A wise man once said, "the modern professional is only as skilled as demonstrated by his or her LinkedIn presence."
Okay, maybe that man wasn't so wise, and maybe that man was me. But the point still stands. LinkedIn is a valuable tool for all kinds of business interactions, and it's become a major part of how marketers define their web presence.
B2B marketers looking to thrive in online marketing have to walk the line embracing new lead generation opportunities without spreading themselves too thin using the ever-growing list of social media, business websites, and apps. Of course, nobody wants to miss promotional opportunities but our approach is to be strategic about everything—even the seemingly small tactics, such as LinkedIn's Groups.
Among all social media has to offer, LinkedIn has proven itself to be the professional's social network and it seems just about everyone and their mother has a profile. So, take a deeper dive into the most effective parts of what LinkedIn offers—the LinkedIn Groups feature. Is it an interesting forum for you to promote your industry-relevant content or is it a spammy swamp where your links and reputation go to die?
The truth is it depends on the group and what your goals are.
You've probably tried a couple of groups yourselves, dipped a toe in the water, participated in a few discussions, maybe even shared a link or two. But on the whole, a lot of marketers have serious trouble making groups work for their goals.
Often, the problem is obvious—though hard to face. Most marketers use LinkedIn groups enthusiastically, but selfishly.Groups are not for selling or marketing, they're for networking and building your reputation. So, why is it is hard for us to use groups selflessly? Well, let's explore that a bit.
LinkedIn Groups Basics
In the past, LinkedIn was seen primarily as a tool for recruiters and job-seekers. But, of course, it didn't stop there. LinkedIn has become more than just a résumé hosting service. It's added a variety of features that make it more of a social network than a headhunter's database. Between the ability to "connect with" and "endorse" coworkers, publish and share long-form content, and participate in industry discussion, LinkedIn has made business networking actually pretty fun.
But Groups are where LinkedIn gets serious. They open up opportunities for serious, engaged conversation and discussion of timely, pertinent topics. Groups are usually industry-specific but can cover all matter of topics including management, diversity in the workplace, and even ways of commuting. So, as you probably know, LinkedIn groups have been heralded by many as the modern marketer's single greatest lead generation tool—after all, they do give you instant access to a group of self-identifying targets. But, this is only really true if you are actually contributing to a group—and I don't mean spamming everybody with links to your website.
The Wrong Way to Contribute
Before anyone even joins a group, they should be well-aware of the community they're joining. Why was the group created? Who are the active members? What value do the members get out of this group?
Too many marketers enter groups with the sole goal of promoting their company. To achieve this goal, they fill the forum with as many links back to their website as possible. They'll share every blog post, every company update, every new piece of downloadable content, etc. They may say they are trying to help the members of the group, but it's clear to everyone that they're more interested in being heard than listening.
The other users of the group will likely become annoyed with the updates and notifications about offers they have never shown interest in.
This sort of behavior wastes the time of peers and lowers the quality of the group for everyone involved. Eventually, the marketer will be blocked by the group managers but the damage to the group (and to the marketer's reputation) will already be done.
Marketers who see groups only as an audience for their promotional efforts are idiots. They waste everyone's time and frustrate the people they should be helping. Worst of all, they are missing out on all the positive opportunities that groups provide for their reputation and their marketing efforts.
The Right Outlook
Your presence in LinkedIn Groups doesn't have to revolve around closing the next big sale. Not everything you say or do has to directly further your career simply because it's LinkedIn. This is a social network, so remember – be social! Make connections, relationships, and even friends.
Your participation in these groups could either waste the time of others or it could actually build community amongst those in your industry and those you hope to work with in the future – that's what groups is all about, right?
Before joining a group full of your prospects, you should first join a group unrelated to your industry that has discussions you are genuinely interested in. By contributing to these groups, we can all learn how to be supportive and engaging before entering groups filled with the very people we need to grow our businesses. If you enter a group with the right mindset, this will all be very easy.
Remember the modern marketer's slogan: Always Be Helping. If you can actually help your prospects in groups, they're much more likely to consider working with your company.
Before you share any content of your own, spend awhile getting to know the group. Give your two cents in a discussion; maybe even start one of your own. If you can build a reputation as a helpful, knowledgable professional, any mild promotional efforts you attempt may earn a second thought from the other members in group.
There's nothing worse for a B2B marketer than to be seen as a spammer. Nobody wants to work with a company that spams and your promotional efforts will end up hurting your company rather than building it.
For LinkedIn Groups, as with anything else, you'll get out what you put in. With over 95% of active LinkedIn users in at least one group, according to a 2014 survey, groups are here to stay and will continue to grow as a medium for lead generation. If you can give 15 minutes a week to maintaining a small presence in your industry groups, you'll undoubtedly grow your network and prepare yourself for future lead generation. Just be sure to listen and engage rather than promote and annoy.