Your LinkedIn Group has the potential to be an incredibly powerful -- and low-cost -- tool for reaching new customers.
When managed well, your group can help establish your company or organization as a trusted convener and thought leader in your field.
But chances are your group is being ignored because it is littered with off-topic postings and has been opened to members who have little interest in your brand or industry. If that is the case, your group is probably doing more to hurt your brand than it is to help it.
It doesn't have to be this way.
I've started and managed a number of successful LinkedIn Groups and have developed an approach that can help you create highly engaged communities, reach and build relationships with new customers and supporters, and position your company or organization as a thought leader.
The most successful of these groups -- a group I started and managed for The Chronicle of Philanthropy -- today boasts more than 95,000 members and has been a steady source of leads for its email newsletters and paid webinar series.
Here are some of the tactics we used to build this thriving community:
1. Establish -- and enforce -- a clear set of rules
When we created the Chronicle's group, we did so with the idea that it would be a place where nonprofit professionals could ask each other questions and share ideas that will help them lead their organizations more effectively.
How did we achieve that goal?
Rather than allowing the group to be a community where anything goes, we clearly posted a set of rules that spelled out what types of posts were allowed -- and what wasn't. We strictly prohibited off-topic postings posts or comments that promoted an organization or person (though we left the door open for The Chronicle to very selectively use the group to promote its own products).
It's not enough, however, to simply post the rules. To succeed, you need to enforce them. And you need to be mercenary about it.
At least twice a day, I and my staff would review new postings to the group and delete anything that violated the group's rules.
We also posted occasional reminders to the group about the rules -- and those reminders were always applauded with appreciative members who said they valued being a part of a true online community.
2. Make it Exclusive
Most of us build our social networks with the idea that bigger is better. But one of the keys to our success at The Chronicle was the notion that the group wasn't open to everyone.
If you didn't have a clear connection to the nonprofit field, we wouldn't let you in.
And if you routinely violated the group's rules, we booted you out.
3. Make it About Your Members
While the group is there to help support your brand, it's important to remember that people aren't there to be subjected to your marketing pitches. They are on LinkedIn to network with other professionals, to gain ideas that help them do their jobs more effectively, and to showcase their own knowledge.
As a result, we made the members the key voices in the group. Their discussions were highlighted in "Manager's Choice". And we often showcased the best discussions on our blogs, in our email newsletters, and in our other social networks.
This recognition not only gave us new content, it rewarded our members for sharing their ideas. When their questions or comments were featured in our other channels, they were gaining exposure -- and they were feeling like valued members of our club.
4. Promote Selectively
Many businesses use their LinkedIn Groups or Facebook pages to blast members with endless promotions and sales pitches.
We chose to market to our Group very selectively. We would only push content that we thought would add value to the conversation -- or help them advance their knowledge as nonprofit professionals.
The result? LinkedIn became a substantial referral source for the products we chose to promote to the group -- namely our webinars. What's more, we were practicing what we preached in our group rules.
How is your company or nonprofit using LinkedIn Groups? And what are some other examples of highly engaged groups in your network?