When it comes to social networks for professionals there is no better place than LinkedIn.
The network is closing in on 400 million users worldwide.
That’s a huge number and it represents the changing business world. Location is no longer as much of a barrier as it has been in the past. You can do business with people all over the world.
You can communicate in a number of different ways including video chat, email and more all while working collaboratively in the cloud through various software.
Outside of the basics – joining, filling out your profile, connecting with contacts you know, etc. – there are a few ways to really dive in and take advantage of the LinkedIn community.
Creating A LinkedIn Group
One of the best ways to build your professional reputation is to create, build and manage a LinkedIn group.
LinkedIn facilitates an opportunity for professionals to connect, collaborate and interact around specific industries, interests and more.
A few years ago I attended an industry conference. One of the most interesting and worthwhile parts of the conference was the industry roundtable session. About 50 people from various companies in the industry attended.
The event started with everybody in one group. There was a facilitator that introduced the event and then there was a short presentation on the industry in general from one of the attendees. After that everybody broke into different tables of about 10 people at each table.
There were certain topics of discussion. People could ask questions, provide answers and discuss concerns and opportunities.
It was a diverse group of businesses. There were a few competitors there, but that didn’t seem to hold people back. Everybody in the room was willing to share and that made it all work.
LinkedIn groups seem to work best when they work like the real-life example of business leaders getting together and discussing issues, opportunities and more.
As a founder of such a group you can not only build a resource that will provide you with great connections and insight into your industry, but you can also build your own reputation as an industry leader.
Here are the steps not for just starting a LinkedIn group (those steps are here), but for building and managing it so you’ll see success.
Step 1. Determine The Focus
In general, it’s good to have a narrow, defined focus for your LinkedIn Group. You don’t want to limit yourself, but the tendency seems to be going too broad.
You’ll often be surprised how many people can be part of a niche group.
Let’s say you want to start a sales group. A general sales group would be difficult to manage with all the different types of discussion that could take place.
A more defined sales focus could be focused on using email for outbound sales. The focus is still very large with likely a large number of people that would want to be part of the discussion to get value and make connections, but it’s more defined than a general sales focus.
I like to focus on a topic vs. an industry. You can get too many competitors if you narrow the focus the wrong way. For example, focusing on restaurants might be tricky. It can work, but it would be tricky, but a focus on locally-based businesses might work better especially if you’re focusing on your city or region.
Step 2. Create Rules
Most good communities start with specific rules. A basic example would be Twitter limiting the character count for all updates. It seems like a weird rule to have, but rules that limit what the discussion can be about, what people can share and more can make people feel more comfortable about sharing and connecting while also leading to better interaction.
A question people often think to themselves when considering joining a community like a forum or a LinkedIn group is, “What should I even write about or how does this all work?”
By creating rules for the group you can make it straightforward for everybody. It’s better to start with rules and define the way the group should work than to just leave it open. People that join your group don’t want to hear, “You can post whatever you want!” That doesn’t help them.
Step 3. Ask Connections To Join
The next step is to reach out to the people you know and the connections you have to join the group. You can start with your very close connections first. You could even work on starting the discussion with the first handful of really good connections you have.
You can invite people to join via LinkedIn, but a better strategy is to send individual emails or to call the people you know. Discuss what your goal is for the group and the value people will get from joining.
Tell them that they’ll be able to ask questions about the specific issue they have and that they’ll be able to see what others in the industry and related industries are doing as a way to help everybody in the group to become better in whatever business they’re doing.
You could ask each contact what three things they’re working on or struggling with right now. Maybe they have questions about paid search advertising.
Let them know that if they join you’ll facilitate that discussion and get people that have experience to provide answers.
Step 4. Encourage Sharing And Discussion
With any forum or group it will take a lot of work to keep the discussion going. You’ll need to be the one really pushing for interaction.
People likely won’t build the communication on their own. You’re lucky if you get some of that and it’s certainly okay for it to happen, but the reality is that you’ll need to push people to communicate.
You might need to ask people their concerns and questions via email, in-person or the phone and then discuss putting it in the group. Then you’ll have to reach out to those you think would have a good response.
Once you get some momentum people will begin to fill things out on their own, but you have to really push for it to happen early on and even still in the ongoing timeline.
Step 5. Stick With Your Efforts
There are a number of online communities whether it’s a forum, blog or LinkedIn group that start with guns blazing only to die out after a few months.
The reason is that starting a group is a lot of effort.
But if you’re willing to put in the effort you can build a really strong asset that provides value to anyone that joins and that lifts you up as an industry leader.
A LinkedIn group is a great way to build your reputation in the industry, but as you can imagine it’s also a great place to build connections and build your business.
You could create a LinkedIn group where the members all fit your target client or customer profile. This way each person that joins and benefits from the group is a potential client for your business. It’s a great way to build your reputation so that when your potential customers need your service or product you are the brand that comes to mind first as well-known and trusted.