I've created many groups on LinkedIn, one of which has almost 15,000 members with around 100 new people joining it every week. LinkedIn Groups are one of my top three sources of new clients and speaking engagements and here are a few of the ways that I maintain engagement with it.
Make your plan
To get straight to the point - the way I look at is to imagine that you have to address a room full of people every morning - they could be classmates, employees, colleagues, your bosses, seminar attendees, prospects, customers - any group of people that you might want to engage with. Ask yourself what you would do or say to them to get their attention every day. And I mean every day.
Tips, ideas, resources, feedback, comment, observation, news, links, a little gossip, motivation, controversy, critique - and then more of the same.
Make your group indispensable to them; make it somewhere they will want to visit every day because it adds value to their work or lives. Pick a target/niche group and feed them these tasty morsels on a daily basis. After a while, they will start to bring their own tips, ideas, resources etc. which they will share within the group.
Wherever possible, make it an Open group on LinkedIn – that way people can see the content – and most importantly whenever there is some activity in the group it goes onto the main LinkedIn home page stream – thus making it even more visible. The more activity in the group, the more visible it becomes. You’ll often find that people who are not members will ‘Like’, comment or share a post – so attracting new members.
There's also a great tool which allows you to email everyone in the group. But use that tool sparingly; we use it once every month/two months as a vehicle to ask people to comment on a particular thread/topic. The results can be outstanding - often resulting in many hundreds of comments on a given thread.
From time to time, we arrange offline meetings for group members - networking meetings, seminars etc. This really brings the group to life and people can connect face-to-face. Another way to engage with members is to set up a webcast on another platform on a topic of relevance and then promote it to the group. If the webcast is subsequently available on demand, you will often receive comments and emails long after it was broadcast. Put a link to it in the Manager’s Choice area of your group.
Another valuable feature often missed by group owners is the auto responder tool. LinkedIn give you the opportunity to send template emails to people when they request to join, when you accept them to the group or when you decline their membership (membership can be automatic, but you do have the option to moderate each membership request). Your auto responder email is a great opportunity to do human things like thank them for their interest and to politely direct them to the group rules. And yes, you could include a subtle promotional message in the email too.
I also run a group for financial advisers, and in one of the auto responder emails is an invitation to visit our main website, and I regularly see people joining our main website just seconds after they have joined the LinkedIn group.
On a side note - expect to get spammers who turn up only to promote their own wares. In all our groups we carefully set the moderation settings so that the topic of the group stays on track. Use the Rules section of groups to tell people how the group will be run. Stick to your rules and don't be afraid to tell people why you have rules when they get in touch with you to question a deletion that you might have made.
You will also find that some people post material, but it is in the form of nothing more than a link to their own blog or website. Whilst on the surface they are adding value to the group, in fact they are often simply trying to get people to go to their website/blog rather than your group. It’s up to you to decide if you want to include or exclude links to external blogs – but if you want people to engage in your group, then you need to be sparing about how many external links you allow to be posted.
Focus and effort
If you want a thriving group where everyone benefits (including you), be clear about the focus of the group and stick to it. Constantly keep a mind-set of 'adding value'. 'Feed the fish in your pond' on a regular basis and you will be rewarded.
Be under no illusion that once set up, your group will run itself. It won’t unless you are happy for the content to be dictated by spammers. It can often take a lot of hard work to keep adding great content, moderating and keeping it relevant to your membership – but treat your group as an asset of your business and you will find that it brings you, and your members immense value over time.
And because it’s an asset of your business, you should treat it and promote it as such. Tell people about your group and how they will benefit by joining it. Promote it on your website, on your business cards, in presentations that you give, on other social networking profiles that you have and whenever you interact with clients, business introducers and other interested parties.
And don’t forget to regularly check the statistics section of your group, where you can see a wealth of data relating to activity and users. Also check out your own website stats to see how many people are coming through to it from your LinkedIn group. Very often you will be pleasantly surprised.
Community is everything
The core point of your group is to build Community around you, your service and your brand. The more value you add to your Community, the more responsive they become to any sales messages that you want to put out. Whatever anyone tells you, you can promote and sell products and services direct to your group membership – providing you already have a great reputation for regularly and consistently adding value to your group.
One idea that works well, is to create a Tips Booklet or eBook that is exclusive to the members of your group, and where the subject of your eBook will obviously be relevant to the topic of the group. Post a thread in your group about it (with a link to a page on your own website where they can purchase it), and add the thread to the Manager's Choice section where it is permanently visible to members. Over time you will see a steady trickle of sales and income.
The more value you add to your group, the more valuable it will be to you. Use your group as a listening post – listen carefully to what people talk about in your group, take note of their concerns, observe their comments on the various topics and look out for bright ideas that they might come up with that you could take forward for yours and their benefit.
Occasionally throw pebbles into your pond. Create ripples by occasionally (and I mean occasionally) posting something slightly controversial. This often attracts a lot of comments and engagement – but use this technique sparingly. And once in a while you can throw a brick in the water – something that really gets everyone talking! But again, this is more advanced stuff - use it extremely carefully or you will end up with a group where all you see is ranting and raving where nobody benefits at all.
You will also find that running a successful group creates the perception that you are an authority on a given subject. Indeed, you do need to have a certain amount of expertise on that subject in order to be able to post regular material in the group. But that authority is part of the attraction for people of joining your group, and over time being perceived as an (if not the) expert will pay dividends.
I hope this has been of help. When you have a group where people regularly visit and engage, you will be amazed at how much business can come of it and how many doors unexpectedly open for you.
Here are a few topics which are proven to get engagement during the early phase of running a group. Feel free to use them in your own LinkedIn group:
- Ask people to list out their Twitter ID. People can’t resist that one!
- Ask people to post a link to their Facebook business page. Again, they will happily do that.
- What’s your all-time favourite motivational quotation?
- What are the best books available on [theme of your group]?
- What one barrier is holding you back from achieving your goals in [theme of your group]?
- Summary of the news over the previous week in your industry
- What’s the best thing that has happened to you this week?
By Philip Calvert
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