LinkedIn Groups are often overlooked hot spots for business development, relationship building and pipeline growth. As hubs designed for professionals in the same industry or with similar interests to connect, discuss ideas and find answers, these online networking cliques allow you to broaden your exposure to prospective clients outside your immediate sphere of influence. Actively participating in groups can help you grow your network, amplify your content’s visibility, and help you reach your perfect prospect when they are just starting to think about making a change.
Join groups that make sense for your business goals
Finding the right groups to join on LinkedIn is fairly straightforward – you can start with a simple search using the search bar at the top of your homepage, take advantage of the “groups you may like” feature for LinkedIn’s suggestions based on your profile and activity, or dive into your existing (or desired) contacts’ profiles and see which groups they belong to. Another approach is to identify which groups your competitors belong to.
Unless you have hours to devote to social media networking on a daily basis, consider joining only a few well-picked groups, rather than all 50 that LinkedIn allows per person. Consider joining two types of groups: groups where your clients and prospects engage, and industry-specific groups that are comprised of fellow professionals (competitors, friends, colleagues) in addition to your target market. Focus your attention on representing your personal brand and cultivating relationships in those few groups, rather than spreading your time and effort out over dozens of groups.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of groups, do a little due diligence prior to requesting membership. How large is the group? You may not want to join a group with 50,000 members if you are just starting out (though it would certainly be a large pool of prospects for you to work with). You may also not want to join a group that is so targeted and small that your list of leads wouldn’t justify the effort required to cultivate them in a group setting. What are the demographics of the group? If you’re hoping to connect with executives and decision makers, you may want to avoid groups that have a significant percentage of entry-level staff or those focused on execution as opposed to executive decisions. How many active discussions are being held? You will have a better chance of finding relevant conversations to add value to if there are more discussions in progress.
Actively engage in conversations
Merely being a passive member of a group will not help you earn new business. You must participate actively by engaging in discussions – or, better yet, starting a new dialogue. According to LinkedIn, participants who comment on group discussions get four times the number of profile views. More profile views means more opportunities.
The best way to add value and stand out in a group discussion is to provide educational, helpful and authentic content. Answer questions posed without falling back on your elevator speech or well-honed sales pitch. Avoid promoting yourself and your business; rather, offer your perspective on the problem at hand and showcase your understanding of the issue.
Be sure to tailor your content to each group you belong to. If you belong to two or more groups, chances are, others do, too, and there is likely overlap in membership between groups. You don’t want to be perceived as an automaton by saying the exact same thing in response to different prompts in separate, but related, groups. Customize your content and comments to best fit the tone, purpose and audience of each group. Remain authentic, while personalizing the messaging to meet the group’s needs. Personality and relevance will also help your response stand out and increase your chances for likes, further discussion and post shares.
Whenever you join an ongoing discussion in a group, remember to “follow” the discussion so that you’re notified when someone new adds to the conversation. That will allow you to jump in and provide additional value to the post quickly, preferably before one of your competitors does.
Present yourself as a thought leader
The best way to stand out as a thought leader and expert in your field is to share thought-provoking, professional, authentic content. The best way to get your message seen and responded to is to create irresistible curiosity. Inspire people to read and want to know more. Encourage them to reply and engage in the discussion. Ask questions. Take a poll. Emphasize the value they’ll get out of your content. Request feedback on an idea or opinion. Share your own experiences (or those of clients that mirror your ideal prospect). What is most important to your audience? Speak to the challenges they face, discuss solutions to their problems, provide tips and strategies that will improve their lives and help them overcome obstacles to success. Offer third-party resources that answer questions posed. Position yourself as a go-to resource. The more value you can provide to group members, the more likely you’ll be viewed as a trustworthy source. An added benefit to contributing insightful and helpful information is that LinkedIn promotes the top contributors in each group, which gives your content enhanced visibility – and you additional recognition – which can lead to more connection requests and inquiries.
Leverage group members for better connections
While the benefits of actively engaging in groups are plentiful, one of the best ways you can leverage these memberships is by connecting with other members and adding them to your LinkedIn circle of first-degree contacts.
Make a list of potential clients by using the built-in search function within the LinkedIn Group and filter by title, company and location. Because you belong to the same group, you don’t even need their email address to connect. Simply go to their profile and send them an invitation to connect.
However, be very conscientious about your invitation. It is critical to customize your invitation rather than lazily depending on the default message that LinkedIn provides. Outline your common interests, presumably based on the group you both belong to. It might be helpful to preview their profile in depth before sending your invitation so that you can make note of specific talking points that might be present in their profile. Keep in mind that some of the best talking points may not be exclusively focused on industry topics. For example, you might notice on your prospect’s profile that he belongs to the Australian Football (Soccer) group, which is shown under the “interests” section. You, too, are a big fan of international soccer and avidly follow the World Cup. You could mention your shared love of the game in your invitation. Feel free to also ask questions in order to start a one-to-one conversation. As with your social posts, avoid overt sales speak, links to products or services, or self-promotional fanfare. Keep it personable, yet professional, and insert your own personality into the invitation to connect.
Get started with groups sooner than later
LinkedIn Groups offer the opportunity to strengthen connections with like-minded professionals in an exclusive forum. Groups provide a private space to interact with members that share common skills, experiences, industry affiliations and goals. You are able to send direct messages to group members without purchasing a Premium account (up to 15 per month), a benefit that can’t be overlooked for anyone trying to drum up more business. You have access to people that would be difficult to approach otherwise. There is no down side to joining the right groups – you can always leave the group if you feel that it is not valuable to you and your goals.