LinkedIn Groups: The Wisdom of Crowds, the Tower of Babel

Readers of this blog will be aware that I’m partial to the notion of lobbing questions to a broad and interested readership and seeing what I get by way of a response. So it will come as no surprise that I think LinkedIn groups can be useful.

Thus far my involvement in LinkedIn groups has been limited. I’m a member of the tiny and moribund Contract Drafters group; I’m not inclined to attempt to breathe some life into it, as I have my own constituency for that topic. I’m a member of the Legal Blogging group, with its 4,429 members, but I’ve paid no attention to it—I long ago sorted out in my mind why I blog and how I wish to go about it, and if any issues crop up, I discuss them with a limited circle of contacts.

But what prompted this post is a third LinkedIn group, Contract & Commercial Management. It’s a large group (2,851 members), and an active one. You have to ask to join. IACCM is behind it. I recently joined when someone suggested that I might want to add my thoughts to a particular discussion.

The limited time I’ve been observing, and occasionally participating in, this group’s discussions have reinforced my views of what works and doesn’t work in such groups.

I find productive those discussions that are conceptual—the idea isn’t to establish what is the correct answer or the most efficient way to address an issue, but instead to sound each other out and exchange ideas. I’d put in that category a recent thread on “What is Contract Management?”

And I imagine that this group and others can be useful when you have a narrow question, or are looking for a specific piece of information, and you’ve come up empty after consulting other sources, from Google on up.

Furthermore, this group, like others, has a “Jobs” section that seems very active.

But I found less useful the discussions about specific contract provisions. Addressing in a meaningful way topics such as the implications of the phase consequential damages involves a level of complexity that LinkedIn discussions aren’t suited to. The result is that you get a bunch of thumbnail position statements, many of them inconsistent—ships passing in the night. And some of the comments advocate, with utter conviction, conventional wisdom that I long ago abandoned. It’s hard to know what a newcomer to a given issue is meant to make of the cacophony.

So when it comes to meaty substantive issues, rather than starting a discussion by asking, for example, what the difference is between best efforts and reasonable efforts, maybe it would be more productive to ask members to recommend an authoritative analysis of the subject.

In other words, I’m suggesting that experts are best placed to make sense of such topics. (I hope this doesn’t peg me as a hopeless elitist!)

I realize that the notion of experts is itself problematic. An expert isn’t someone who knows what they’re talking about, but someone who is perceived to know what they’re talking about. I take issue with much that ostensible experts have to say. But taking people with a track record of having thought about a given issue and having them battle it out in the marketplace of ideas is, I think, our best bet for enlightenment.

That leaves plenty of other stuff for LinkedIn groups and other flavors of social media to deal with.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.