For a long time, LinkedIn Discussion Groups have been cast as the hidden treasure trove of social engagement and as every social media expert’s secret for LinkedIn marketing success. The “big tip” has always been to post a link to your blog in a relevant discussion group, and then watch as the page views come flowing in.

I’m skeptical.

LinkedIn spam

When I was an in-house marketer, I spent hours joining groups, participating in discussions and sharing links. Through it all, I developed a sneaking suspicion that the topics in Groups were nothing more than thinly veiled ad copy repurposed and poorly disguised as legitimate discussion. And linking to my own blog posts never yielded the results – click-throughs, page views, leads – that I wanted.

If we’re being honest, very little about the activity in Groups looks anything like actual, you know, discussion. Most topics are self-promotional and the handful of legitimate conversations that do occur are pushed down by mountains of spam.

There are certain factors working against Groups. Absentee group managers let spam go unchecked while well-meaning admins are too overwhelmed to keep up. That makes it difficult for members to find compelling discussions and difficult for marketers to find targeted groups with active and interested users.

But I am a big believer in LinkedIn as the most effective social network for B2B marketing, and I think there can be some value to posting in Groups as long as you’re honest about your expectations and desired outcomes.

I won’t promise you swarms of new leads and website traffic, but these tips should at least help raise the level of discourse on LinkedIn and ensure a better use of your time.

1. Find Your Community

Conventional wisdom says you should join the largest discussion group that is relevant to your industry. And while that’s perfectly reasonable advice most of the time, you could run into problems if you don’t take a harder look at a few other factors.

Filter the group timeline by popularity to see which posts are attracting the most attention. See how recent these posts are and gauge the nature of the conversation. Does this seem like an active group with lots of recent, interesting topic threads? Or are the posts months old, with very little in the way of genuine conversation?

Ultimately, you want to find a group where you can naturally slide in and start contributing to ongoing organic conversations, where topics are not easily sidetracked by overeager marketers shoehorning in their latest offer.

2. Engage First, Share Later

Now that you’ve identified the perfect group, take some time to engage with existing conversations before starting your own. Look for interesting topics and share an opinion. In other words, put your promotional hat down for a minute and treat the group like you would any conversation with friends on Facebook, Reddit, or an online message board.

At this point it’s not about touting your company’s latest eBook. It’s about having normal conversations with like-minded people about topics you care about. And when opportunities arise to link to a relevant blog post you wrote about the subject at hand, it’s far more likely people will notice and pay attention.

Pretty soon you’ll gain influence – note how LinkedIn tracks “Top Contributors” for each group – and when you do decide to start a fresh thread, it’s less likely to be immediately ignored amidst the flood of spam. And, by the way, you might actually start enjoying yourself.

3. Share Relevant, Actionable Content.

Not every new blog post you write needs to be immediately shared to a discussion group. In fact, due to the very nature of Groups, it’s very likely that your helpful little link will get lost in the heap of spam and never seen by more than a few members.

For a better response, be more selective about what you share. Typically, the topics that get the most attention are highly timely or relevant, include actionable tips and advice, or inspire provocative or lively debate.

If your company has produced a compelling industry survey or report, a new thread with a catchy headline that highlights important stats might give group members reason to pause.

Or if someone in the group needs help for a specific problem, sharing a link to your highly actionable blog post or eBook that clearly answers their question may be well-received.

Or if you have a strong opinion on anything (say, for example, LinkedIn Discussion Groups), start a debate and see where it leads. It’s better than sharing a link that will probably never get clicked, and it’s the type of productive activity that will help you earn influence.

4. Redefine Success.

I admit, I’m partly to blame for my poor experience with LinkedIn Groups. I wanted click-throughs and page views immediately, so I contributed the types of posts I hate most – selfie click-bait with the snappiest headline and description I could think of in five minutes or less – in the hopes of having success, as I defined it, as quickly as possible.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that the engagement I wanted is earned by building trust. I’ve had enjoyable experiences on LinkedIn Groups when I’ve focused less on getting referrals back to my website and more on contributing to a wider conversation. And the funny thing is, those organic discussions often eventually led to the clicks I wanted in the first place.

The biggest change for me was to play the long game and start looking at success in Groups as something that is earned after investing plenty of time being a valuable member of the group community.

If you don’t have the time to commit to this type of strategy, consider appointing a Brand Champion who can contribute on your company’s behalf. When done right, Groups can actually be a great way for a savvy social marketer to build their company and personal brand. As long as you’re not in the business of spamming.