With more than 830 million members across more than 200 countries, LinkedIn has received wide praise in recent years as a significant social media platform. One of the main methods of social interaction on LinkedIn is to create or join a group. There are 754,219 groups overall as of this writing, with topics that very much cover the entire spectrum. Some groups are quite busy, while others are dormant; some encourage the sharing of useful ideas, while others are constantly marketing and promoting themselves. Unfortunately, a lot of organisations fall into the latter category in the B2B marketing for technology sector. But I believe that establishing a well-managed LinkedIn Group, with a coherent theme and strategy, can be an effective way to communicate and market to an important group of stakeholders.

I won’t go into detail here because there are many excellent blog entries with advice on how to effectively manage a group. The “8 Tips for Managing a LinkedIn Group” post by Mashable  is particularly excellent. LinkedIn group managers must create specific tactics in order to fully utilise this online tool, in addition to effective management and a defined topic. I’ve discovered that there are five main methods that apply to LinkedIn groups as a community manager of several groups in the technology B2B market and a member of many more. Many different tactics are used, therefore astute community administrators should decide which ones apply to them the most.

There have been many good blog posts with tips about how to effectively manage a group so I won’t get into those specifics here. Particularly good is Jessica Faye Carter’s (@jescarter) “8 Tips for Managing a LinkedIn Group.” In addition to good management and a clear theme, LinkedIn group managers need to develop clear strategies for tapping the full potential of this online tool. As community manager of multiple groups in the technology B2B space, and a member of many more, I’ve found there to be five principal strategies that apply to LinkedIn groups. Multiple strategies are often employed and savvy community managers should identify which strategies are most relevant to them.

1) Gated Community:

Community managers create a select group of users who may be catered to more specifically than other open channels by allowing only relevant and selected people to join. These powerful individuals should be treated as “insiders,” as exclusivity fosters a sense of community. When appropriate, new information, updates, and announcements may be made here first. Important company executives should be enlisted to occasionally jump in and contribute to debates and answer queries. Members of the group should also be requested to take part in certain marketing initiatives like success stories, interviews, films, etc. This group also turns into a convenient source for invitations to offline events.

2) Focus Group

A roster of qualified and relevant LinkedIn group members represents an ideal focus group for informal market research. Managers can uncover key data related a company and its products or the industry as a whole. Qualitative market research is done largely by starting discussions. Research of a quantitative nature works best through a more structured poll. Unfortunately, LinkedIn polls are not yet available specifically for groups (they are considering it for future releases), but you can take the URL from a general LinkedIn Poll, or from another platform, e.g. SurveyMonkey, and manually paste it into a discussion.

3.) Content Aggregator / Distribution Channel

In addition to discussions, promotions, and jobs tabs, community managers can add news feeds, RSS feeds from blogs, and from other social media sites like SlideShare. This allows groups members to consume multiple forms of content from a central location.

4.) Forum

The idea here is to get people talking about the company, product, and industry, thereby increasing brand awareness and recognition. But discussions should be of a neutral, informative, and non-promotional nature; people don’t join groups to be blatantly sold to. Keep in mind that activity generated here can compete with other channels (such as comments on a blog) so metrics across channels should be combined when reporting. Group managers should listen and learn to what group members have to say, then plug these insights back into marketing or content creation, e.g. “We’ve heard you asking a lot questions on this topic and we’ve developed this whitepaper to answer them.”

5.) Thought Leadership

This strategy applies to all groups no matter their other functions. Just by owning and controlling an active group, a company or individual is establishing thought leadership in the group’s theme. Themes can be further defined by subgroups. For example, a “system administrators” tab can get into the technical elements of a particular technology that would not apply to other members. The principal of thought leadership is the same in LinkedIn as it is elsewhere – as long as there are subject matter experts sharing good insight with a qualified audience, people will find it valuable.

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