LinkedIn Groups can be the most valuable part of your LinkedIn strategy to grow your business, but a Groups strategy can be the most difficult to understand and implement. Add into that the fact that it also takes the most time and I hear a lot of groans and moans when I suggest it.

However, a recent study from LeadFormix on traffic from LinkedIn to their B2B client websites found that 38% of the people coming to the site from a LinkedIn Group resulted in a completed form on their website! True, tangible leads are coming from LinkedIn Groups!

LinkedIn currently has almost 1 million groups! And more are started every day. Some LinkedIn Groups are big and some are small. Some are super active and some are dead. Finding the right LinkedIn Groups for you and your business – let alone the right discussion opportunities within those groups – can be a very daunting task.

To help, LinkedIn created the Daily and Weekly Group Activity Digests that land directly in your email inbox. But if you’re in 50 groups (the limit available in LinkedIn for free and premium members), getting those every day can be just as overwhelming. So having a clear strategy is crucial to your success in using LinkedIn Groups for sales and business development.

Choosing the Right Groups

First and foremost, the LinkedIn Groups that you select should be the groups where your target client is spending their time. Depending on how the group is set up and who is allowed to participate, you sometimes may not be able to get into all of the groups that would be most valuable. Most of the time, I see sales people in mostly industry related groups and they are wondering why they aren’t finding any new clients and customers. The answer is that they’re spending all of their LinkedIn “group time” with their competitors! A few of those are great for professional development, but I would recommend limiting the number to only those that actually helping you.

Essentially, you have to evaluate each group that you join and decide how you’re going to use it. You have to be an Opportunist. I have 3 main purposes for the groups that I’m in.

Market reach to prospects – What’s important is match to target market, size, and a low level of duplicate members in other groups. I’m using these groups mostly for hunting and if allowed, advertising.

Establishing myself as an expert – Those are groups of my target market where there are good discussion happening and I can demonstrate that I really know what I say I do. Those are groups like Sales Playbook. I don’t have too many of these because they take a lot of time so I’m very selective.

Groups for broadcasting/advertising – These are large groups that are a bit more general in their make up so that it may pull in some prospects in need of my services that I may not have thought about. They would be the large local groups and the like that address many different topics.

You probably aren’t going to like this, but the bottom line is that you have to look at and evaluate each group individually to develop the strategies that will work within that group.

Since the owners have free reign to decide who can be in their group, what they can post and how everything operates, you have to abide by their sandbox rules. In some groups blatant self promotion is fine and in others it’s not.

 

Case Study

Let’s use a case study of a popular LinkedIn group focused around the topic of improving sales. Now, nothing that I’m going to say is meant to be disparaging to the group owner in any way, it’s simply a distant, academic evaluation of how I have observed him successfully using groups. (disclaimer: The owner of this group did not participate or provide feedback in my analysis so his views may be different. To be honest when I shared this analysis in response to a question in my own LinkedIn Group – LI Ninja Black Belt – he disconnected from me and wouldn’t reply to my email messages. I can only assume that he was not happy with the light I shed on his activity even though it is very clearly a positive review of his activities.)

The owner provides sales coaching services and training, so his target market is sales professionals and teams. So he built a group around discussing best sales practices. He set very strict criteria prohibiting any and all self promotion. Even if someone is asking for your services, you cannot reply or provide a link back to your site. If you do, these are immediately deleted. Despite these tight restrictions, this group has grown to over 20,000 members and is very active. This is a group where active participation and giving first is a requirement to get any benefit. The owner provides one outlet in the group and it is a running discussion called “Pimp My Company.” Although I get frustrated at how tight of a line he is keeping with not even allowing you to fit in a little promotion where it’s asked, makes sense and you’re still adding value, I recognized the value of that one discussion item. There are over 1,000 comments in that discussion. When you add your comment to a discussion item, an email message with your comment is sent to all who are still following that discussion item (which is likely most). So, I became active for a couple of weeks and built some relationships and visibility within the group. Then I timed how I used that discussion when I was launching something important instead of doing a basic introduction of myself. The result was 3 people buying the program that I “pimped” in that discussion.

Now, the owner has sent out announcements to all 20,000+ members “selling” his free services and resources on his website – thereby promoting himself when he doesn’t let other members do so. He has effectively created a competitor-free fish barrel of prospects for his business. Bravo! That is what we should be aspiring to.

Now, if you were able to watch the owner’s activity in other groups, you would see that he doesn’t live by his own group’s strict rules in other groups. He posts links to his blog without adding a discussion. He promotes himself in the groups where that is allowed. He gives links to other sales related freebies.

To be honest, I was a little surprised when I first noticed it, but I have no problem with the double standard. There are some “true believers” who would find this different behavior practically sacrilege because they believe groups should be these sales free, equal societies. I think it’s brilliant and can only hope to aspire to such success.

It’s brilliant because he has recognized – as should you – that each group is it’s own sovereign entity and that it’s foolish to essentially apply a socialistic theory to a group that is running based on pure capitalism (and that would be those spammy groups that everyone says they hate yet those groups remain some of the largest groups in LinkedIn).

Conclusions

Bottom line is that there is no cookie cutter approach that you can take to truly get the most out of LinkedIn Groups. However, with a well developed, targeted strategy, dedicated time, and true engagement with the groups, you can benefit from participation and get new clients.

As of the writing of this post, I am conducting a LinkedIn Poll to get user feedback on what they see as the biggest challenges to using LinkedIn Groups. It has about 2 weeks left until it closes. If you haven’t answered it yet, I would love for you to participate. If the poll has closed, you can simply check out the results. CLICK HERE.

There is also a lively discussion of the problems taking place in LinkedIn Answers: Click Here.

Feel free to continue the discussion in the comments below. I would LOVE to hear about some LinkedIn Groups success stories!

To join the LI Ninja Black Belt Group where I give out TONS of free LinkedIn advice, CLICK HERE!