This is part three of a four part series on LinkedIn. Catch yesterday’s post on Making connections on LinkedIn and be sure to return tomorrow when we explain how to use LinkedIn Posts effectively.
LinkedIn is so much more than just a place to host your professional resume, or an online repository of CV’s. At its heart LinkedIn remains a social network, and this means that social interaction is a big part of what LinkedIn is about.
Some of this social interactions comes from the sharing of (let’s face it) self-serving updates by individuals seeking to move their online reputation up a couple of notches. You’ve surely seen this sort of thing: someone sharing that they were mentioned in newspaper X, or that a TedX event is coming up soon and they happen to be on the speakers list. This sort of interaction is perhaps to be expected given LinkedIn’s role as the the place for professional reputation building online, but it’s not the only sort of sharing that goes on.
Others, for example, will share genuinely interesting articles that are relevant to their industry, sector, or niche. This sort of sharing is more akin to content curation, and if your LinkedIn connections are active and engaged in their fields then your feed can be a goldmine of relevant, interesting, and useful information.
On the other hand, if you are just getting started on LinkedIn or if your primary feed – perhaps as a result of some poor choices as to whom you should connect with – has somehow devolved into a Facebook-like stream of memes, quotes, and math questions that are meant to be easy for third graders but impossible for anyone on the C-suite to solve…well, it might be time to start investigating one of the most valuable but still often overlooked parts of the LinkedIn network: LinkedIn Groups.
What are LinkedIn Groups?
LinkedIn Groups – or just Groups – are spaces on the LinkedIn platform where people sharing similar interests can come together, exchange, debate, share, and learn from each other. There are tens of thousands of Groups on the network and almost always one that will suit any hobby, interest, or working sector you might find yourself in. What’s more, if you happen to have an interest that has not yet seen the founding of a Group you don’t have to worry: starting a Group is easy and, with a little work, can soon connect you with others in the same boat.
Groups can be either public (open) or private (closed). The functioning of the Group is similar in either case, the primary difference being that a public group can be joined by anyone with the click of a mouse, while a private group requires the approval of a moderator. Generally the moderator will review your profile, check to see if you look like a good fit for the group, and then accept you. The moderation process helps private groups to avoid spam accounts, but it also does cut down on their potential reach.
Once you join a Group it is automatically added to your LinkedIn profile (you have the option of not displaying a Group on your profile, and this is probably a good idea if your current employer might raise their eyebrows at a group aimed at tips for finding a new job) and updates from the Group begin appearing in your primary LinkedIn feed. You’ll also have the option of receiving emails from the Group, either daily or weekly, and contributing to Group discussions.
How do I find relevant LinkedIn Groups?
Finding a Group to join is simple. Got to the top of your LinkedIn page and, in the search box, enter some keywords relating to the sort of group you are hoping to find. Think broadly; for example, if you are interested in web marketing you might try searching for Groups using the keywords:
- web marketing
- digital marketing
- online marketing
- internet marketing
- inbound marketing
- content marketing
- social media marketing
You can choose to delimit the search before it launches to return only Groups and avoid companies, people, networks, and other parts of the LinkedIn network. Alternatively, after you run your search you can choose Groups from the sidebar menu to modify your completed search and highlight only results from LinkedIn Groups.
After running your search you’ll have a list of Groups, perhaps dozens of them, to click through and explore. if they are a public Group you’ll be able to see the most recent posts and discussions and get a taste for what the Group is like. If it is a private Group you’ll get more limited information, but you’ll still be able to see what sorts of people are included in the Group and read a little about the Group from its description.
You’ll quickly note that some Groups are large. Tens of thousands of members, even a hundred thousand members is not uncommon for general interest or industry-level groups. There are also smaller, niche groups organized around a certain topic or local area. Obviously, if you are interested in web marketing but not in the San Diego area, you’ll want to avoid the San Diego Web Marketing group, and head to either a Group close to your home or choose a larger and more global Group.
How do I join a LinkedIn Group?
Once you’ve found what looks like the perfect Group for you, joining is a cinch.
Public Groups require only a click on the yellow button on the top right of the Group page. Wait a second and your screen will refresh and you’ll be officially a member of the Group. Shortly after you’ll normally receive an email from the Group’s owner officially welcoming you to the Group, perhaps explaining a few of the Group’s rules, and letting you know what sort of standards the Group has for posting, sharing, and commenting. Every Group is a little bit different so be sure that you read this email carefully and, where you have questions, direct them to the owner directly.
Private Groups work in much the same way, though the action of clicking the yellow button refreshes the screen only to inform you that your application has been submitted to the Group owner. The time taken for the owner to review your application depends a lot on how active the Group is, and absolutely on how active the owner of the Group is in checking there LinkedIn emails and messages. Don’t worry too much about the waiting time: a couple of days is not uncommon and doesn’t mean that the Group is inactive or that the owner of the Group doesn’t care too much about their project – it might be that the owner is just as busy as you are, and approvals take a little time that the owner may not always have.
How do I start off on the right foot in a LinkedIn Group I just joined?
Perhaps the best advice for getting started on a LinkedIn Group you’ve just joined is…don’t.
That is, when you first join a Group you should treat it in much the same way as you would any professional conversation or meeting that you’ve been invited to. Take some time to watch how things work, get a feel for the norms of conversation and commenting, try and understand what the Group considers useful and valuable discussions and content, and what they consider spamming, self-promotion, and of little value.
See which members are the most active, see what discussions are the most popular, and see what the tone of the respondents is. Does the group bleed positivity or is a more aggressive, argumentative forum? Are ideas shared on an ‘as is’ basis, or do Group members add their own opinions to any outside content piece linked to or re-published on the Group?
Importantly, too, look to see if there is a way that new members introduce themselves to the Group. Perhaps new members make an individual post, perhaps they introduce themselves in a certain discussion specifically for that purpose or, like some Groups, there might be a weekly or monthly post where new members can tell the rest of the Group about their background, interests, and reason for joining the Group.
In short, your first interactions with any new LinkedIn Group should be tentative, focused on learning the norms of the Group, and preparing yourself to dive in only when you understand exactly what sort of Group you have joined.
What are LinkedIn Groups best practices for posting, sharing, and starting discussions?
Every LinkedIn Group is different and each will have either formal or informal rules about what is considered valuable to their Group community, and what is not. When deciding to post a comment, an article, content from the web, or kickstart a discussion on a LinkedIn Group you should always consider whether it is in line with the general tenor of the Group you are posting to. Assuming it does past muster, here are some LinkedIn Groups best practices to keep in mind:
Choose the best quality content you can find on the topic you are posting about. Sometimes this will be something that you have written yourself or that your company has produced – but those times are going to be rare for most people. You might be an expert in your field, but you aren’t the only expert in your field. if someone else has expressed an idea better than you have, deliver that value to the Group instead of your own less-well-delivered thoughts. Sure, you won’t earn any clicks for your content, but you will earn reputation points in the Group and avoid the tag of ‘serial self-promoter’.
Add your thoughts to any content you are posting. The people in your Group have the same interests as you do – why else would they be in the Group otherwise? But this does not mean that everyone will react to the content that you are posting in the same way. Give people a taste of what you think about the content you are posting by explaining in the post what is valuable about the link, why you posted it, and what you gained from reading, viewing, or listening to it. Give people an insight into your thinking, and demonstrate you are more than a bot posting anything slightly relevant on the Groups they subscribe to.
Add a Call to Action in your comments. When you post to a Group you are trying to start a discussion, engage the other Group members, and network with them. Just as in real-life, simply stating something and walking away does not open a conversation. Instead, you need to ask for the Group members input and give them something to respond to. As well as letting them know what you think about the content you link to, ask them a question: ‘what do others think?’ or ‘is this really where we are headed?’ work well to stimulate replies and conversations and can help you connect with similarly interested Group members.
Follow your own discussions. When you start a discussion or post content you should keep an eye on how the discussion is progressing. LinkedIn makes this easy with its notifications: if someone responds to, likes, or shares your Group post you’ll see that notification flag tun red on your LinkedIn dashboard. This is your cue to return to the discussion and keep it going. Again, the parallel to real life is instructive: only the very poor networker asks a question and then walks away when people start to answer it. Keep an eye on, and participate in, the discussions you start. It will demonstrate interest and engagement and help you secure your place in the Group as a valuable asset.
How can I avoid the charge of self-promotion in LinkedIn Groups?
The simple answer is ‘don’t self promote’, but perhaps this is a little too simple.
LinkedIn allows users an almost unparalleled opportunity to present themselves to the professional world in a positive light. You can tailor your profile until it is perfect, you can share only positive, feel-good stories, you can earn reputation as a valuable contributor to Group discussions and perhaps even take on the role of a thought leader if you take advantages of LinkedIn’s Post feature (more on that tomorrow).
In other words, LinkedIn is to a certain extent all about putting the best version of your professional self out there for the world to see, and that means you and every other LinkedIn user are self-promoting.
When it comes to LinkedIn Groups, though, you should avoid the blatant self-promotion that your profile allows. Don’t share things you’ve written elsewhere unless you are confident it is the best take on the issue. If you are sharing something you’ve written elsewhere, be up front and honest about your authorship and explain what the link contains. Think of this as a sort of full disclosure on your part: you provide people with the information, your argument, explain you’ve written about this further elsewhere, and invite them to click if they are interested. There’s no baiting here, no pushing traffic towards your site without divulging that it is, indeed, your site. You are being up front and honest, and this will be appreciated by others – and help you avoid the charge of self-promotion, too.
LinkedIn Groups are one of the least-used but still best networking options for professionals on LinkedIn. Connecting with others from around the corner or around the world who share your interests and challenges is an incredible opportunity, and LinkedIn Groups make it easy to take advantage of the common experience to expand your knowledge, your reach, and your network. What’s more, joining Groups enhances your experience on the social network as a whole, and not being limited to the smaller group of people you have connected with already opens up a real world of possibilities for career growth, and even career changes. The benefits of LinkedIn Groups are many, so what are you waiting for? Dive into LinkedIn Groups today!
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