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LinkedIn Groups: Useful Or Just Plain Stupid?

I've joined a few LinkedIn writing groups over the last few years. It's been a way to keep up on trends affecting my debatable career choice, and to gain a few random insights into the writing business.

The number of groups and threads on LinkedIn has exploded during the Great Recession as the unemployed and under-worked have a lot more time on their hands. Why not cruise over to LinkedIn and post a question, or maybe participate in a discussion thread? If we've got the time, LinkedIn's got the boards.

To be honest, however, I don't visit LinkedIn very much anymore. If I log on, it's to accept someone's invitation to connect, or to poke around a few groups for five minutes until I have to go somewhere. I've participated in a handful of group discussions when the question hit home and I thought I had something useful to contribute, but mostly I read the comments posted by other people.

After a few days of following a LinkedIn discussion thread, however, I get annoyed and unsubscribe. I tend to walk away from LinkedIn discussions feeling down instead of energized. I feel my stress level rising as the angry, sniping, boastful comments on these boards bounce around my head. In the worst cases, I might question myself professionally. Who needs the stress? Increasingly, not me. I'm happier without LinkedIn groups in my life.

I find the people participating in lengthy LinkedIn threads tend to fall into three distinct groups. The first group consists of two or three confrontational professionals who quickly get into a fight with each other and usually account for half of the comments. The second group is comprised of a handful of Pollyannas who try to buck up everyone's spirits ("the market will turn around!") and occasionally offer useful insights. They tend to be the ones worth reading. The people in the third group, meanwhile, spend their time boasting about all the work on their plate. They act like they have the market figured out, but they're not going to share much of what they know. Curiously, they also seem to have copious amounts of free time to post dozens of messages to these discussion groups.

The discussion topics are another problem. Many of the questions people ask on LinkedIn group boards are, quite frankly, silly. The questions aren't about self-improvement as much as they are about self-marketing (surprise, surprise). It's as if people are sitting at their keyboards in their flannel jammies thinking, "I've got to post another question about something so people will notice me." That's where questions like "Is the semi-colon becoming obsolete? Thoughts?" come from. Imagine being in a room with fifty people who are all navel gazing and trying to one-up each other, and you have the typical LinkedIn discussion thread. It's uncomfortable and it makes you wonder why you showed up in the first place.

I've never started a LinkedIn thread, but if I did I'd probably ask, "What is the most stupid question you've ever seen posted to a LinkedIn group?" just to see how people react. I suspect the group members would either ignore it or go crazy with 2,500 responses. Three people arguing with each other would account for half the comments.

Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way about participating in LinkedIn discussion threads in the Great Recession. I do tend to be somewhat of a curmudgeon, after all. But when it comes to LinkedIn groups, un-linking myself has been bliss.

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