A friend of mine landed his last six clients as a direct result of his participation in LinkedIn Groups. Another sees his groups as a natural extension of his social-media marketing efforts.
And believe it or not (I still find it hard to believe), a third somehow managed to meet her fiancé in an HR-focused group.
LinkedIn groups are informal communities formed around industries, professions, themes, niche topics, etc. Because any LinkedIn member can create one, there are now well over a million groups.
Find and join the right groups, and it's easy to keep up with news and trends, make connections, ask and answer questions, land new clients--even start a romance. (Well, maybe that last one isn't so easy.)
Here's how to find the right groups for you:
Set your goals.
Because groups are relatively focused, one group probably can't meet all your needs. Decide whether you're looking to connect with potential clients, establish your credentials and authority, learn more about your field--determine what you hope to achieve.
If you're new to groups, start with one primary goal. You can always branch out later.
Go to the Groups Directory page and enter search terms related to your goal.
Just keep in mind that searching broad terms will generate broad results; search marketing, and you get more than 41,000 results; social-media marketing yields more than 4,000 results. Think about what you're looking for and use search terms that are as specific as possible.
You can refine your search by using the check boxes on the left-hand side of the page. One handy move is to sift search results by your current connections. For example, you can choose to see only groups that your first and/or second connections have joined.
In some ways, that's handy, but given that most people hope to make new connections by joining groups, don't limit yourself to groups where you already "know someone."
And borrow ideas.
Searching is useful, but so is following the lead of people you respect. Go to any profile page and check out the groups that person belongs to; chances are one or two match your goals.
Plus, joining the same groups increases your chances of connecting with the people you hope to connect with. Chances are, influential people in your industry are members of useful groups, so why not hang out where they hang out?
Then sift through the results.
A search result lists groups in descending order according to the number of members. Under each group is a brief description.
Sometimes the description is helpful. Sometimes, though, the group has veered away from its description and original purpose. The only way to know is to...
Join a few groups.
Pick a few groups that appear to meet your goals--and seem interesting--and join. You can be a member of up to 50 groups, and you can leave a group at any time, so there's no harm in experimenting.
Read recent discussions and click the Members link to find out who else is in the group. If you find heavy hitters or people you respect, that's a good sign.
Keep in mind, some groups are members only; the manager of the group must accept you before you can participate or view discussions. Members-only groups tend to be more focused, but there are plenty of open groups that stay just as on topic and spam free.
Pause and reflect.
Check out the quality of the discussions or updates. Are article or resource references relevant and valuable? Are the discussions interesting? Are there enough members to create a vibrant group?
Think about your goal, and determine if the group is likely to help you reach that goal--and keep in mind you can always leave if your initial impression turns out to be wrong.
Then chill for a bit.
No one likes the guy who walks up and takes over a conversation at a party. Watch, listen, and get a feel for how the group operates. Then gradually start to participate. Start by responding to questions or topics raised by other people. Get a real feel for the group, and let the group get a feel for you, before you start driving discussions.
Otherwise, you're that guy, and no one likes that guy.
Stay reasonably active.
You don't need to participate every day, but you should be somewhat regular--otherwise, why are you joining the group?
That's especially true if you hope to establish yourself as an authority; it's hard to spark great discussions and answer questions when you're never there.
Sometimes people will invite you to join a group. Sometimes you'll stumble across a group and think, Why not? Before long, you'll belong to dozens of groups.
It's impossible to participate in a meaningful way in more than a few groups. If you aren't getting the results you want--given the goals you established--don't add more groups to your collection. Find a few groups that better suit your need, and leave the groups that don't.
Besides, no one is impressed by a seemingly endless list of groups on a profile page.
Eventually, consider starting a group.
Anyone can found a group. If your group becomes popular, you can drive traffic to your website and send free weekly messages to group members--all of whom opted in to receive those messages.
But wait until you really understand how groups operate before you found a group, and think about how you can differentiate your group from the thousands of similar groups that exist.
Otherwise, you may belong to a group of one. But, hey, at least you'll always enjoy the discussions.