The unwanted parasites that lead to the demise of online groups

What would happen if you barged into a room of 257 people who were discussing a topic – say influencer marketing and these people were in the midst of sharing resources, absorbing insights and you interrupted that experience to promote your service or product? The answer is simple. Most people in the room would think you were rude, had no manners, were selfish and they would feel disturbed or worse yet angry. They would want you out of that room as quickly as you came in.

Sadly, this is the behavior many people choose to display when they join online groups. They think – oh great! – here are all these people who are relevant to my company or me and I will be able to get what I need from these members. I label these people parasites and they come from the land of ‘takington’. If only they knew how much damage they were causing themselves and the group and any hope of establishing a favorable reputation is gone in the instance they start to promote.

Here’s a clear example.

I run a group on LinkedIN called Influencer Marketing which has over 200 members – all prominent and successful marketing, advertising and communications practitioners interested in the topic of influencer marketing. I never advertise our company, our products or services. I may share a blog post or a case study that would educate or inform the members which may make reference to my company. The rules are very clear – no commercial messages, self promotion or advertising. So the expectation of the group is that everybody abides by these rules.

In the last month I have encountered two members who upon immediately joining the group, promoted their company by posting about their ‘special offer’. The first was around a wine club and the second was around a performance based marketing out of India. As soon as I received the notification in my inbox, I was angry, livid and especially with the second member – who I hesitated approving his membership, I was disappointed. I was angry because every single member in our group who opted in to be notified about new posts received that message. Every time this happens – when a message is delivered to members that is not relevant or interesting, attention is trust is diminished.

The experience pushed me to turn on all moderation settings and approve every single post which is time consuming and a not-so rewarding experience for members who have to wait for their post to be approved.

Here’s a typical sequencing of events of how a parasite goes about their prospecting:

Step 1: Post self promotion (the parasite thinks he’s really cool and doing his job well)

Step 2: Group members are notified about the self promotion (at which time the group starts to diminish in value)

Step 3:Very angry group moderator (in this case me) removes the post, kicks the member out of the group and makes an attempt to bring this behavior to the members attention

Online groups present a significant opportunity to create awareness and prospective customers for your business however the approach needs to be respectful and smart. Here are some tips on how to effectively engage with target groups:

  • Join the group and explore how and where you can add value
  • Read and react to other members posts by liking, commenting or sharing the content you find interesting
  • Post valuable content or discussions and be alert to responding to any comments or questions
  • Leverage the group leader to advocate something of value that the members would be interested in such as an upcoming webinar, job opening or a case study you’ve published
  • Once you’ve established a good reputation and have a favorable standing within the group, it’s OK to lightly plug something the members would be interested although you need to earn your right to take this action

It’s quite simple – we just need to behave like professional, respectful human beings and think before we act.


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