Associations are wising up to the fact that our members are already networking on Facebook, LinkedIn, and even Twitter, so we need to fish where the fish are, as Lindy Dreyer once told me. Since I was already connected to a lot of our members on LinkedIn, I figured the easiest place to start establishing our social networking presence would be there. However, like many of you, I encountered a bit of resistance to creating a LinkedIn group for our members, so I knew that I had to prove how a group would benefit our association and our members.

Some of the resistance was due to unfamiliarity with LinkedIn. Luckily one of my CEO’s counterparts was already a connection of mine on LinkedIn so I was able to use that profile as an example of how LinkedIn was being used by one of his peers. It’s hard to sell anything, especially a social networking idea, to folks who are not users themselves, especially when the common image of social networking has been photos of college kids playing beer pong on Facebook.

Another valid concern was that managing a group would take up too much of a resource that we were already lacking — staff time. The solution I came up with (making it an open group) is only a temporary one since any online community does require care and feeding to make it successful, however an open group would not require membership authentication upon joining or require expulsion from the group when a company didn’t renew its membership. Also, since our membership was company-based, maintaining a purely members-only group would be challenging when employees changed jobs, and perhaps went from member companies to non-member companies. Having an open group was our only option.

To sell the concept of a LinkedIn group, I prepared a “sales sheet” describing the benefits of a LinkedIn group to our association, sent it to senior staff to review, and then met with them to go over any concerns and questions. Here are the benefits I highlighted.

Help members stay connected to our association.
By connecting with current members, those who have been laid off by member companies, and former members, we can update them on news, events, and services and keep them in our loop. We can also give them a way to talk with us. Instead of just broadcasting messages to them, we can now have a conversation with them — that’s very important these days.

Provide a valuable networking opportunity.
We provide the platform for group members to connect with others and to help them find jobs, meet prospective clients, and find former colleagues. Providing value like that should be our goal.

Increase the size of our community.
Our community becomes much larger — members, former members, non-member industry professionals — and therefore our news, political action alerts, announcements, and public affairs and marketing messages have a much wider audience.

Deepen our volunteer bench.
Our chapter staff can use LinkedIn as a way of learning more about their members, for example, which ones are volunteering elsewhere and may be good candidates for getting involved at the chapter.

Keep our database current.
When our members change jobs, they will update their profiles. We can use that information to update our database and find new prospective member companies.

Learn what’s on our members’ minds.
Group discussions will give us clues about the concerns and needs of our members. What issues are most important to them? What business challenges do they have? What types of programs and education do they most need?

Find new member prospects.
Non-members in the group will learn about the services and benefits offered by our association and chapters and see the value that we provide. Our logo will appear on group members’ profiles, which can lead prospects to our group and web site. We can find prospects in the connections of our current members and ask for their assistance in recruiting them. Plus, we will have email addresses and company information for non-members who join the group — a great prospecting tool.

Be a social networking coach for our members.
Many of our members are already on LinkedIn, but for those who are new to social networking, we can add value to their membership by showing them the way. We can put a page on our web site explaining how a few different social networking platforms work, the benefits to them personally and professionally, and invite them to join our LinkedIn group.

Danger in not creating a group.
If we don’t create a group, someone else might — that’s allowed, and has happened to many other associations. I have seen many pleas for advice from those who discovered a “renegade” group using their association’s name. Usually the association can appeal to LinkedIn to win control of the group but that takes some time and can cause ill will and confusion with those who founded the group, often with the best of intentions, and those who belong to the group.

These benefits were more than enough to convince our leadership that it was time to create an open LinkedIn group. However the danger of a possible “renegade” group might have played a large part in their decision to let me create a group – that’s okay, whatever works!

We decided on a soft launch. I invited 50 of my connections (a mix of members and chapter staff) to join the group. In just a few weeks, we had more than 300 people in the group. I hope my experience might be of use to you if you are encountering resistance to social networking. Show how it works, sell the value and warn of the consequences of inaction.

If you have a LinkedIn group I would love to hear about how it’s worked for your association or non-profit.