Building on previous recommendations for LinkedIn and group managers, in this piece I offer my thoughts on why people should make LinkedIn groups an active part of their LinkedIn experience - and by extension, their ongoing professional development and networking efforts. I also offer some tips for getting started and managing group memberships. I'll follow up in my next article with recommendations for how to be a good group member.
Recently I wrote Can LinkedIn Groups be Saved? 7+ Things LinkedIn can Do. This piece stated what has become obvious to many: today's LinkedIn groups don't offer as much unique value as they could - or should. In the hopes they could be saved, I offered a variety of suggestions for improvement, recommending things LinkedIn could change to enhance their usefulness and value.
Recognizing how critical group managers are to increasing the value of LinkedIn groups, I followed up with Improving LinkedIn Groups: Guidance for Group Managers. From making the decision to start a LinkedIn group to deciding to call it quits, this guidance offered a selective set of considerations and recommendations focused on particular elements that tend to be the most important and/or trickiest aspects of effective LinkedIn group management.
My original intent was to create a third piece in the series that focuses on how members can do their part to maximize the value of groups for both themselves and others. But as I was working on it I realized I should have addressed a fundamental question first: Should LinkedIn groups even be saved? Does the feature have the potential to provide enough value to LinkedIn group members to make preserving, enhancing and managing them worthwhile?
I personally think so, but it doesn't really matter what I think. It matters what the roughly 200 million monthly active users - not to mention the other 100+ million who aren't active - think. And assuming you're one of LinkedIn's 300+ million users, it matters what YOU think.
LinkedIn is a metrics-driven company. They make decisions about features based on what usage data tells them. Features that were beloved by core groups of members (e.g., questions and answers, polls, events) have been excised because LinkedIn didn't feel they were utilized enough to be maintained. This is a Catch 22 of a sort. If LinkedIn doesn't promote a feature and its value, and make sure that it's well maintained, of course it will be underutilized. More than once, it seems, they've decided to cut their losses and kill features rather than increase their investment.
Given that LinkedIn recently rolled out a number of changes to the groups feature, it appears they're not ready to give up on them just yet and are trying to streamline and improve them (see the original article for my thoughts on the changes). But given how few members belong to and are actively engaged in groups, tweaking the groups functionality will not be enough to save them. Ultimately, only we can do that, through our actions.
In this piece I offer my thoughts on why people should make LinkedIn groups an active part of their LinkedIn experience - and by extension, their ongoing professional development and networking efforts. I also offer some tips for getting started and managing group memberships. I'll follow up in my next article with recommendations for how to be a good group member.
Five Reasons to Join LinkedIn Groups
LinkedIn allows every member to belong to up to 50 groups. I have no idea what the average number of groups per member is, but I would venture to say that the majority belong to fewer than 10 groups. For many, the number is zero. Given the nature of the LinkedIn network, low participation in groups constitutes a fairly significant loss. Joining and engaging in LinkedIn groups can produce a number of potential benefits because they enable members to:
Learn. There is lots of great content shared via LinkedIn groups in the form of news items, blog posts, SlideShare presentations, videos, etc. - much of which people are unlikely to discover via more traditional news channels and feeds, or even on other social media platforms. LinkedIn groups also enable people to observe and participate in discussions that are both informative and enlightening. I personally have a degree's worth of knowledge derived from LinkedIn groups, and I continue to learn from them every day.
Share. Sharing via LinkedIn groups is a great way to promote both professional and organizational brands. For individuals and organizations that create content, groups provide great distribution outlets for blog posts, white papers, presentations, and videos. Individuals who aren't regular content creators can demonstrate that they have their finger on the digital pulse of their profession, industry, trends, etc., by sharing content they've curated from the web. And of course people can share their awareness, insights, and thought leadership by both starting and contributing to group discussions.
Tap the "wisdom of crowds." I have collected resources, ideas, insights and expertise a number of times through LinkedIn groups. A few years ago, for example, I put out a request to several groups asking for recommendations for platforms and vendors for creating a social intranet for a client. I got a wealth of feedback that saved me from having to conduct internet searches that would have been both more inefficient and less effective. I've also used LinkedIn groups to solicit participation in polls, surveys, and other research projects.
Make new connections. One of the most powerful (and too-often underestimated) benefits of group membership is that they increase the size of your LinkedIn network instantly. When you are connected with someone via a LinkedIn group, you generally have the ability to message them directly, even if you're not first-degree connections. You can also leverage shared group memberships as a means to becoming first-degree connections. I often get invitations to connect from people who've learned about me/my work through the groups in which I engage. I've also become "cyber buddies" with other group members and have had several of those relationships move from cyberspace to the physical world.
Pursue opportunities. Though blatant selling via groups is taboo (more on that later), they can be very powerful business development and career management tools for many of the reasons articulated above. Several of the responses to my query about intranet platforms, for example, came from vendors, both as comments on the group posts and via private messages. In addition to responding to queries, folks can use the member search function to identify fellow group members who are affiliated with particular organizations they're interested in. And of course people who are actively on the job market can look for positions posted under the Jobs tab (if that feature is enabled).
Three Tips for Joining LinkedIn Groups
The primary LinkedIn group choices include those related to: schools and organizations (i.e., alumni groups), professional associations, industry associations, geographic locations, and specific topics and trends (e.g., social media).
How do you decide which groups to join? Like many things, the decisions should be driven by your goals and objectives. If your LinkedIn identity and engagement are connected to your job (e.g., you have an externally facing role like business development, sales, recruiting), you will need to join groups that meet your job-related goals and objectives as well as your own career management concerns. If you don't represent an organization via your LinkedIn profile/activity, then you only need to consider your own professional brand and career.
With your goals in mind, here are three tips to help you manage your group memberships:
Mix it up. Aim for balanced variety in your groups across the main categories listed above. And be careful about just joining groups that are directly relevant to your profession/interests. If you're a marketing professional, for example, there's certainly value in belonging to marketing-focused groups. But you can also get a lot of benefit from different industry groups and even loosely related area (e.g., a BtoB marketing group when your focus is on BtoC marketing).
Split it up. If you are part of an organization/department that collectively wants to use LinkedIn groups to achieve its goals and objectives (e.g., for sales, business development, association membership), it may not be in your best interests for you to all belong to the same groups. Make sure you coordinate your memberships so that they make sense not just for each of you individually but also for the group as a whole.
Change it up. Never view your LinkedIn group memberships as permanent. Periodically - maybe once a quarter - review your current memberships and decide which ones are worth keeping and which should be shed. And always keep an eye out for new groups to join.
In my next SMART article I'll offer tips for how LinkedIn members can do their part to maximize the value of groups for both themselves and others. In the meantime, I welcome your feedback. What questions has this piece raised for you? What would you add to, change, or delete from the insights provided?
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