Since the recent IPO of LinkedIn, many more professionals are learning the power of this business orientated social network. It enables you to connect, be found, control your image, and ask questions of your peers, suppliers and competitors. This should enable you to sell more, buy more at a better price, go to market with willing buyers, and should you ever require it, have a network which will get you employed quickly.
I have written before about what I consider the most powerful aspect of LinkedIn in making connections, that of asking and answering Answers. But while Answers is a great and highly random way of accessing expertise and knowledge, its focused counter-point is that of LinkedIn groups.
So how do you go about effectively using LinkedIn groups in your business networking?
Before Answers, there were Groups…
Before Answers was even thought of by LinkedIn, and copied by Quora, there was LinkedIn groups. This was and still is the place where you ask questions of your peers, suppliers and competitors, in a group defined by at least one criteria: geography, market, or interest. This makes group based questions more useful in many ways, in that you know that members have an interest of some sort in the subject.
Groups hence are a collection point for business people dawatgroup.co.uk with an interest in a subject. Some are based around markets, some around professional societies, some around product offerings. Traditionally you could only join up to 50 groups, but now that LinkedIn has allowed group owners to make their groups open, you can join (almost) as many as you want.
Why join a group?
The basis on which LinkedIn is built and its rules operate, is that you make connection with people known to you: work colleagues past and present, customers, suppliers, and those you know within your local community. Groups provide you with the direct opportunity to target those people that you wish to connect to, be they in any of those possible areas, or any other that you may wish to connect with.
The second premise on which LinkedIn operates is a three-tiered triangle, which defines your network. If someone is not i your network, then you can’t see their details. I have said before that the tipping point for reasonable profile viewings is above 100 connections, but this is greatly improved if you make maximum use of group membership. Groups break across the three tier principle, and allow you to see and hence connect with people outside your nominal three tier network.
Which groups to join
There are various theories on which groups you should join, but the principles I layout here simply come back to the basic logic of business networking: connect to those who can add value to your business, or for whom you can add value to their business; and then add a little bit of fun, interest and education. Hence I split my group membership as follows:
- Professional: 35%
- Customers: 35%
- Interest: 10%
- Education: 10%
The observant will notice that 10% of my allocation is missing: why? Simply some groups are useful to find or connect with some defined people for a short while. I am a recruiter, so if we have a brief in a geography which has a large group of people, I join a specific group to enable that shift in my LinkedIn network. Secondly if I am looking to research or buy something, then joining a specialist group in LinkedIn is the easiest and quickest way to achieve that objective.
The best groups to join?
Once you start looking for groups, you will notice that even with a quite defined set of criteria, that there are a number of similar groups which seem to address the same profession, geography, brief or need. The question then is which one to join?
Going back to the basics of LinkedIn and its three-tier network, the guiding rule is to join the biggest groups. Bigger groups tend to have more activity, and therefore can answer your questions or connect you with more people in your target area quickly. Therefore early in developing activity around your LinkedIn profile, or when looking to gain knowledge, choose the big group over the small group. LinkedIn also seems to itself encourage this choice, by displaying groups in a number of members preference list after a search has been performed.
Whether a group is closed or open, it will have its own summary brief on its front page as to what it is about and its objectives, so before joining make sure that you read these and that they align with what you want from a group in that area.
Each group will have its own owners, moderators or assistants, and hence set of rules. Read these before joining, and note them after joining.
Firstly, introduce yourself: to the group owner/active moderator first, and then either in a general welcome thread or on the specified manner of that group. Good group owners tend to ask you to connect to them, and possibly some specified moderators, so make sure that you complete that task. These people will generally be well connected and active networkers, so should be seen as high value connections. Secondly, don’t immediately start spamming people with your latest blog post, let alone your latest offer – unless of course that’s the stated purpose of that group! Add value first by answering other peoples questions, or add to the scope of questions by adding your own requirements/experiences. Thirdly, the time to start adding links to your own blogs/products or sending connection requests is after you have accepted your first connection invitation from another member, who looks established and adds value to that group. I have written about being cautious when connecting on LinkedIn before, but if you get spammed by a continual stream of people without photographs, perhaps that’s a group that you should leave.