LinkedIn Groups Search ResultAre LinkedIn Groups Good for Your Business?

One of the standard tips for success with LinkedIn is to join LinkedIn Groups.

I find that a lot of people follow that advice, but not many do so with a real strategy. And without a strategy to keep you going, there is enough gravitational pull in trying to use LinkedIn Groups effectively, including continuing changes and removal of features by LinkedIn, that a lot of people just stop trying.

I’ve had my own share of frustrations with LinkedIn Groups, but I still believe there is scope to use these groups to help my business grow.

In this first post of at least a 2 part series, I review LinkedIn Groups, including some history to put the present state of LinkedIn Groups in context. Then in the next post of the series I’ll get into some how to’s for those of you who are open to using LinkedIn Groups in a business-effective way.

In this short review I share:

  • some history of LinkedIn Groups
  • some significant changes and what they could mean for you
  • pros and cons of joining LinkedIn Groups

An Abundance of Choice

There is certainly no shortage of groups to choose from. There are over 1.9 million groups listed by LinkedIn, and the areas of interest are extremely varied, from Aardvaark Enthusiasts to Zambezi Safari and Travel Co. Ltd.

LinkedIn doesn’t share any more how many groups there are including the unlisted ones, but some experts say there are actually around 3 million groups in all. You can only find out about an unlisted group from an invitation or word of mouth.

But even without the unlisted groups, there is still a multitude of groups to choose from. And the number grows daily: yesterday my search result on listed groups was 1,911,061 and just under 24 hours later it’s 1,911,502.

But an immediate challenge in seeking groups which you might be interested in joining is the fact that Linkedin provides no index, just a search box. You as a user will have to work out your own search terms and do your best to get the most effective ones. And the terms have to be exact:  a search I did yesterday for coaching-related groups produced the following results – “coaching” 5,449 groups, “coaches” 2,982, “coach” 2,461.

Trial and error, and patience, are essential for this particular part of the LinkedIn Groups game.

Some History: from Alumni Listings to Communities of Interest

LinkedIn Groups have gone through quite a transformation since the early days of the network. There was a time when the only groups were alumni groups, whether for alumni of particular universities of alumni of corporations.

And if you wanted to establish a group you had to apply to LinkedIn. The groups were really only sub-directories of people with a shared history of having been to the same school or worked for the same corporations. They did not have the discussion threads of today’s groups. The main benefit, as I recall, was that people in the same group could contact one another directly – no doubt usually with the aim of becoming first level connections on LinkedIn: definitely a handy benefit, but only for those who had the school or corporate background to call on.

There were many discussion groups which focused on LinkedIn, but they were on other platforms, especially on Yahoo! Groups, such as the LinkedIn Bloggers group I ran there. Later, even while the criteria for establishing a LinkedIn Group were still very restrictive, I was able to establish a LinkedIn Bloggers Group on LinkedIn (we had some key LinkedIn people in our Yahoo! Group, so that probably helped).

There are still today many alumni groups on LinkedIn – over 77,000 – but LinkedIn groups generally are now more by way of communities of interest, even where they have been set up by particular companies.

Now you can just start a group, without the need for any submission for approval. Just fill in a few details and you have a group. Part of the downside of that ease of starting is that there are quite a few groups with only a handful of members, or even just one or two. That was easier to see when LinkedIn displayed membership numbers in the directory listing: now you have to open the link to a specific group to see how many members there are.

Other Changes

There have been many changes in the way LinkedIn has managed the Groups function. A couple in recent times that stand out are:

  • The removal of one of the most attractive features of Groups, which was the ability to contact directly any member of any group to which you belonged
  • Changing the “Open/Closed” designation and operation of Groups to “Standard/Unlisted”

The Discussion feature is now part of all Groups and has been so for years.

 

Why Belong to Groups?

For a long time, one of the main benefits of belonging to a group was that option of being able to contact directly any member of a group you belonged to: that helped enormously, for those who used it, to make key contacts without needing an intermediary, and thus to build a stronger network more easily. That feature has gone, presumably because of complaints of spam.

But membership of groups still has its value. One of the main benefits of group membership is that it provides us with communities of peers or of target audiences, where we can demonstrate our knowledge, expertise and awareness, even to being thought leaders in particular groups. It’s not direct selling but used well it can be effective as social selling.

Membership of groups can also be an invaluable way of keeping up to date with developments and concerns in particular areas, whether for our target market or our industry, and even helping us keep abreast of what our competitors are doing and what is or isn’t working for them.

On the negative side is the fact that to use LinkedIn Groups takes time.

One of the most effective ways of using groups is to start your own group. But to make that successful you will need first to do some research and planning and then be prepared to put in some hard yards creating, supporting and growing your group. That’s a whole subject for another blog post.

 

Coming Up

In the next post in this series I focus on the How To’s. How to find the right groups for you, including what filters to use in your search, how to read the state of health or otherwise of a group at an early stage, and the smart way to join a group.

Have LinkedIn Groups Helped Your Business?

There’s theory, and there’s lived experience. Have you participated in LinkedIn Groups, or even owned and/or managed one or more such groups? Good experience? Bad? Either way, please share in the comments section below.

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).