Monday Mornings with Madison

LEVERAGING LINKEDIN – PART 6

Joining and Participating in LinkedIn Groups

You’ve joined LinkedIn, created an impressive Profile and linked to all of your colleagues, coworkers past and present, schoolmates and associates.  Is that enough?  No.  While that was a lot of work, that work was all in preparation for the real point of social media… expanding your network even further and dialoguing with others in your industry and areas of expertise or interests.  That’s the ‘social’ part of social networking.  On LinkedIn, that happens through involvement in Groups.  Groups are like virtual social clubs for like-minded people.  Through Groups, you can discover, share, participate, learn and potentially influence a number of professional conversations happening in your industries and areas of interest. 

As of April 1, 2011, there were over 870,000 Groups on LinkedIn.  Some groups are small, with just a few members while others are huge with thousands.  The largest group is an e-Marketing Group with over 200,000 members.  You may wonder, what are the benefits of joining one or more Groups?  How many Groups should you join?  Which is better:  an Open Group or a Members-Only Group?  How active should you be in Group discussions?  Should you start a Group of your own?  Let’s tackle some of these questions.

Why join Groups?

According to LinkedIn, here is what membership and participation in Groups will allow you to do:

  • Quickly discover the most popular discussions in your professional groups.
  • Have an active part in determining the top discussions by liking and commenting.
  • Follow the most influential people in your groups by checking the Top Influencers board or clicking their profile image to see all their group activity.
  • See both member-generated discussions and news in one setting.
  • Easily browse previews of the last three comments in a discussion.
  • Find interesting discussions by seeing who liked a discussion and how many people commented.

What’s the difference between Open Groups and Members-Only Groups? 

Before deciding which and how many Groups you should join, you should first understand the two basic Group types.  As the names imply, Open Groups are open to the LI public while Members-Only Groups are only open to members. 

In open Groups, anyone can participate in a discussion and the discussion is visible to anyone on LI.  Open Groups are also indexed by Search Engines, which means discussions and postings can be found and viewed by anyone, anywhere doing a search using keywords prominent in that Group.  In Open Groups, you can share a discussion to Twitter and Facebook.  Lastly, in Open Groups, the manager has the option to allow anyone on LI to contribute.

Members-only Groups are available only to the members of that Group.  The only way to join a members-only Group is to either request to be added – which has to be approved by the manager – or to be invited to join.  Members-Only Group discussions are not indexed by search engines.  That means discussions are available only to members and thus are more private.  Likewise, Members-Only Group discussions cannot be shared to Twitter or Facebook.  Only members of a Members-Only Group can view and participate in that Group’s discussions (although keep in mind that nothing online is ever truly private).

Initially, all Groups were open to the public.  However, LI changed that last year and all existing Groups were changed to Members-Only unless the group owner chose to enable public discussions.  In those instances, Group members were informed of this when they visited the Group.  Discussions created in a group before it switched to open went into the Group’s Members-Only, read-only Archive. They cannot be seen by anyone who is not a member of the group.

How do Group discussions work on a practical level?

The functionality of Group activities has evolved on LinkedIn.  Last year, LinkedIn made a series of changes to how Group discussions operate.  If you haven’t participated in a discussion recently, here are some of the changes:

  • Threaded conversations within groups are now more similar to face-to-face professional interactions in that LI removed the wall between original remarks and off-site content such as news articles.  Group members can share links within a Group the same way one might on the homepage.  
  • The member’s profile picture is now attached to any comment made in a Group, personalizing the experience.
  • Group members can also roll over the images of the last three participants on any discussion thread to see comment previews and click profile pictures to jump to that person’s part of the conversation.
  • If a person is new to the discussion thread, it is easy to view an entire discussion by clicking the discussion headline or the “See all comments” link, which goes to the beginning of the discussion.
  • A significant change in the Group experience is the ability to curate new content and vote on shared content by liking and commenting on discussions with a “like” button. Content that is “liked” will be highlighted.  In Open Groups, the more a discussion is “liked”, the higher it will rank with search engines.
  • Group members can also see who has liked a conversation to get a sense of the topics to which group members are gravitating.
  • Group members now get email alerts when select members of a group participate by simply following a member within the group.
  • LinkedIn is also highlighting active group participants as “top influencers,” a designation given to Group members whose contributions stimulate the most participation from other Group members.

How many Groups should you join?

That is a personal (professional) decision.  It depends on your areas of interest, position and industries.  If you are in sales, it probably makes sense to join multiple groups (Open as well as Members-Only) and be very active.  If you are in leadership, you may gravitate more toward Members-Only Groups that offer select insightful conversations on important topics in your field.  If you are someone who is either not very social or short on time, you may choose to be a member of only a few select Groups in topics of key interest.  That said, it probably makes sense to be a member of anywhere from as few as a handful up to no more a couple dozen Groups at most.  It would be difficult to be regularly active in more than 15-20 Groups on a regular basis.  That is the equivalent of visiting the Discussion Boards of 2-4 different groups each day of the week and then starting the cycle again.  If you want to be really active in a Group’s discussions daily, then 4-6 Groups is optimal.  For the average professional, even that is big commitment.

Be Active in your Groups.

The key goal of Groups is to join and participate often.  Add your comments.  “Like” other’s points.  Once you start to regularly read Group discussions, you’re likely to be drawn into voicing your own thoughts.  Eventually, you may even want to post your own question and draw Group members and your own contacts into the discussion.  When you have a question of your own, post it and get others’ thoughts.  The question may arise from a real question with which you need help or it may arise from a professional issue for which you want to know others’ opinions.  In time, active participation in certain Groups will result in being deemed a ‘top influencer’ in those Groups.

Should I start my own Group?

The final question is whether it makes sense to start one’s own Group on LI.  That depends.  Is there an audience segment or topic that is not being addressed in the over 850,000 existing Groups on LI.  If so, you may want to fill that void.  Keep in mind that leading a Group is a big commitment, if the Group is to thrive and benefit the Group members.  Like Blogs, everyone is enamored with the idea of starting a group but few are able to keep up with the commitment.  For your own sake as well as the professionals you may disappoint, don’t start a Group unless you are prepared long-term to nurture it, post questions, moderate discussions and keep it active.

Quote of the Week

“Networking is an essential part of building wealth.” Armstrong Williams

© 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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