Have aspirations to be a thought leader in your industry? The more credibility you’ve got, the more awareness you’ll build for your service or products! One excellent way to establish credibility organically is to launch a LinkedIn Group. This powerful B2B networking tool on the “social network for professionals” has spawned over 1.5 million groups running the gamut from a few members to thousands. Starting your own gives you an opportunity to shape the conversation and membership, network amongst like-minded professionals, ask customers to share feedback and experiences, even collaboration and intelligence-sharing among suppliers and competitors.

Duke Long, a commercial real estate agent in Indianapolis, has been engaging colleagues nationwide with a LinkedIn group focused on social networking. He offers step-by-step tips for creating and managing a topical discussion group on LinkedIn:

Choose the audience that’s right for you

To start, choose an audience that is sufficiently broad (say, greater than 200). Select a topic that’ll draw in that audience and promote active conversation. In 2009, Long started a group called Social Media Commercial Real Estate when few in his field understood the power of social networking in the real estate world. The group grew to 2,400 members and spawned other related groups, which Duke also manages. Social Media Commercial Real Estate is small by LinkedIn standards. But as a group manager, you’ll discover that’s a good thing.

 LinkedIn walks you through the steps

The LinkedIn Help Center will take you through the steps to create your group, including picking a name, setting up rules for members and roles for managers. As the final step, you must choose whether you want to create an open group or a members-only group. An open group is just that, open to all. Open group discussions will show up in search engine results and non-members will be able to read them, but must join in order to post messages. A members-only group can be helpful for when you want a very specific audience, say, subscribers to your consulting business or professionals who have achieved a specific certification.

Build engagement

You can invite people to your group in several ways (via the LinkedIn network and via email) as well as pre-approving members. Advertise your LinkedIn group on your blog, website, email newsletter and other social media networks like Twitter and Facebook. Invite industry experts to engage in the conversation. Become a media outlet by publicizing what matters most to your professional community.

Be a conversation starter

In the beginning, you’ll initiate most of the conversations (and if you choose to moderate all discussions you’ll have to monitor the goings-on). Ask questions and be clear about the rules. In time, regular members will understand the parameters of the community and become active contributors. Post one to four times a day to keep the group fresh. It might be an article, something trending on Mashable or a link to your blog. To ease the workload, invite a trusted member to join you as a co-administrator.

Monitoring: Check in and check up

As a group manager, make a habit of checking in a few times a day. That may take only five or ten minutes. You’ll want to connect with comments and interact with members. Behind the scenes, you’ll review pending submissions and replies before publishing.  Monitor for spammers advertising jobs and services. Block anyone from the group who repeatedly demonstrates they’re not there to be part of your focused business conversation. Keep the forum clean and your group will stay cool. Monitoring will slow your growth, but you’ll have quality content and membership, which are the keys to creating a long-lived and successful networking group.

Soft-market yourself

Remember, outright self-promotion is the quickest way to turn off members. Listen, learn, collaborate and meet some fascinating people wherever you travel. The best way to soft-market yourself through a LinkedIn group is by creating original content that engages your specific audience. Use the forum to become influential in your field. Don’t make a show of being an administrator. Have an opinion. Stick out, be different, have an attitude.

For more LinkedIn tips grab our 5 Ways to Take Advantage of LinkedIn guide.

Have you used LinkedIn Groups as as part of your marketing tactics? Share your successes and challenges in the comments.

This post was contributed by guest author Ellen Braunstein. Braunstein is a freelance writer and media communications specialist based in Chicago.

© 2013 – 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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