Often referred to as an online trade show, LinkedIn is the best social networking site for companies selling products or services to other businesses. And one of the most powerful features within LinkedIn are groups.
At last count there are over 1.5 million groups on LinkedIn, in every niche imaginable from groups for alumni of post-secondary institutions or corporate employers, groups for conference attendees, groups for networking in specific geographic locations and groups for associations.
Successful groups provide an opportunity to nurture existing business relationships or build new ones. Joining groups allows you to show case your expertise by seeding thoughtful discussions and participating in those started by others.
With so many opportunities available via LinkedIn groups, is starting a group a good idea for B2B companies? It really depends on your current level of participation on LinkedIn, the amount of time and effort you are willing to put into nurturing your group, your objectives, and whether or not you can find a unique niche to interest your target audience.
If you are considering starting a LinkedIn group for your company here are four questions to ask before you take the plunge.
#1 Is your company using LinkedIn to its full advantage?
Are your executive profiles 100% complete? Do you have a company page where you announce corporate news and events, post product and services information, share content, and list job postings? Is your sales team already active in relevant LinkedIn groups?
If the answers are yes, it may be time to start a LinkedIn group. However, if you have not yet taken care of the LinkedIn basics, definitely do those first.
#2 What is your goal in starting a LinkedIn group?
There are many benefits to starting a LinkedIn group. It will help position your company as an expert, build your network, and introduce you to business opportunities with new customers, as well as with strategic alliances.
It is a mistake to start a LinkedIn group to promote your product or service. When you manage a successful LinkedIn group, members will automatically see you as a thought leader. But in order run a successful group you need to provide members with useful information.
Your company can use your LinkedIn group as a lead generation tool, but only if you are following inbound marketing best practices. Potential clients are looking for solutions to help solve their business challenges, not a product pitch.
When you manage a group you have access to the “announcement feature,” giving you the opportunity to email group members a maximum of once per week. It is best used when you have some sort of “event” to share, such as an educational webinar or a new eBook.
Useful information encourages group members to visit your website and become qualified leads when they download offers in exchange for providing their contact details.
If your company runs a conference, an off-line networking group or a training course, starting a LinkedIn group helps you stay in touch with attendees and encourages them to keep in touch with one another.
#3 How much time can you commit to a LinkedIn group?
Engaging with others on any social media platform is hard work and running your own LinkedIn group is no different. Time and effort are required to build your group membership.
Once people join, you need to ask questions, respond to group member’s comments and moderate discussions started by others. It is critical group members do not abuse your rules and spam others or your LinkedIn group will soon fail.
Who will manage your LinkedIn group? Is there a team who can divide the responsibilities? Be realistic—does your company have the bandwidth to start and actively maintain a LinkedIn group of its own?
#4 What is the niche for your LinkedIn group?
To find the right niche for your group, start by researching existing groups. Consider the groups where your own team interacts frequently. What do they like about that LinkedIn group? Are there elements you could replicate in a LinkedIn group of your own? Are there groups they joined, but in which they eventually lost interest? There are lessons to be learned from unsuccessful groups with little interaction.
According to this Backbone article on How to run a successful LinkedIn group, it is not essential to completely reinvent the wheel when determining your niche. One marketing company based in Kitchener, Canada built Social Media Marketing Canada inspired by the success of the international group, Social Media Marketing. They used the Canadian group to “offer resources and information while generating conversations amongst social media experts.”
Do not lose sight of the fact there are many other opportunities competing for the attention of your group members. Their activity will drop off if your community does not offer them something worthwhile and unique.
Only you can decide if starting a LinkedIn group will benefit your organization. Before you start, make sure your company is already taking advantage of LinkedIn’s features, has a reasonable goal, can dedicate the necessary resources, and understands the member benefits for those who join.