By Mark Lee
While there are thousands of groups on LinkedIn, choosing the ones that are truly worth joining isn't easy unless you have a plan.
If you scroll down someone's profile on LinkedIn, you can see the groups they belong to. Note that belonging to a group doesn't reveal whether the person is active in that group or if the person's group would be worth joining. But it's a start.
Many people join groups on LinkedIn and are simply "lurkers," hoping to see something of value – and they may. However, you're likely to get more value from joining groups if you're a little more active. By doing so, you can emphasize your interest in areas related to your expertise and your practice focus.
If you either start or join in discussions, you may well find that prospective clients get in touch, or other opportunities may come your way, probably more than would become apparent if you remain completely passive on LinkedIn.
The groups likely to be most valuable to start-up practices will be those groups your prospects belong to. You can find these by looking at the profiles of prospective clients on LinkedIn and scrolling down to see their groups.
You can also use the Groups Directory by clicking on the Groups link on the top menu bar on any LinkedIn page.
After you click on Groups Directory, you can search for relevant groups by using keywords (e.g., Burnley business, Watford business networks, and so on) and exploring different categories (e.g., networking, professional, jobs, etc.).
LinkedIn also has a Groups You May Like function that suggests groups based on your current profile and connections.
To assess which groups are worth joining, consider how many members groups have, who established them, whether they're location specific, and how active the discussion forums are.
Beware of joining "open" groups that have thousands of members. Many of them will be spammers who will take advantage of the functionality that exists to send messages to people in the same group. I've determined this is a key reason why some people get lots of spam messages. I get very few, and yet I belong to dozens of carefully chosen groups and have over 2,800 direct connections on LinkedIn. I've also been careful not to connect with random strangers.
Currently, LinkedIn allows you to join up to fifty groups. This should be more than enough for most start-up accountants. If you need to, you can search for topic- and location-specific groups that contain concentrations of people you would like to network with.
It's also worth checking out the level of participation and conversations in the discussions area of a group. If you find that these are largely self-publicists or recruiters, you may well decide that the group will be of little benefit to you. Ironically, you'll often find that the best groups for lead generation are those that don't tolerate blatant self-promotion.
You may also choose to join LinkedIn groups related to personal, social, or other nonbusiness interests. While not crucial, you can choose to "hide" your membership in these nonbusiness-focused groups if you wish to do so. This means they will not appear at the foot of your profile when someone (other than you) is viewing it.
One key tip is to drop out of groups that are of little value to you. For me, these tend to be groups where the discussions are mostly posted by recruiters or are self-promotional in nature.
You can leave a group at any time if you find the members or discussions are of no interest to you. Go to the home page of the group you wish to leave and click on More on the horizontal menu bar beneath the group name. On the drop-down list that appears, click on Your Settings. At the bottom right of this page there's a button that allows you to Leave Group.
However many groups you decide to join, choose just three to five which seem to provide the best prospect of enabling you to be seen by, and to connect with, your target audience of prospects.
You can always switch your attention after a few weeks if your efforts aren't generating a result. Bear in mind that if you go into promotional broadcast mode, you'll be wasting your time. No one joins groups to be sold to.
I recommend you choose groups that have between 200 and 2,000 members if you're thinking about prospective clients. If the group is too small, the number of genuine prospects will be too small. And if the group is too big, it will be hard to make a positive impact, unless the group is very inactive, in which case, how likely is it that anyone is interested in what you're saying?
Plan to proactively visit each of your top groups two to three times a week. Don't wait for the daily or weekly updates that come to your e-mail inbox. Identify your best opportunities and plan to make frequent and consistent appearances.
You may be tempted to start discussion threads in your favorite groups. I suggest that you hold off doing this until after you've contributed to some of the existing discussions.
Also, avoid adding comments to loads of discussions within a short time period. It's more likely to work against you than in your favor. Imagine someone new arrives at your local bar or club and starts offering their views on every conversation he or she can hear – it would be antisocial.
It's also worth checking out the contributions of the most active group members in order to understand their concerns, goals, and objectives. What seems to be important to them? Study prior popular discussions. What topics have resonated with members?
When starting your own discussion, pose a question, ask for help or advice, or post a relevant and interesting article or resource for the group's benefit. Your goal with starting your own discussion is to encourage as much engagement as possible.
Don't be disheartened if this doesn't happen immediately. Perhaps your fellow members simply aren't into commenting or replying to discussions. They may not even be aware that the discussion exists. It depends to an extent on which settings they've chosen regarding communications from LinkedIn about that group and how often they log in to read the discussions.
For now, if you have questions, ideas, or views on anything above or in the earlier articles in this series, by all means, connect with me on LinkedIn
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About the author:
Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB UK and writes the BookMarkLee blog for accountants who want to overcome the stereotype of the boring accountant – in practice, online, and in life. He is also chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax experts.