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April 16, 2009

Should owners be able to download contacts?

A little while ago LinkedIn seems to have taken a decision to prevent group managers from downloading the email addresses of their group members, as well as those who have requested to join.

This has kicked off a heck of a furore (nice word) within the group managers community. There are petitions, and letters and all sorts of things from the wielders of the largest groups in LinkedIn.

My take on all this as a leader of one of these groups ? I agree with LinkedIn!! And I agree for a number of reasons.

1. Intent

The intent of these groups is to make it easier for people to connect and network with like minded people. It is not there as a personal spam audience for anybody. (At all!!) In fact we recently had a pretty large scale conversation on this within the forum.

There is no permission involved. People join to get closer to other like minded people. They don't join because they want the owners newsletter, or to read their blog, or to hear about the owners products and services. Period! (As Tom Peters would say)

When anybody joins our group they get an email from me thanking them for joining, and mentioning the blog and the newsletter on this site.

If they subscribe, then thats great. I now have another permission based subscriber who wants to hear from me. If they don't join - thats also great - I hope they get a lot of value from the networking group.

I get a number of emails from group owners now - I have not asked for any of them, and I do not read any of them.

2. Mechanisms

If the owners want to they can send out a once a week email from the group to the people who want to receive it. Again, notice the permission element to this...

I send out one a week. If the members want to hear from me they leave their box checked, if they don't then they un-check it. It is that simple.

But again, they haven't asked to hear about the blog or the newsletter, they want to talk about their group. (Not MY group - a subtle difference)

So I write to them about the happenings of the group, and some of the things I am trying to do to make it better. If they want it, it's there - if they don't want it - so be it and good luck to them.

3. The bucket of water

One of my early mentors taught me this. He put his hand in a bucket of water and then pulled it out.

"You see how much difference that made?" he said. I nodded. "That's how much you will be missed if you leave now." I am not sure what I was complaining about at the time, but this put a whole new perspective on it for me.

If the owners of the big groups get a huff and leave, others will replace them. If they close down parts of their groups (like discussions) in protest them people will leave. Nobody is irreplaceable, they are not the power brokers within LinkedIn, they are just facilitating networking between like minded professionals.

It pays to get a little perspective sometimes.

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