How I almost lost 5,000 customers

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counseling private practice LinkedIn

I became more active on counseling private practice discussions on LinkedIn a few months ago. In Pat Flynn’s e-newsletter (Smart Passive Income) he had recommended it as a way to build your expertise and following. So, I gave it a try. I found a vibrant community of counselors that were seeking ways to improve their practice. LinkedIn has helped in a number of ways:

  • More people have been checking out my blog
  • Increase in e-newsletter subscriptions (around 20 people per month)
  • Ideas for blog posts
  • Connecting with professionals with like-minded approaches to counseling
  • Consulting gigs

My approach on counseling private practice group forums was to respond to people’s comments and then link to articles that I had written on similar topics. I had been doing this for the past few months. I then got two emails in a period of about a week. There a few things that I notice in these emails, let’s see if you can pick up on the difference. Mind you, these are both counselors in private practice in charge of two different Linked In groups that total around 5,000 members:

One of the Messages

You have been removed for violating our group rules on solicitation and self promotion. I am dismayed at your boundary violations with colleagues.

The Other Message

You have unfortunately been flagged thrice by group members pertaining to you posting a link to your website. I was wondering if it would be beneficial to you to post your link in the promotions section of this group? I believe your website is beneficial to a lot of why not promote it using the promotions section?

Each online community has their own sets of standards. What I have recently learned is that promoting your own website within a comment is considered very disrespectful and unprofessional on LinkedIn. This is not the image that anyone seeks to gain in the online world or outside of it. In general, we are all seeking to be professionals that can be trusted.

The other, less obvious lesson is how each of these professionals responded to the situation. What I am impressed by is the level of professionalism that “The Other Message” displayed. S/He investigated my website and saw that I was not just a spammer on LinkedIn. Further, S/He gave me an out and a way to adjust my behavior to fall in line with the group etiquette. S/He really helped me to see that what I was adding was valuable, but that I was not doing it in the correct way. Further, the other person, “One of the Messages” did the opposite. That individual assumed that I was a terrible person and actually continued to insult me in follow-up emails. After I sent s/he a personal message apologizing and explaining that I did not know the etiquette of the group, s/he continued emailing me about how I was unprofessional and banned from the group.

For me, the most important lessons are around understanding online learning communities and how to handle conflict in online situations. Especially in the world of emails, texts, and forums, our tone is often missed, especially if we do not know a group’s etiquette. It is easy for me to think, “I would never be that harsh with someone.” However, if I thought someone was a spammer, that was using my LinkedIn forum to only promote my product, rather than provide useful information, I may react in a harsher manner than I prefer.

When we as professionals are put in those types of situations, all of our theories and ideals are tested. We decide whether the lessons we teach our clients will become a part of our lives as well. In the process of our own growth, hopefully we don’t lose 5,000 potential customers.


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Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is the owner of Mental Wellness Counseling where he is also a therapist in Traverse City, MI. He helps angry kids, frustrated parents, and distant couples. Also, he tries to follow online etiquette, but sometimes fails.