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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The following excerpt is from Ted Prodromou’s book Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn for Business. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | IndieBound
LinkedIn Groups are forums or discussion boards where LinkedIn members can talk to each other to find solutions to their problems or share relevant information about a product, service, or topic related to their industry or niche.
Groups can be open, allowing anyone to join (which is now called Standard), or can be Unlisted, meaning you have to be approved by the group manager before you can participate. Keeping a Group unlisted can keep the discussions focused and cut down on the unwelcome comments that plague many open social networking sites. This means your group discussions will generally be of higher quality and will be more relevant to members, since a group manager must approve all members.
When used properly, LinkedIn Groups can be a powerful tool to help grow your business or professional network. Groups can give you the connections you need to reach new industries or markets.
There are approximately 2 million Groups on LinkedIn currently, and you may join up to 100 of them at any one time. The problems with joining too many Groups is that you just won’t have time to participate in all of them and you may receive daily or weekly email updates from each one. You can always turn off email notifications, but then you’d have to visit each Group manually to see new discussions.
It comes down to quantity and quality. You can expand your network reach by joining many relevant Groups and by participating in the ones with active conversations. People can see if you are actively participating in a Group, which helps build your reputation and searchability in LinkedIn.
Finding, evaluating and joining groups
You can search for Groups using the search box in the top toolbar by Groups under the More filter. You can also look under Advanced Search and select Groups to find Groups related to your niche.
To find Groups, you can “enter through the back door,” as I call it. From the LinkedIn main menu, select Work and then click on the Groups icon. If you aren’t a member of any Group, LinkedIn will prompt you to Discover some Groups. If you already belong to some, you’ll see your most active Groups.
To effectively use Groups, don’t just join the first one that looks interesting. When it comes to professional Groups on LinkedIn, there will usually be several options to choose from, and you need to research the available Groups to find the top three to five in a particular area. If you want to see a directory of every Group on LinkedIn, visit https://www.linkedin.com/groups/. Remember, there are approximately 2 million Groups on LinkedIn, so this directory may seem overwhelming, but it’s an easy way to get started.
First, make sure the Group is active. See how many members it has, and check out some of their profiles to see if you know any of them or would want to add them to your network. I believe it’s better to join a small Group with the right members than a very large one with people you wouldn’t want to connect to.
LinkedIn used to let you preview a Group’s discussions before asking to join, which was very useful. Today, you can only see the number of members, a brief description and statement of purpose, the admins, and any of your connections who are in the Group. You have to join the Group to evaluate the content and level of interaction then leave the Group if it’s not what you are looking for.
Joining a group
When you find a Group you want to join, simply click on the Ask to Join button on the listing. A message will appear, acknowledging your request. In some cases, you may not be accepted to the Group if you don’t meet their membership criteria. For example, let’s say you’re a marketer and request access to a group of chiropractors. Your goal as a marketer is to meet chiropractors to help them market their business, but the purpose of the Group is for chiropractors to network with each other. Your application to join the Group will probably be rejected.
The best way to use groups
Visiting and following up on your Groups regularly is the only way to effectively use LinkedIn to build your professional network. You need to make frequent and regular appearances within your Group to maximize your exposure. One of the best ways to make sure you’re seen is to target the most popular discussions and then be a regular and beneficial contributor to those discussions.
Once you feel comfortable with how a Group works, the next step is to start your own discussion. Choose a topic you’re knowledgeable about so you can keep the conversation going. When you start a new discussion, be as engaging as possible. You can look at a few of the extended conversations in your Group and see how they started. You can ask for advice about a specific scenario or post information that would be useful to the target market you are looking to attract. Once you get the conversation started and others are joining in, be sure to reply in a timely fashion. This is when you can change your settings to the daily digest so you know when the conversations are active. Also check in on your discussion a few times a day so you can jump into the conversation when someone comments.
Visit your Groups regularly and participate whenever you can add value to a discussion and keep the conversation going. You can follow people in your Group if you find them interesting; after a while, you can invite them to join your network if you decide they are a good fit. If you are interested in a particular discussion, you can like it. Your profile picture and a link to your profile will appear below the discussion, showing people you are interested in the topic.