Dear Corporation.... A case for User Communities

Lessons from the #linkedinlocal community

This past year has seen many companies wake up to the idea of community. Brands are realising the power of their own communities and how central they are to the organization and growth. A community-led approach is being adopted by forward-thinking groups and companies across the world as a means to protect its most valuable asset, its users.

User communities have the power to enrich the brand experience for a user. When built at a local chapter level, they have the ability to create more brand relevance. Connecting via a technology platform at a local level creates a significant touch-point and, given the last year we’ve been through, its in-person connection we are craving.

To give some context and backstory to this article, #linkedinlocal was a thriving user community that began as a single meeting over a coffee for fifteen strangers in 2017 in Coffs Harbour, Australia, and grew to over 850 cities, in over 96 countries in less than two years. It was an organic grass-roots movement of volunteers centred around the values of: Authenticity, Inclusivity, Collaboration and Respect.

Whilst independent from LinkedIn itself, our founding team spent 9 months in discussion with LinkedIn on how we could work together. During that time I sent the following email/letter to LinkedIn with some ideas on how they could better support the host community and the work they were doing in non-financial ways. But it wasn’t to be. They released the LinkedInLocal terms in March 2019, stripping away the values, the host community and any need for the mentoring and onboarding process we had built. I had to step away from leading it. From that moment on, we ceased to exist as a host community and only as separate individual chapters around the world. It was a huge missed opportunity in my opinion, but I wasn’t privy to the internal decision making at the time. No one anticipated the unprecedented demand for an online to offline movement at the time.

This was never an article I intended to publish, it was only ever intended for LinkedIn. But over the past 6 months thanks to brands adopting a more community-led approach, I’ve had a number of calls, conversations and discussions in newsfeeds about re-imagining what chapter based communities look like post-pandemic. Specifically what keeps coming up is; how to reward hosts, often the raving fans of our user community? How do we lead with the local communities in mind?

As other communities grapple with what to do, I want others to learn from my lessons (and LinkedIn’s lessons) and use this list as an inspiration to adapt to your own platforms and experiences.

What your about to read is not just my recommendations, it is also the work of Alexandra Galviz, Ryan Troll, Andrew Griffiths, Quddus Pourshafie, Gregory Caillol, and Nicole Johnston based on 18 months extensive mentoring, research and user consultation.

Note, since it was sent in 2018, it has been edited slightly to make it more relevant to a post-pandemic world.

Dear Corporation,

I’ve had time to reflect on our conversation and wanted to share some of our thoughts with you to keep the discussion around ways we can work together. From the very inception of #LinkedInLocal it has always been our wish to collaborate with LinkedIn HQ since, as you know, we are all huge advocates of the platform. This started off as a fun side project for us, but quickly grew to a size that I think no one expected. With that exponential growth came challenges, particularly in figuring out how to ensure that the movement maintained its values, quality and supported new/existing hosts to make an impact in their local area.

In the interests of our ongoing collaboration, I’ve put together a list of ideas for ways in which LinkedIn can reward local leaders, and how we as a community may be able to support LinkedIn:

User Engagement

The corporation should engage with local chapter leaders in order to achieve the following;

  • Increase user engagement through interaction, adding value at a face to face level, and education to users on networking, brand, and creating meaningful discussions in fitting with the corporation’s mission - mental health, soft skills, leadership, employability skills. Since the start #LinkedInLocal has taken a lot of ‘dormant’ LinkedIn users and made them active users and content creators.

  • Use the community to support user uptake of new features on LinkedIn across all markets through engaged and active chapter leaders. #LinkedInLocal Hosts can become a vital tool for showcasing new features to others on the platform through their networks of highly engaged connections and followers.

  • Create content for LinkedIn that can be used to share their message. Example: telling stories of users that can tie into #inittogether campaign, filmed panels and do-good community support for events. If you include us in plans for campaigns, we can rapidly have some of your most engaged users spreading the #’s you are wanting to gain traction. This could be extended further to national and international days regions where appropriate

  • Proactively roll out events and hosting capacity for #LinkedInLocalStudents in order bring on new younger audiences to LinkedIn. Consider how a pro-active roll-out and program could create events in colleges and universities across the world. Educate and encourage initiatives like on campus video pilot and existing Student Editorial Calendar

  • Further establish sub-chapter group. Some examples in the past have been #NewcomerstoCanada in Toronto, #LinkedInLocalYouth, as well as many industry related events. Connect these sub-chapter leaders to one another for support and growth.

  • Continually conduct surveys with members and hosts worldwide in order to enhance the user and host experience of our events and share the data with you

  • Partner events notifications to subscribers by email with LinkedIn, to drive new features and promote LinkedIn's values of connecting to opportunity, bringing your whole self to work, current hashtag campaigns etc

  • LinkedInLocal pages exist on LinkedIn as a company page, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Use the same format as @LinkedInLife which is all about your internal community of staff/culture and use #LinkedInLocal to show external community and culture created by your users and share the impactful stories

  • Appoint one or a few community managers and group moderators to keep the conversations among the host community on track within your framework, and to navigate the community growth and feedback

Supporting Hosts

LinkedInLocal hosts are very intrinsically motivated. Volunteers are pouring in from everywhere and want to step up as local leaders on a volunteer basis. I believe it isn’t necessary to reward host financially but to suggest other rewards in non-financial ways:

  • Create our resource centre through LinkedIn Learning on how to host events, grow communities and build movements/campaigns. These learnings can demonstrate values, past positive experience and how to engage users at a local level

  • Set up partnerships with spaces and brands that help build community. Example: co-working spaces and charities. We have already been approached by some brands regarding this, but its difficult to consider this without agreement from LinkedIn. Formalising these partnerships would allow for venues to grow, as well as provide a resource for chapter leaders to use

  • Where LinkedIn have offices around the world, allow hosts access to the function facilities to allow for a stronger user connection to the brand

  • Establish a formal recognition process for hosts doing exceptional work, either in consistency or in specific contributions to corporate social responsibility. Create a badge on the LinkedIn platform and use it as a reward to hosts achieving exceptional work. This technology already exists on the platform for ‘Influencers’, so the technology would only need a small adaptation to add another to recognise exceptional local chapter leadership

  • Support particular events throughout the year to recognise great work in global newsletters and giveaway LinkedIn swag at a select number of events

  • Centralize mailing lists for chapter events. Create a new newsletter feature for global stories from LinkedIn Local, as well as location based events, allowing for LinkedIn users to sign up to multiple cities. Use these newsletters to help hosts promote events in their city, as well as invite nearby locations to special events in their region. Or create regional showcase mailings. This represents huge potential in growing subscribers and re-engaging dormant users back to LinkedIn.

  • Hosts are unable to create groups with LinkedIn in the name, so no host is able to create a group called LinkedInLocal Chicago. All recognised hosts this access so that they can use the groups feature better to continue to grow their communities

Corporate Social Responsibility

  • Raise money directly for causes through events channels, increasing corporate social responsibility. Through this movement we’ve collectively raised thousands of dollars for charity, all over the world. Even just one event can raise $100-$1000+ for worthwhile causes. Some groups have made an ongoing commitment to charities, for example #LinkedInLocalBaltimore raised $30,000 for Living Classrooms in 2018-2019.

  • Partner with your LinkedInForGood platform and create curated events that fit with LinkedIn's purpose, and keeping LinkedInLocal's original core values.

We hope the #LinkedInLocal community can provide is a mark of quality, that gives prospective attendees the confidence that the event they are going to will reflect the inclusive, relationships-focused and non-profit ideals of the movement as a whole. Through our efforts in screening, supporting and maintaining this community of hosts, it would be amazing in the longer run if LinkedIn would recognise individuals/events who are a verified part of this community as a way of promoting best practice business events across the platform as a whole. Something we have heard from many attendees who have travelled is how LinkedInLocal events have the same commitments and feeling to the other cities, yet how different these events are to other networking events as they value the human. The space for truly human events in the corporate space remains wide open.

Yours Sincerely,

Anna McAfee

I have some vast expansion plans for this newsletter to share community stories and help others build their own values-based communities 🚀. If this newsletter has been insightful for you please consider

1) Liking or leaving a comment online

Leave a comment

2) Sharing it with a friend or colleague

3) This is new for me, but you can also now buy me a coffee ☕️.