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The Risk of Not Owning Your Online Brand

by | Oct 16, 2014 | Industry News & Trends

I was talking with an association executive recently about their social media and online community efforts and was surprised to learn that they were considering turning off their integrated online community in favor exclusively using the LinkedIn group page for their association.

While on the surface it might seem like a good idea since their LinkedIn group has over 5,000 members, a recent news story about the social media giant might give anyone reason to pause and reconsider that strategy.

A class action lawsuit was filed in California against LinkedIn last week alleging it violates the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) through the use of its “search for references” feature, which allows prospective employers to obtain information about job applicants. Enacted in 1970, the FCRA regulates the practices of consumer reporting agencies to ensure they protect the accuracy, relevance and confidentiality of consumer information.

The lawsuit states, “Though LinkedIn aggregates a significant amount of consumer information, LinkedIn represents to its members that it does not license or sell member content to third-parties to show anyone else without the express permission of the particular member.”

“As such, any potential employer can anonymously dig into the employment history of any LinkedIn member, and make hiring and firing decisions based upon the information they gather, without the knowledge of the member, and without any safeguards in place as to the accuracy of the information that the potential employer has obtained.”

The lawsuit concludes that, “In essence, LinkedIn has created a marketplace in consumer employment information, where it sells employment information, that may or not be accurate, and that it has obtained in part from unwitting members and without complying with the FCRA.”

Whether or not the Class Action has any merit will be determined by the California legal system.

Regardless, news like this should remind association leaders to remain vigilant as one of the greatest responsibilities of any association is to protect the data collected on its members. You could argue that maintaining that data in your own system, gives you much better control and oversight.

As Ben Martin, CAE, Chief Engagement Office for Online Community Results said in regards to LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media networks, “You’re not the customer, you’re the product.”

Having a presence on LinkedIn or Facebook is not in itself bad, especially if your goal is to improve engagement and strengthen your search engine optimization by driving members (and prospects) to your association’s website.

You should keep in mind that the revenue social media networks generate comes from the data they constantly collect – from your members and anyone else who freely shares their personal data by using these systems. LinkedIn generates revenue through three main channels – talent solutions, marketing solutions, and premium subscriptions. Premium subscriptions allow users to move beyond a free membership and gain access to more features by paying a value added premium. This accounts for around 20% of LinkedIn’s total revenue. Marketing solutions generates revenue through the ads that you see on a LinkedIn page. This includes ads for jobs, seminars, and other content. This represents approximately 25-30% of their total revenue. Their most significant channel is talent solutions, which accounts for almost 50% of LinkedIn’s revenue.  This is where companies and recruiters pay to access LinkedIn’s tools for talent acquisition.

It is important to remember that these social media networks will not share any of that revenue they indirectly generate from your members with your association, nor will they give you access to the “member” data they collect. Our recent webinar, Social Networking, Mission Creep and the 2014 Job Market, shared how LinkedIn was poised to be a disruptive force in the job board market. Clearly their sights were set on companies like Monster and Career Builder; however, there’s no escaping that associations are vulnerable to this strategy as well, especially if they do not have an active presence with their own online job board or career center. LinkedIn has been aggressive in their pursuit, which may have contributed to the lawsuit.

At the end of the day you need to ask yourself whether it’s wise to completely outsource your social media presence to these networks. From a visitor’s perspective, your association’s brand is tied to those group pages; and, after all, it is your brand. Own it!


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