Here is a 15 step guide to starting and enhancing your group so that it will grow—hopefully into the thousands. These tips will help you get started with your LinkedIn group. They will also help established group managers boost their group’s numbers.
These techniques are based on my own experience with my Biodiversity Professionals group, started in November 2010. The group is close to more than 10,000 and still growing.
1. Pick a great name
LinkedIn gives you five chances to change the group name. It’s best to get it right first time. Choose a name that’s relevant and easily recognized. That’s why brands shoud create a Company page. A Group page is for creating a community, not for raising brand awareness. To pick a winning name, think about the focal topics of the group, and about LinkedIn users. Most LinkedIn users are professionals looking into expanding their network. A good name might include “Professionals,” or “Network.” In any case, keep the name to two or three words max.
2. Choose the right topic
Make sure the topic of your group is going to resonate with LinkedIn users. (See LinkedIn user demographics.) To connect with your target audience, apply the Goldilocks principle: consider a topic that is not too specific nor too broad. A very broad topic will mean that you’re competing with a lot of other groups. For instance if you call your group “Social Marketers”, you’ll need to battle for attention among more than 5,000 other groups. On the other hand, “Marketing Statistics Experts”, would not be a specialty for more than a few users. So a topic such as Social Media Analysts might work well. You’ll also have more success helping your group grow if you have some basic expertise in your topic. If you can respond with authority on posts, you will build the group’s credibility. If you’re on thin ice, reach out to experts who are able to respond with some gravitas.
3. Provide some branding
LinkedIn’s new group page format now allows you to feature a nice big (640 x 200) banner or “Hero image” at the top of the page. Do not neglect the opportunity to replace the generic blank graphic! At the very least, use stock photos and screen shots if you don’t have a design budget. There are a bunch of free graphics tools if you don’t have Photoshop. Even easier to use, Cooltext enables you to create an attractive logo from a menu of preset graphics and templates. Another easy technique is to use a word cloud generator, such as Wordle. Create a text document with your topic keywords. Repeat keywords with a frequency that reflects your focus. Choose your color scheme and font, and hey presto, instant great looking banner!
4. Optimize description
When you set up a group you need to create a summary about your group and a full description. Craft these carefully! The summary serves as the page description that appears in Google Search results, so it will be key to ensure your page does well if people are searching in Google. Use the longer description to give members a thumbnail sketch of your group’s interests, goals and activities. This is where you entice members to include your group as one of only 50 that LinkedIn allows them to join.
5. Create a welcome banner
The page banner is a slider, but only the first slide features your hero image. After that, content is determined by the items in your list of Manager’s Choice posts. (Click the Search tab to access the Manager’s Choice list.) To create a welcome message for the slider, first post a welcome message to the Discussions. Then set the order of Manager’s Choice items so that your welcome message is first in the list. When your banner image slides over, users will see the welcome message next. You can create additional posts that help users with the group, such as etiquette when posting.
6. Create an automated jobs feed
Remember your audience! Many LinkedIn users are networking to look for jobs. Your group’s Jobs tab provides a place to discuss and post jobs. The tab gives you the option of creating an automated jobs feed that pulls in job opportunities from across LinkedIn. Click on the Jobs tab, and click Edit in the Create a Feed box. Choose keywords that align most closely with your group’s topics. You might need to fine-tune the keywords to get the most relevant jobs. You can also customize the feed by selecting various filters such as countries, junctions, industries and experience. Be sure to let users know about your jobs feed in your messaging. You can also create a post and make it a Manager’s Choice so it appears in your banner area (see #5). If you try to put more than ten discussions in your Manager’s Choice list, you might encounter bugs with the list. Keep it to ten or less and things should work fine.
7. Create a URL shortener
A URL shortener is useful to post information about your site in Twitter. To get a link to your group’s About page, click Manage>Send Invitations, and you will see a box labelled “Link”. (See #9 for tips on sending invitations.) Use Bitly to create a user-friendly URL that helps users recognize the URL’s topic. The best thing about the URL shortener is that you can use it to track the number of clicks. So you could create variations on a URL and then track it to specific networks and webpages. For example, post bit.ly/mygroupA only to Twitter. Post bit.ly/mygroupB only in emails. Post bit.ly/mygroupC in the comments of influencer blogs. Then you can compare which posts get the best response. Hootsuite (free for up to five social accounts) provides a URL shortener with various analytics tools.
8. Post some initial content
Before you put effort into promotion, seed your group’s Discussion page with some initial content. The easiest way to start is simply to post links to information and news that will interest your group. Be sure that the content is relevant and useful. To find up-to-date content, you can set up Google Alerts and Twitter streams.
POWER TIP! Be sure to optimize your own profile before going wild with promoting your group. Users will check out your profile. If it sucks, they might be a bit reluctant to join your group, especially just as you are trying to get it off the ground.
9. Reach out to your network
Once your group is primed and ready for action, now is the time to begin promoting. The first step is to use the “Send Invitations” feature, under Manage Group in the Manage tab. However, group invitations cannot be customized. My advise is don’t use the generic messaging. Send invitations one-on-one to your network. This is your network, so speak to them about your group, why you’re inviting them, and how they can contribute. Always personalize the message!Here’s an example:
“Hi <Contact Name>, I hope you don’t mind a message out of the blue! It’s just that I am so excited about this new LinkedIn group I created. It’s called <Group Name>, and it features news and jobs for professionals like you. It’s also a great opportunity to contribute to relevant discussions about <Group Topics>, and your opinions are sure to be valued by group members. Just click the link to join. Thank you so much! Regards, <Your Name>.”
10. Post on other social networks
Once you have a few members in your group, start reaching out on other social networks. Twitter and Facebook are good places to start. Google Plus also has an audience that may be interested in professional networks. My biggest successes have come with posting links on Wikipedia. You do need to be careful, since Wikipedia editors are very strict about external links and will quickly delete any links that smell at all spammy. It helps if you’re already an established Wikipedian. Otherwise, get an established Wikipedia editor, if you can, to help you post a link to an appropriate page. (Contact me if you’re interested in this option.)
11. Use message templates
Automated messages are sent to a user when they request membership, or they’re approved. I am not a huge fan of automated generic emails, and neither are your group members. Message templates (under the Manage tab) are a good way to personalize those messages, and to set the stage for building a relationship with your group members. For example, you can customize the welcome message. If you don’t, the default LinkedIn confirmation message will be sent instead.
12. Approve members promptly
If you have a closed group, you need to approve members. Don’t let this job linger! By approving people quickly, you maintain their initial interest. New members appear in the feed on the top right of the page, along with new discussions. By approving members regularly, users can see that more people are joining, and will be more likely to participate in the group.
POWER TIP! The profile that you approve the last appears in the the Latest Activity box first, so you want to make sure that your most recently approved member has a nice photo or a good profile, improving the group’s credibility. This also helps to push lower quality content off the prime real estate of the Recent Activity box.
13. Moderate gently
When moderating posts, again exercise the Goldilocks principle: don’t be too strict or too lenient, just about right. If you are too strict, you might put off users who overshare, which might work against you when other users aren’t posting much. Some activity is better than none! Also, some users may not be familiar with etiquette. If posts tend to be spammy, create a Discussion with appropriate guidelines and make it a Manager’s Choice, so users can see what’s expected. In any case, unless posts are totally inappropriate, you can move posts to appropriate tabs.
14. Thank frequent contributors
The backbone of your group and its key to success are the users that most often contribute quality content. Take a few moments to thank them with a personal message. They may even appreciate being thanked in a Discussion (be sure to ask!). These “ambassadors” can help in other ways, such as sharing your own content with other groups and social networks. Bottom line: social media is about building relationships. Use that
15. Send announcements sparingly
One of the best things about the LinkedIn groups is that you can email all members with the “Send an Announcement” feature. But remember that some members might have opted out of receiving the announcements. To avoid more opt-outs it’s a good idea to send only important announcements with relevant information. In other words, don’t spam your group! One way to get buy-in is to post a Discussion asking for news and other items that will be of interest to the group. This way, you can embed your own news, links, etc. in the message, while also serving the needs of your carefully nurtured community. If you follow the advice above, you have every chance of growing your group into thousands strong. I’d love to hear of any other thoughts or suggestions that aren’t mentioned above, or of your own experience with any of these suggestions.
More helpful hints and tips
- Starting your LinkedIn group page
- How to engage LinkedIn users