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6 Steps to Host a Successful LinkedIn Group

It's easy for neglect, spammers and poor practices to devalue a LinkedIn Group. Get back on track with advice from some pros.
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LinkedIn has been the de facto social media platform for business for some time now, and its popularity continues to grow. If you're like me, you probably log into LinkedIn regularly--maybe even daily--to view, research, communicate or connect. One conduit of all this activity is LinkedIn Groups.

LinkedIn Groups can be a mecca for connecting, learning and sharing with other people. Or they can be a waste of time, particularly if a group provides nothing of value to members or gets overrun by spammers. If you manage one of these kinds of groups or are thinking of creating a LinkedIn group of your own, follow these best practices.

1.  Set clear goals. The goals of your group will dictate many things--for example whether your group will be a closed or open community. Goals can change over time, but you should have some--and they shouldn't be about self-promotion. "Have a mission and a passion for the community you will be building," advises Trish Bertuzzi, president and chief strategist of The Bridge Group and founder of the Inside Sales Experts LinkedIn Group.

To enforce its mission, be sure to name it correctly, recommends Andrew Rose, founder of the Marketing Director Support Group (MDSG). But, cautions Brynne Tillman, president of Business Development University and founder of Linked User Group, "Don't name your group after your company unless it is meant for employees or alumni or current client support because people will expect it is there to promote yourself."

Jessie Zubatkin, Director of Marketing at Curata, Inc. and manager of the Content Curators group suggests, "Pick a niche market that hasn't been tapped, know your audience and don't be afraid of your competitors."

Then start recruiting. "I attribute the success to using the group daily and have specific goals of the number of alumni to find on an average week," says Doug Ferguson, Director of Alumni Programs, Delaware County Community College and manager of the Delaware County Community College Alumni Association LinkedIn group.

2.  Create, post and remind members of a clear "rules of engagement."  Whether your group is public or private, you need to have clear and reinforced use parameters. Otherwise, your group can be hijacked by self-promoters and spammers. Bertuzzi's rules of engagement:

"A discussion is where you ask a question of the global community so that you can expand your view on a topic, incite conversation or collect verify specific data. Discussions should respect the opinion of all who participate.

What is not a discussion:

- Blog posts--no matter how interesting you think they are they belong in the promotion area.

- Webinar invitations--they are promotion so put them there.

- Jobs--we have a job board.

Seems simple doesn't it but we delete dozens of entries every day from the discussion board so that the members who use it as a resource are not spammed out.

Please respect your fellow members and post appropriately. You have created an amazing community that is full of resources and information. Please help us keep it that way."

3.  Establish a group administrator and moderator. In order to enforce your rules of engagement (and approve new members if it's a closed group), someone needs to be assigned the role of group administrator. You may want to have back-up moderators if you're not available or the assigned moderator leaves.

4.  Lead the conversation, at least initially. Groups do not succeed because of member volume; they succeed because of the quality of the participation. As a group founder, you need to helm this effort. "Do a little research first, find out what your target market really cares about and have content ready to post," suggests Tillman.

5.  Devise a plan to attract members.  Growing membership will not happen overnight. You can utilize your own existing connections to encourage membership, but groups really succeed thanks to engaged members. "We have some members that are constantly reading, commenting and asking," says Debbie Muller, president of HR Acuity and founder of the Employee Relations & Workplace Investigations group. After a time, word of mouth takes over.

Still, in order to maintain your group's quality, you'll eventually face a situation where you'll need to uninvite aggressive, spamming or overtly self-promotional members. "It took me a long time to get over that," noted Christine Crandell, president of New Business Strategies and founder of the Customer Centric Buyers' Journey group. "I learned the hard way that one overzealous member can cause the rest to disengage."

6.  Expect lots of care and feeding. All the LinkedIn group managers I spoke to warned that between moderation and encouraging participation, even successful LinkedIn groups will require a significant time commitment.

Last updated: Apr 2, 2013

HOLLIS THOMASES | Columnist | President & CEO, Web Ad.vantage

Client advocate, digital strategist, and thought leader Hollis Thomases, founder of Web Ad.vantage, helps companies navigate the complexity of the ever-changing digital marketing landscape and develop digital strategies.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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