LinkedIn can be a great tool for developing professional relationships yet the people we usually connect with are those we've already met and know well. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing - developing the relationships you already have is vital to success - you're missing out on a lot if you only do this. There are many ways to get in touch with people from your industry and develop new connections online.
One of the ways to do this is through LinkedIn Groups, a section that allows you to get to know and develop your reputation through the site. It can take a bit of time before the rewards begin to show, but provided you have a good strategy, you can walk away with new and relevant connections and an improvement to your reputation
Finding The Best Groups
LinkedIn allows you to join up to 50 different groups overall, but the chances of you regularly contributing to that many groups is very unlikely. Instead, you should take on a more focused search instead and join four or five groups. Therefore, you should do some research first before you join a group.
There are a number of things you should take into consideration. For one, you should ask yourself what you want to get out of your time on LinkedIn. Is it to help develop your reputation in your profession, or do you want to create new relationships from another sector? When you decided upon this, you need to see what type of groups are available.
A number of groups are now Open Groups, this means that you can see and join discussions without having to become a member first. This can be handy if you want to try out a group and see what its community is like before you commit properly. Other groups are member only so the only way you can see their content is if you have a friend who is already a member who will show you or explain its content.
When searching, don't type in broad terms like "business" or "PR" as you will be presented with a vast number of groups to filter through. Instead, narrow it down by adding additional terms like "social media in business" to help narrow down your search. You will find more relevant groups this way so the more specific, the better.
Before you try joining a group, have a look at how many people are in the group. Unless you've developed your reputation on the site, your comments may get lost within the noise and it will be harder for people to notice you. If you're starting out, you want to join groups that have around 500 - 4,000 members so you will be able to stand out more.
When your application has been granted, take some time to see what type of discussions are taking place and what topics are discussed. The group title should give you a clue about this, but see what questions are responded to the most, what problems are brought up, who the key influencers are and how many members are active users.
Developing Connections Within Groups
So you've joined a number of groups, you've gotten a feel for each group and you're ready to interact with its members, the next question is "What do you do now?" Firstly, you should identify the top or most popular discussions that are happening. Usually, these are pushed up to the top of the page therefore you should get involved and offer your advice and opinion on the subject matter, provided you can add something new to the discussion.
The other thing you need to ensure is that your interactions are consistent. It can be difficult to do this especially when you've many other accounts and responsibilities to keep track of, but you should visit your groups regularly to see what happening. You should visit each group at least twice a week (more if you can manage it) so that you're up to speed.
Posting comments regularly is also important, but don't do it for the sake of it as people always appreciate quality over quantity. Give likes for interesting comments and posts and share interesting links and articles that you come across. You do have the leeway to promote your own work, but only do this sparingly and if the content in question is genuinely useful.
Another important factor to keep note of is that each LinkedIn group has a chart that shows you its top influencers. If you're regularly engaging in discussions and providing insights, responding to comments and asking your own questions, you will find yourself featuring on this chart. This can help get your name out there and have people recognise the value you provide to the group's discussions.
Once you know the type of people that frequent your group, you can use this to your advantage by posting your own questions for the group to answer. The topic doesn't have to be about a topic you don't know much about, but it can be about getting opinions and crowdsourcing ideas.
You should know the type of questions and discussions that will resonate with group members, but have a look at previous discussions to see whether the topic has already been covered. You don't want your discussion to be shot down by someone providing a link to a similar discussion covered two months ago.
It's better if you only ask a few questions. Unless you're the group manager trying to facilitate discussion within the group, you don't want to be seen as that one person who always posting questions, but not contributing anything to the group.
Starting Your Own Group
If you have the time to commit to it, starting your own group can be a great way of interacting with users and developing contacts. It can be quite a time commitment as you try to get it off the ground, but you get a level of control that will hold you to good stead.
First of all, you will need to spot a niche or theme that your group will fit into. Having a general heading isn't going to attract people so identify an area that is rarely or never covered. This is important as having a clearly defined purpose will give people more reason to join your group. Also, having a small but dedicated group of followers is more valuable as they would be more likely to discuss your group with others. As group manager, you will have to facilitate discussion while you're getting the group off the ground until your group members start discussions themselves.
A small but important factor is that you, the group manager, can dictate the agenda and content that appears. While you can throw in different topics for discussion, it's worth noting the 'manager's choice' section, located at the top right-hand corner of the group page, Here you can place whatever content you wish so you can use it to promote your own services without disrupting the overall experience.
Another major advantage is you can send targeted emails and messages to your members. Provided your group is large enough, you can reach a targeted audience with your message. It's even better if you add subgroups to the equation. LinkedIn allows you to manage up to 20 subgroups so if you break your group down into various sections, you will end up with more specific demographics that you can reach out to.
- Social Media Examiner shows five ways you can use LinkedIn Groups to build influential connections.
- Janet Fouts breaks down the entire process of LinkedIn group management into simple bullet points, focusing on management, engagement, sharing and promoting.
- Lewis Howes highlights ten reasons why you should start up a LinkedIn Group and how it will benefit you.
- Inc. provides eleven tips to help you find the best LinkedIn Groups out there.
- Neal Schaffer provides five steps you should take to successfully manage a LinkedIn Group.
- Hubspot also provides its own set of tips to help you manage your group and grow it.
- Monica Wright, Community Editor at Search Engine Land, wrote this guest post for LinkedIn Blog on the numerous ways publishers can get the most out of LinkedIn Groups.
- TopDog Social Media interviewed one of the earliest members of LinkedIn, Michael Crosson, about how his group reached 330,000 members and how he got his first 1,000 members.
- And finally, another article from Social Media Examiner, this time showing you the best ways to build a thriving LinkedIn group.
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