into a paid membership down the road?

I also received a response from Laura Brady from the Lancaster Chamber and this is what she had to say.

@laura_brady good question, the intent behind doing it was to make the Linkedin group another exclusive benefit for your membership dollars

Now, Laura is also the one that sent the email this morning explaining that they will be shutting out non members. She also runs the group. I understand that someone will be monitoring the group as well as driving it when needed to keep it active. But it doesn’t cost the Chamber to set up a group on LinkedIn. Anyone can set up a group and it doesn’t cost anything to host it there either. So, is this really an exclusive benefit?

I think in a broader sense there is also a great marketing potential that is being missed. Last April I posted about how the majority of companies will fail at social media. In the post I talked about the main reason’s companies fail. One of the big reasons is that they don’t understand that social media is about conversations. It can get messy sometimes, but you still need to be transparent. By gating a community on LinkedIn you eliminate potential customers from seeing what your company is about. More importantly what people are saying about the company and how you interact with them. Paul’s second comment took the words out of my mouth or fingers as the case may be. Wouldn’t it be great if the Chamber would offer the group as an enticement? As a way to bring in new potential customers and give them a taste of what it’s like to be a chamber member? As new non-members join the group you now have a database of potential new members. You also know that they are interested in the Chamber and when they interact via discussions, you know what they want from the chamber. Huh, that’s also free market research!

So, my message to the chamber is: Think twice before you create an island around yourself. Plus, claiming that you are giving extra value to your customers by offering them something you get for free? People will probably see right through it.

What are your thoughts? Post your comments here and feel free to share this with others.

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  • Great article Bryan! I don’t know man… something doesn’t sit well with me on this one.
    It’s like if the Chamber would invite their members to coral their RV’s at the FREE parking lot of Wal-Mart. A few of the Chamber members would invite their non-Chamber friends to join the fun around the camp fire. Then the next night here comes hatchet woman checking ID’s and seeing if membership dues are paid up, booting anyone without the “dues” or “inside connections”. Yeah, this will get hairy for the Chamber depends on who “accidentally or purposely” gets the boot. There will be tattle tales and whiners galore (…probably how this came up in the 1st place). God Bless the group manager.

    I checked LinkedIn’s “Group Management/Membership” overview which gives group managers the tool to “choose which members you want removed and blocked from joining your user group.”

    Just because you can do it doesn’t mean it is good. Giving up power sets you up for more loyalty potential.

    PS. I am not offended by the Chamber having or not having a LinkedIn group. This ordeal gives me one more insight into how the leadership of the Chamber thinks. And it rhymes with thinks.

  • Allow me to be un-PC for a moment.

    Seeing as how the Chamber is retarded when it comes to social media usage (does not monitor its online reputation, does not have a Twitter or Facebook account, etc.) I think its decision to remove people from its LinkedIn account is ridiculous.

    Being completely unresponsive to social media, then using social media to create a closeted group and taking credit for the benefits of that social media platform? Absurd.

    Also, exactly how does membership within a LinkedIn group qualify as a member benefit?

  • The point I made to them in a private reply (since they closed the comments) was that They had kind of defeated the purpose of social networking. I stand by that.

    Even more foolish was Laura’s reply that they want to provide “More benefit for their members.” To the contrary, by limiting LinkedIn, they provide LESS benefit for their members. LinkedIn is about networking! If they want a private thing to provide benefit, how about a member only mailing list?

    Kelly is right. They don’t have a clue.

  • I’m with you Kelly. This makes my blood curdle, “and taking credit for the benefits of that social media platform?

  • I think what each of the comments here represents is an outside assumption of what the Chamber’s purpose in having a LinkedIn group is. I think for many of us, our assumption of the purpose of of all things social media is to include as many people as possible.

    However, for the Chamber, this might not make the most sense. Some members (like myself) use the LinkedIn group function to directly message LinkedIn connections .. and the only way I am connected to certain contacts is through the Chamber LinkedIn group. If this is now open to the public, it dismantles a so-called “wall of security” that protects members from unwanted, (and possibly unqualified) outside solicitation.

    In addition, as I explained this morning at the Tweetup, all Chambers across the country thrive on exclusivity. Similar to the country club mentality. Whether this is good or bad, right or wrong, is irrelevant. It is what it is, and is reflected in this move on LinkedIn.

    And circling back, I’d like to politely yet directly address Tom’s Mohaney’s comment concerning Laura’s comment. This move does benefit Chamber members (in that protection wall I mentioned above). Members’ networking capacities are in no way hindered by one of their group’s becoming exclusive. There is a plethora of other avenues available to meet more people on LinkedIn. In addition to that, it benefits chamber members by protecting them from competition from non-chamber member parties soliciting for the same business.

    So – after being exceedingly long-winded – this debate needs to be re-centered on what aligns best with the Chamber’s business plan. We might not make this move for each of our own businesses, but this particular move needs to be discussed in the context of what the Chamber is trying to accomplish in their overall mission.

  • I think it completely makes sense. The chamber “owns” the group, it doesn’t have to let in people it doesn’t want to.

    Why do people join a chamber? It’s not the cocktail meatballs, it’s for networking. If the chamber opens up, then the primary benefit of membership is lost and people might not re-up next year.

    No one cares that the other networking avenues through the chamber aren’t open, what makes social media (oh how I despise that term, if I ever meet the person that coined it, I’m so going stick a pencil in their eye) different?

    What if the group was completely open? If you belong to any wide open LinkedIn groups you’ll notice that there is so much chatter that their utility as anything but a line on your profile showing what you’re interested in is zero.

    Lastly, complaining is pointless. LinkedIn is free, why doesn’t someone start a Lancaster Co business owners group and publicize in through their chamber LinkedIn group?

  • The Chamber’s decision to limit The Chamber Linkedin group wasn’t one we came to quickly or without a lot of thought. We are willing to share with you our reasons behind this decision and how it fits into our overall social media plan.

    You can join us for a conference call scheduled for this Monday, December 21 at 4 p.m. to hear our reasons for this decision. The phone number is 1-800-791-2345 and the participation code is 65815.

  • Jeremy — you bring up valuable points. There’s nothing wrong with the Chamber wanting exclusivity for its members, even on LinkedIn, but I have a hard time separating its decision from the Chamber’s overall approach to social media.

    I’m also wondering exactly how this exclusivity benefits members. Sure, they might want to connect with and make referrals for other members via LinkedIn, but these connections and referrals would mean little without the real-world connections made at Chamber of Commerce events. So while exclusivity factor makes sense in theory, it doesn’t seem to offer any tangible benefit …

  • There is another group on LinkedIn as well called Linked to Lancaster: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?about=&gid=2478486&trk=anet_ug_grppro The group has over 700 members. It will be interesting to see how many members they get as apposed to the closed chamber group.

  • BbeS

    There is another group on LinkedIn as well called Linked to Lancaster: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?about=&gid=24784… The group has over 700 members. It will be interesting to see how many members they get as apposed to the closed chamber group.

  • I recently moved my discussion to the LinkedIn Group called Linked To Lancaster. Check out what people are saying over there. http://bit.ly/bUZhZY

    Here’s what I posted in response:

    Thanks everyone for the comments for your comments and opinions.

    My reason for posting the question here was not to attack the chamber or really to question there overall usefulness as an organization. To speak to that point: I am an active member. I attend many of the mixers and events and I’m a member of a committee for international business. I also picked up two new clients at my member welcome meeting. Plus, I’m actually in on one of the banners they hang at some of their events. So, yes I too think the chamber is helpful. With that said though, like many things you get out of it what you put in. If you don’t attend any events and don’t actively use the chamber, you most likely will not see the benefits.

    What I’m really questioning is their use or effective use of social media. This is something that the majority of companies struggle with. Social media is a discussion. It is a place to interact with your customers and potential customers. It can be scary at times, even messy because you don’t have control of it. That’s part of the beauty of it. As a company or organization, when you can openly and transparently communicate with people, others will be drawn to you. Allowing “non-members” to see this, will help you score points with them and entice people/companies to become members in order to receive the benefits that the chamber offers.

    The reasoning that I received from the chamber was “the intent behind doing it was to make the LinkedIn group another exclusive benefit for your membership dollars”. This I find interesting. Isn’t LinkedIn free to anyone? Organizations like the chamber do thrive on exclusivity, but taking something that is not exclusive and claiming it as your own… Doesn’t that lean towards a business ethics question?

    In fact gating their LinkedIn community is a disservice to the chamber members. Don’t most companies benefit from expanding their reach and by connecting with other companies? If the chamber wants to say they are making “better use of membership dollars”, hire or assign someone to manage and police the group so people aren’t abusing it. If they are, well then remove/ban them. Even better, have them really openly interact with the members as well as engage non-members. You’d be surprised how that can build a loyal community. There tons of examples to show that this works, but one comes to mind.. Google. How do you think they became one of the most profitable and powerful companies in the world. Not with exclusivity.

    That fact that the Linked To Lancaster group exists and is thriving (and I bet the groups success it makes the chamber quite nervous) is a testament to what the chamber could be doing. Think about it. Bottom line why are we all here? To network, and promote ourselves and our companies to as many people as possible. With the resources and reach that the chamber already has, including relationships with some of the best companies in area, it could reach a much broader circle must faster and effectively to promote such a group. And as I said openly showing how well they interact with their members and how members interact with each other is a huge opportunity to bring in new members, and how the root of social media works. If they developed, managed and promoted an open LinkedIn group, they could effectively crush Linked to Lancaster and any other smaller groups. It also seems that many of us are members of both the chamber group and Linked To Lancaster. Wouldn’t it be great if they were one group and we didn’t have to manage what we say across two groups?

  • BbeS

    I recently moved my discussion to the LinkedIn Group called Linked To Lancaster. Check out what people are saying over there. http://bit.ly/bUZhZY

    Here's what I posted in response:

    Thanks everyone for the comments for your comments and opinions.

    My reason for posting the question here was not to attack the chamber or really to question there overall usefulness as an organization. To speak to that point: I am an active member. I attend many of the mixers and events and I’m a member of a committee for international business. I also picked up two new clients at my member welcome meeting. Plus, I’m actually in on one of the banners they hang at some of their events. So, yes I too think the chamber is helpful. With that said though, like many things you get out of it what you put in. If you don’t attend any events and don't actively use the chamber, you most likely will not see the benefits.

    What I'm really questioning is their use or effective use of social media. This is something that the majority of companies struggle with. Social media is a discussion. It is a place to interact with your customers and potential customers. It can be scary at times, even messy because you don't have control of it. That's part of the beauty of it. As a company or organization, when you can openly and transparently communicate with people, others will be drawn to you. Allowing “non-members” to see this, will help you score points with them and entice people/companies to become members in order to receive the benefits that the chamber offers.

    The reasoning that I received from the chamber was “the intent behind doing it was to make the LinkedIn group another exclusive benefit for your membership dollars”. This I find interesting. Isn't LinkedIn free to anyone? Organizations like the chamber do thrive on exclusivity, but taking something that is not exclusive and claiming it as your own… Doesn't that lean towards a business ethics question?

    In fact gating their LinkedIn community is a disservice to the chamber members. Don’t most companies benefit from expanding their reach and by connecting with other companies? If the chamber wants to say they are making “better use of membership dollars”, hire or assign someone to manage and police the group so people aren’t abusing it. If they are, well then remove/ban them. Even better, have them really openly interact with the members as well as engage non-members. You’d be surprised how that can build a loyal community. There tons of examples to show that this works, but one comes to mind.. Google. How do you think they became one of the most profitable and powerful companies in the world. Not with exclusivity.

    That fact that the Linked To Lancaster group exists and is thriving (and I bet the groups success it makes the chamber quite nervous) is a testament to what the chamber could be doing. Think about it. Bottom line why are we all here? To network, and promote ourselves and our companies to as many people as possible. With the resources and reach that the chamber already has, including relationships with some of the best companies in area, it could reach a much broader circle must faster and effectively to promote such a group. And as I said openly showing how well they interact with their members and how members interact with each other is a huge opportunity to bring in new members, and how the root of social media works. If they developed, managed and promoted an open LinkedIn group, they could effectively crush Linked to Lancaster and any other smaller groups. It also seems that many of us are members of both the chamber group and Linked To Lancaster. Wouldn't it be great if they were one group and we didn't have to manage what we say across two groups?