Generating Engagement and Outreach Opportunities from LinkedIn Groups
Every business wants to be a trusted expert in their industry. Having the advantage of being an industry thought leader in your niche will give you much needed leverage over competition, resulting in more sales and growth of your business.
LinkedIn offers you the chance to connect with your professional network. It's basically social media with a business twist. LinkedIn's strongest attribute however can also be its biggest obstacle. In order to preserve its integrity as a professional network, LinkedIn makes communicating with individuals outside of your niche downright near impossible.
You can only message someone who's not part of your connections if you have their email address, and at that point you might as well just use your email client. You could always sign up for LinkedIn premium, but even then you're limited to sending only 25 messages to contacts outside of your network.
LinkedIn Groups is the solution to this problem. You can basically look at this feature like a seminar, trade show, or networking event. Each group contains a highly niche specific audience that's gathered together for the purposes for connecting with one another and answering questions. There's a group for every industry at this point. I remember participating in a very interesting discussion on dropshipping practices with eastern suppliers. Then there's social media, marketing, financing, entrepreneurial, technological, and even management specific groups.
This LinkedIn feature gives you the opportunity to address a highly targeted, highly professional group of business decision makers in a very casual, open format. It's really a gold mine for building authority for yourself and your business if you participate in it appropriately. So here I'm going to quickly give you a few tips and tricks for using LinkedIn Groups the right way, so that you don't tarnish your reputation and instead, hit the ground running.
Finding your Niche LinkedIn Groups
Like everything else in marketing, the first step is finding the right audience. Building authority with cyclists is completely useless to you if you're looking to engage people in the automobile industry. You have to search for LinkedIn Groups that discuss a subject related or relevant to your niche industry. At the same time, the group has to be very (or at least somewhat) active.
Login into your LinkedIn profile and go to the top of the page. There you should find a general search bar that says "Search for people, jobs, companies, and more..." To the side of that you should see a small tab. When you click on it, you'll see quite a few search options. We want to limit our LinkedIn search to include only groups, so go ahead and click on "Groups." Next, use some common keywords for your industry to do a search for related groups. Depending on the popularity of your niche, you should get quite a few group results, as well as a number of group related search options.
The only two options you need to really worry about are open and closed groups. Some groups (depending on their exclusivity) are by invitation only. Some of them require that you submit a request to join followed by a small paragraph or a few sentences explaining why you'd like to join the group. These groups have fewer members overall and are a little harder to join, but the payoff often exceeds even the largest public groups. Individuals are there to do business, and know that fellow group members can claim niche authority often through their membership alone.
For now though, take a look at some of the larger public groups. Scan through their posts and discussion topics. Do you think that the group in question appears to be fairly busy and active? Are group members engaged with the various conversations being held? What exactly is the group's purpose or function?
On the top of the group menu you'll find a tab labeled "more". Click on it and then select "Group Statistics". This should take you to a platform that will give you some very interesting information about the group in question. You can learn things like group demographics, location, levels of activity, as well as industry information. From here you can get a better idea of how well a group fits into your niche audience, as well as the potential to target new groups as well.
How to participate appropriately
Generally speaking, the more involved you are with a LinkedIn Group, the more industry authority you will build among the other members. Your involvement has to be genuine though. Do not spam the group shortly after you join with self-promotional posts asking people to "check out your website" or "what do you think of my product?" related stuff. You will quickly and swiftly lose any credibility with that group and potentially be banned for good.
All you are accomplishing to do this way is to tell engaged members that you're just there to promote without any consideration for their needs or discussions. It's a two way street. If you want an engaged audience you have to be an engaged speaker.
After you join a LinkedIn Group, introduce yourself to the other members with a post describing how you found the group and what you hope to achieve through membership. It's ok to talk about your position and your industry authority as long as it does not come across a self-promotional or spammy. Think of it as if you're talking to someone individually at a trade show or to a group at a seminar. How would you introduce yourself in that situation? The point is that you keep it both genuine and light. You're starting from the bottom so you want to make a good first impression.
From there try to find who are the key or most active members of the group. How do they participate and how often do they post something? Start by commenting on their posts regularly with follow up questions or feedback. This will increase your own visibility as a member while establishing yourself as a valid contributor.
Follow the Rules
Apart from the general courtesy expected from every member of every LinkedIn Group, there are often group-specific rules that are set to gear conversations and engagement in a particular way. Some groups refuse any sort of "self-post" altogether, while others encourage you to mention your company and a little about yourself right upon gaining membership. This varies from group to group, so make sure you take a few minutes to look over any rules or regulations.
Connect with Individual Members
If you begin to notice a particular member engaging with you more than others, try to add them to your LinkedIn network. Given that you are both in the same group, LinkedIn allows you to mention this as a reason for requesting them as a connection. Just like with any other connection request outside of LinkedIn, make sure you take the time to introduce yourself and mention what you'd like to achieve from gaining them as a LinkedIn network contact. In other words, personalize it for them.
This is why you're joining LinkedIn Groups in the first place. Make sure you take advantage of this feature as a way to establish business collaborations or gain new clients.
Putting it all together
Despite its heavy regulatory nature, LinkedIn Groups provides you with a really great way to connect with people that matter. Once you get past the membership application, the introduction, and the group rules, you can basically find new and interesting ways to market yourself to potential clients that really matter.
In my own industry for example, we sell promotional products to small businesses and corporate events. I would probably join a group with an entrepreneurial or marketing focus. From there, instead of posting info talking about our company or how great promotional gifts are, I could publish a recent article with statistics on the effects of promotional products at trade shows or corporate events. Maybe I can do a Meta-post about how well a recent marketing strategy did for us or how we went about engaging audiences on other social media platforms.
You have to get creative and find ways to establish yourself as a valid authority while at the same time paving the way for indirect self-promotional content. The real marketing is done on a one-on-one basis with other members you connect with, while group activity is there is build your trustworthiness.
Image courtesy of MDGovpics, Flickr.