Last Updated Sep 9, 2011 6:47 AM EDT
Say you've worked hard to create a great LinkedIn profile. You've optimized your LinkedIn profile to make it easier for the right people to find you. And you've even started to leverage LinkedIn Today to drive traffic to your website. What's next?
LinkedIn Groups. Groups are like informal communities based on industries, professions, themes, niche topics... since any LinkedIn member can create one, there are nearly a million groups. Find the right groups and you can keep up with news and trends, make connections, ask and answer questions...
So let's find the right groups for you. (I'll start basic, so feel free to skip ahead.)
1. Determine your goal. It's unlikely any one group will meet all your needs. Decide whether you're looking to connect with potential clients, establish your credentials and authority, learn more about your field -- whatever you hope to achieve. Start with one goal; you can always branch out later.
2. Use the search tool. Go to the Groups Directory page (or click the Groups link at the top after you sign in) and enter a search term based on your goal. But keep in mind broad terms will generate broad results; if I use "writing" I get over 1,700 results; "writer" yields 358 results. Think about what you're looking for and be as specific as possible.
3. Borrow leads. 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 -- why not follow their lead?
4. Check out the possibilities. Search results list groups in descending order based on the number of members. Under each group is a brief description. Sometimes the description is helpful, other times the group has veered away from its original purpose. The only way to know is to...
5. Join a few groups. The only way to know if a group is worthwhile is to check it out, so pick a few that 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 see discussions or participate. Members-only groups tend to be more focused and less spammy, but there are lots of open groups that are just as on-topic and spam-free.
6. Evaluate the potential. Check out the quality of the discussions or updates. Are article or resource references relevant and valuable? Are discussions of interest? Are there sufficient 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.
7. Then wait. Don't be the guy who barges into a discussion at a party. Sit back, watch, listen, and get a feel for how the group operates. Then gradually start to participate, and start by responding to questions or topics raised by others. 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.
8. Stay reasonably active. You don't have to participate every day, but you should be somewhat regular. (Otherwise why join 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 if you're never around.
9. Consider starting a group. Anyone can found a group. If you do, and your group becomes popular, you can drive traffic to your website and send free weekly messages to group members -- all of whom opted in. 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 hundreds of thousands that already exist. Otherwise you may just belong to a group of one.
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