When you join a group on LinkedIn, you will notice that you have the option to display the logo for that group on your LinkedIn profile. This public display of groups differs from Facebook, which displays your groups just for you on your home page and all likes under one tab on the profile. LinkedIn, however, displays the groups of which you are a member on your profile one after another in a vertical list.
What a closed group means to the viewer
These logos show up on your LinkedIn profile conspicuously and represent parts of your identity, such as where you earned your degree, where you work(ed), and your professional interests. For example, if you are an MIT alumnus, you can join the MIT Alumni LinkedIn group and display that group’s logo with pride on your profile. Imagine if anyone could join the group, however, making it an open – not a closed – group, meaning anyone could display the MIT Alumni group logo on their profile, even if they didn’t go to MIT. All of a sudden the group membership loses value. A viewer of your profile cannot be sure that you having the group logo on your LinkedIn profile means you are associated with MIT at all. It becomes slightly misleading.
Open or closed? It depends on your group’s name and purpose.
Make sure your LinkedIn group’s name makes sense with whether or not the group is closed or open. The objective is not to allow users to cause confusion through improper use of your department or school identity. If you are unsure whether your departmental LinkedIn group should be open or closed, consider what outsiders would think when your group name and logo shows up on someone’s profile. For example, if I saw ‘MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering’ with the department logo on someone’s LinkedIn profile, I would assume they studied or worked there. However, if I saw a Mechanical Engineering group (without the ‘MIT’) on their profile, I would assume they either work in or have interest in the general field.
An example of an open group is The Engineering Forum group, which is “dedicated to engineers looking for new opportunities in their career” and is “a forum to discuss new ideas, options and positions throughout the country.” This type of group is named for a subject of interest and should be open to anyone interested in that subject.
Department groups usually are closed, since LinkedIn shows a type of digital résumé, causing groups reflecting offline membership to be viewed as a legitimate indication of that membership. This is especially true for groups with ‘alumni’ in the name, but is also true for department groups that include present students and faculty. Be clear about the membership makeup of your group in the description. For example, say ‘this group is for Department of Physics alumni, students, and faculty’. Social media generally is very open and public, and should be to attract and grow your audience. Closed LinkedIn groups are a unique form of social media, however, in that they provide a social space for individuals who belong to a specific group, providing the opportunity to stay in contact with and network with others from that group without unrelated public noise and without the feeling of the group being a public marketing promotion of the department. There is hope for less spam and better discussions.
But I want an open departmental group so that prospects and donors can join and get involved!
If you are concerned about having a group for promotion to prospects and donors of the department in addition to alumni and students, clearly express the group name. For example, use the title ‘Friends of MIT Mechanical Engineering’. What you might really be looking for is a LinkedIn Company Page, which is meant to be public and open and which anyone can follow if they are interested in keeping engaged with the department.