Your LinkedIn marketing experience, and utilizing it as a personal selling tool, is only as good as the quality of relationships you develop over time.
LinkedIn Groups, for those of you who are unfamiliar or just getting started with LinkedIn marketing, are the forums within your LinkedIn personal marketing experience where you can truly create real relationships. There are literally over 1.5 million groups on LinkedIn a member can join on a global level. The maximum number any one user can join today is 50 groups. In this column, I will review how you join Groups, how you qualify Groups, best practices for engaging in Groups, and the process for creating and managing your own LinkedIn Group. In this, my goal is to show you exactly how to take all this Groups effort and drive sales.
Your LinkedIn marketing experience, and utilizing it as a personal selling tool, is only as good as the quality of relationships you develop over time. To do so requires a specific plan with goals and metrics that can be measured and acted upon consistently. When we are focused on group activity as one of those instruments, we need to first define which groups align best with our target audience, peer activity and influencers, and core interests. In other words, we need to join groups based on how well they support our personal brand. As a LinkedIn author and trainer, I always start with reviewing the importance of personal brand development to the LinkedIn selling experience. Once you join LinkedIn Groups for the first time or do an initial "Groups Refresh," as I call it, you will need to carefully measure the results coming from these groups to assess whether to continue within these chosen groups or to leave and find new qualified ones.
As a rule of thumb, the groups you should have as your mainstay in your list are those that support your present and future marketing activities. First, if you are actively involved in member associations for business where you develop relationships and earn education credits, these groups, more than likely, are peer-influencer groups on LinkedIn that can help you to earn things like warm introductions to qualified prospects. Another bonus of your involvement in such a group is that, since you already participate in those associations offline or at least off of LinkedIn, you will have an easy way to participate in the discussions within those groups on LinkedIn. As an example, as a regular contributor to the Association of Strategic Marketing and Lorman Education, which houses the courses that I deliver, I am an active contributor in both LinkedIn groups.
Other groups you should consider joining are those that represent peer influence within your industry. In my world, I am in the Marketing Executives Group. This is a peer-to-peer support group for marketing executives with a minimum of 10 years' active corporate marketing experience. The group supports collaboration between peers to find and work on joint client projects. Target client groups and their respective industries are another obvious consideration. Depending on your target focus, you may be able to join these groups to lead discussions, post jobs, or engage with members with whom you have relationships.
Finally, you should consider LinkedIn as a place where you can communicate with likeminded professionals who may also share your personal interests, whether that be golf, table tennis, or, like me, ice hockey. I spend at least 30 minutes daily participating and leading discussions and connecting directly with members of several hockey groups on LinkedIn. With a joint hobby (I have been a hockey player for 13 years) and a passion for the subject, the discussions flow freely and participation is a great way to develop real relationships and learn about the business of each member (and how you may assist).
Please note that you can and should mix up your groups based on the results you are receiving. Reviewing your group activity, member activity, quality of members, and discussions on a weekly basis, and taking action are the keys to making groups work well. Groups that support your personal brand and marketing efforts need to also qualify for your membership request. This means looking at the group's volume of members, history, frequency of discussions, quality of conversations, and type of members involved. You should not be afraid to make changes (additions and removals) to your groups list as you move along in your LinkedIn marketing experience. In that, groups can also be utilized to expand your business. For instance, by joining qualified groups in cities, states, and countries where you are planning in the near term to do business, you can start to engage and develop relationships there before you even execute new operations.
Participation and leading discussions in groups gives way to driving visibility on LinkedIn to those who matter around your personal brand. By continually providing valuable comments to discussions and leading appropriate discussions, you can earn the spot of "Top Influencer This Week." This gives you top-of-mind visibility to group members and, further, if your content is valuable, can earn you a direct InMail and possible business. The best way to become an integral part of Groups is to remain authentic in your contributions and find ways to add value. To do this, when you join a group, read the rules and group profile. This information will give you insights on what to expect and what behaviors are allowed and disallowed. In Groups you can follow members, message direct to members, and comment on other members' discussion posts and job posts. All of this activity should support your knowledge, experience, and interest. In my LinkedIn book, "Branding & Sales: The LinkedIn Way," I cover a whole chapter on sales etiquette in Groups. To write that, I reached out to the top LinkedIn group influencers and overall - authenticity and consistency were the keys to messaging success.
You can also create a group of your own on LinkedIn. There are several reasons why you might consider doing so:
If you do dare to start your own group, you will need to take the time to commit to the group and nurture it. As an example, I started a support group for NYC business owners with the mission of making their lives easier in terms of developing business relationships off of LinkedIn. For this group, I host monthly breakfast networking events in my office space. It's not easy. It takes me considerable time and effort and I make it a priority among the millions of other things I need to take care of each month. But it pays off. Last month, as seen in the picture below, we had over 20 quality business professionals attend and they have all now started to develop real business relationships with one another.
To summarize, using LinkedIn Groups to make sales relationships requires thought, consistency, and authenticity. Once you commit to LinkedIn as a B2B marketing and personal branding tool, you have committed to contributing in a positive way to Groups. Whether you are local, planning on global expansion, or truly passionate about a topic, you will find that LinkedIn Groups can be one of the most useful instruments on LinkedIn. Let me know how you use LinkedIn Groups here on ClickZ.
Jasmine Sandler is a veteran in online marketing and CEO and founder of Agent-cy Online Marketing, an online branding agency. She has more than 15 years' experience in helping companies use the Web to develop and grow business. Sandler has provided interactive solutions for such clients as Citibank, ISO, Diamonds International, Doublerock Corporation, Loews Hotels, and CityLights Cruises.
Sandler has expertise in the areas of using LinkedIn to grow business, B2B social media marketing strategy, search marketing strategies for sustainable online visibility, website effectiveness for user engagement, and digital strategies for small businesses. She is a published author of Branding & Sales: The LinkedIn Way.
She is a frequent speaker for The Association of Strategic Marketing, The Association of Ghostwriters, ClickZ Live, Small Business Technology, and New York Business Expo and is a contributing writer for ClickZ.com, The New York Enterprise Report, and LinkedIn Original Content.
Sandler holds a dual MBA in Marketing and Technology from the University of Miami and is a very active supporter of LinkedIn and runs several business owner groups on the site. She was previously director of managed data networking sales at IBM Global Services for seven years.
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