With more than 313 million members spanning more than 200 countries and territories, LinkedIn is a very popular social networking platform for professionals. And people are joining LinkedIn at a rapid pace; on average, two new members join every second.
If you're a member, you probably already know that LinkedIn has a Groups feature where users with shared interests can convene and discuss relevant topics—you might even belong to a few.
But have you ever considered running your own LinkedIn Group as a marketing initiative? Although it might seem like a lot of work, if you run it wisely, your members will actually take care of most of the heavy lifting for you.
So how can you start your own successful LinkedIn Group? These six tips will help.
1. Keep a Narrow Focus
There are already 2.1 million Groups on LinkedIn. Although that’s not a lot in relation to its user base, it’s still a fair amount of competition, particularly if you’re in a saturated niche. Before launching a Group of your own, check out existing Groups and follow the conversations on them. This can help you identify a gap, or a topic of interest, that doesn’t yet have a dedicated Group.
You can also use keyword research to identify the most-searched terms relevant to your business, then focus a Group around the most searched-for phrase in your industry. Tools like Google’s Keyword Planner and Google Trends are useful for uncovering search data and trends over time.
2. Establish Your Influence
One critical step you should take when starting a LinkedIn Group that attracts members is to establish your authority early on. If you’re already a well-known thought leader in your niche, this should be easy. But if you’re still working toward mass brand recognition, LinkedIn’s publishing tool will be your new best friend. With it, you can create valuable content that’s relevant to your Group's focus, including a call-to-action that invites users to join your Group.
You can also tap into your existing networks on social media like Twitter and Facebook and ask your connections to join you for more in-depth discussions in your new Group. Invite your own LinkedIn contacts using the Invite feature, and allow group members to invite other users, too.
3. Make Sure People Can Find Your Group
Your Group’s description is the key to being found by other LinkedIn members who are searching for pertinent discussions. By including keywords both in your Group’s title and description, you’ll increase the likelihood that your Group appears in the search results for users outside of your connections.
Think about the words your target audience, or ideal members, would use to search for a Group like yours, and include those terms in your description. Describe both the types of members who would be interested in participating in your Group’s discussions and a clear description of what your Group is about.
Finally, unless your Group is focused on a confidential topic, make sure you make it an Open Group with member pre-approval. This allows members who find your Group using LinkedIn’s search feature to ask permission to join your Group but gives you the ability to personally vet every request for legitimacy. Creating an invite-only Group limits your membership and will make it harder for your to grow the membership of your Group—it’s a lot more work to seek out and invite members you want to participate than it is to give LinkedIn users the opportunity to come to you.
4. Focus on Your Members
After you’ve established a topic and started building your membership, it’s time to begin engaging your audience with compelling discussions. Dr. Mark Goulston, author of Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, says the secret is “to be more interested than interesting. Make it all about the commenters and not about you.” That means asking questions that your members are likely to respond to.
5. Be a Leader and Stay Engaged
Without persistence on your part, a new Group can quickly fade into the background. To help establish yourself as the leader, it’s important to consistently start discussions and engage members in conversation. Also, take an active role in moderating discussions, filtering out spam comments and inappropriate or off-topic remarks to keep discussions focused and authentic.
“Like the comments generously, and reply privately to people you want to thank more personally. Then find out after looking at their profile what their current focus is,” Goulston suggests. This will help you bring up topics of interest to your members.
Because until your membership reaches a critical mass and talkers emerge who are willing to initiate and engage in ongoing discourse, it’s up to you to get members talking. That means posting regular questions that spark reactions from your members, bringing important news to light and asking for opinions and responses, and following up with members who join in the conversation by replying to their comments and asking follow-up questions to keep the discussions flowing.
6. Offer Value, but Don’t Over-Promote
Group members are more likely to stick around if they’re getting value out of belonging to or participating in a Group. “If you have the time, be a facilitator or connector between people in your private comments and make introductions between people who share values or might actually do business together,” Goulston advises.
Most important, don’t make the conversation all about you, and don’t over-sell your products or services too soon. LinkedIn members join Groups to participate in relevant, meaningful discussions and stay abreast of industry-related conversations. Making your Group too promotional can turn members off.
LinkedIn Groups are an effective way to grow your network and build a substantial referral base or lead-generation machine. With a little forethought and consistency, running a successful LinkedIn Group can be a relatively simple strategy that nets significant results.
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