This post originally appeared on the Genuine Interactive Blog

This Thursday, Aug. 26, Genuine is proud to host the one-year anniversary meetup event for the Baseball Industry Network. The Network, which currently exists solely as a group on LinkedIn has grown to more than 5,400 members in a little under a year. I played a minor supporting/advisory role to the group’s founder Tyrone Brooks, Director of Baseball Operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

More information about the meetup, whose proceeds benefit the Pine Street Inn in Boston, can be found at http://baseballindustrynetwork082610.eventbrite.com

I spoke with Tyrone via phone earlier this week to talk about the lessons he’s learned about using LinkedIn and best practices for managing and engaging with an online community. While the group is focused on baseball, the approaches strategies he employs could be applied to pretty much any group on LinkedIn.

Genuine: So about a year ago we were making plans to start a little group on LinkedIn and you gave a couple hundred people from your rolodex invites and off it went. Pretty crazy, huh?

Brooks: Yeah. This has been quite a ride with creating the Baseball Industry Network and how it’s all come together and now here it is a year and we’re at a point where we have a membership of over 5,400 members, so it’s quite exciting. Just really thankful for the people that have all come together that are involved in the game and connected to it and people showing their passion for it and people really getting to have opportunities to network with others that are involved, and hopefully creating opportunities for each other.

Genuine: I feel like I’ve been in the passenger seat of this ride, and it’s been interesting to see how many different types of people and professions have an interest in it and are involved in it. Did that surprise you?

A little bit. It kind of really blew me away just when everything first started just to see even prior to it starting how many people that are in our game that are out there on sites like LinkedIn that are involved in the game, and then basically what happened was just bringing them all together into one place. It’s definitely been amazing just to see there different types of people that are involved in the game, whether they’re in scouting or in marketing or people that are bloggers or companies that do business within the industry as vendors and as potential sponsors. It’s really showed the depth of people that are involved in the game.

Genuine: Have there been certain interactions or discussions in the group that have jumped out at you as noteworthy?

Brooks: You know one of the ones that really for me that has been very memorable is just the one where I basically had told everybody just to introduce yourself to the group because that one there basically lets people just freely write what they wanna write about themselves and what they’re trying to do, where they’re trying to go, and it’s amazing how many people have reached out to those individuals once they’ve done that. That’s created that open dialogue for future relationships to be built from there.

Genuine: It’s been interesting over the past year, that LinkedIn has evolved a decent amount during that time. What sorts of thing have you learned about using LinkedIn?

Brooks: You know it kinda fits exactly the t of the whole idea of baseball ‘cause the way this game is actually built and the way it’s set up, people that are involved in the game know that relationships truly matter and with LinkedIn their motto is “Relationships matter.” With that we kind of fit exactly what they’re looking at and made it that much easier for us to develop a network on here that has grown so quickly.

Genuine: A lot of the requests to join call you “Mr. Brooks.” How do you feel about that?

Brooks: It’s a little odd for sure. [Laughs] It’s making me feel a little old. I definitely – part of me creating the whole group itself was just because of somebody that’s been a professional in this industry for now 15 years, I’ve seen different people, they would always ask me or call me or send me letters asking, “How do I get into the game?” From that I thought part of the method of having it where people that are trying to break in could get admittance to this group as well would make it that much easier to come together with individuals that are already in the game that can hopefully pull them in if their ability merits and the opportunity presents itself.

Genuine: You got the group set up so that you’ve had to approve everyone who asks to join. What are the things that factor in to whether you approve or not approve someone?

Brooks: One of the first things I look for, if there’s related experience involved whether it’s baseball currently working with the team or if they’ve got – if I see from their profile that there’s skill that are definitely transferable to the industry of baseball, that makes it pretty much a no-brainer for me. But what I typically do if I have any questions at all about somebody’s profile I will send them a note and ask them to basically explain to me what their purpose is or why they’re trying to join the group just so I can feel them out. In many cases there’s cases where I do have to deny somebody ‘cause I can tell from their intention that that’s not really what they’re trying to do. I can see they’re not gonna be someone that fits what we’re looking for in regards that they’re trying to really look for an opportunity within the game. I can tell in many cases if somebody wants to join just to join for the novelty. In many cases I do get cases where I’ll send out a note to somebody and then they don’t respond. That right there just tells me that they weren’t serious about the opportunity being presented to them in regards to joining the Baseball Industry Network. That’s kind of how I feel it out from there.

Genuine: It sounds like a good moral of this is that no matter how advanced the technology gets, it really does come down to investing the time in people and treating people as individuals.

Brooks: Yeah. There’s definitely a lot that can be said for that. The whole idea of meeting people, there’s so many people just from my time of creating this that I’ve been able to probably meet that I know I definitely would never have had a chance to just because this has opened up so many doors there because of them getting to know me in some form. Then at that point it’s almost like an icebreaker, when you do get a chance to finally meet that person individually in person.

Genuine: There are a lot of different aspects to what LinkedIn provides for groups. Are there certain aspects that you really enjoy using?

Brooks: I mean I’ve always enjoyed even before getting involved in LinkedIn with this I’ve always enjoyed seeing the paths that different people have gone about to get to where they’re at and obviously with the profiles that are set up in LinkedIn it makes a – depending on how detailed somebody has their profile you can see the path they want to go from one level to the next, so where their education might have played a part in things and where they’re going and where they’ve been. That for me has always been a good thing ‘cause even when I was starting out in baseball I would look in baseball media guides of executives with different teams and just see how they went about to get to where they’re at at that point, what path they took, what allowed them to go from one place to the next to advance in their career. That’s one of the things I’ve always enjoyed, looking at the profiles and seeing the story that’s being written about this individual and how they went about it.

Genuine: Now there’s no risk of paper cuts.

Brooks: [Laughs] Yeah, definitely no paper cuts.

Genuine: Are there features that you’d like to see evolved in LinkedIn that would make managing a group easier?

Brooks: I mean there’s definitely some minor things. I could see where it could make it a little bit more conducive to just having a little more interaction with different things with individuals that are in the group itself, but for the most part I think the way it’s set up for the most part is something that can really work that will allow this to continue to thrive as social media and this type of product is continuing to come out. I mean the one thing I do like about the way LinkedIn is set up compared to some other things is it’s strictly from – I’ve looked at it from a business perspective and not a case where it’s a total social aspect of it just to keep the professionalism in place for how my group is set up and everything.

Genuine: What advice would you give to someone who is looking to set up a group on LinkedIn?

Brooks: I would definitely just kind of have their own little niche that it can have that will kind of separate themselves. There are a lot of different groups that are in there but also they need to be, I think, serious in regards to actually being committed to the actual programs they’re trying to set up, just to make sure that they are committed to it and will continually monitor it and moderate things that are going on within the group itself just to keep it fresh and interactive and not stale where it shows postings haven’t been made in a month or two months even by the person who’s organizing the actual group. Just to make sure they’re actively involved in trying to make the group itself better and cultivate those relationships.

Genuine: You’ve mentioned that some members of the Pittsburgh Pirates are members of the group. Has

that helped you in any ways, having people you work closely with be a part of the group?

Brooks: You know it definitely has allowed me in some ways to get to know people a little easier because I’ve got some interaction with them on Linked In in many cases before I even got here, so it’s made it that much easier. It’s kind of, “Hey, I remember connecting with you” or “I remember at that point coming into the group.” Now when we get the chance to actually meet in person there’s something there that we have kind of as a link. People here in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, they’ve seen this group really take off and they recognize what’s been done with this. I think they see the sense of pride I have in the group itself, and from that I think it just shows to everybody.

Genuine: Lastly, I wanted to ask you about the one-year anniversary meetup that’s planned in Boston next week. Could you talk a little bit about what it is and what you hope to achieve from it?

Brooks: You know it’s a case – one, we’re getting a great opportunity to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Baseball Industry Network but also a chance to finally have a case where we can start planning events where we can meet in various cities to really have a chance to meet face-to-face with the membership of the group, and also hear more about the perspectives of the individuals that are members of the group as well. Our first event, which is taking place in Boston, and we’re really proud of this and I’m proud of Genuine Interactive for what they’re doing as being a sponsor for this and the way it’s set up is the proceeds from the actual event are going to charity, which is the Pine Street Inn, which is the largest resource for homeless men and women in New England. So we’re doing something that’s also giving us a chance to give back to those that are less fortunate than us, but it’s also just allowing membership to get together, have an opportunity to meet face-to-face and continue to develop those relationships that are out there.