In his book Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn for Business, author Ted Prodromou describes how to best to leverage the networking site as a business tool. In this edited excerpt, the author details how to start and manage groups, a smart way to grow your online community.
LinkedIn Groups are an easy way for you to start an online community for your company. If you already have a lot of customers and prospects who areLinkedIn members, starting a LinkedIn Group for them is a smart thing to do.
Before you start your own group, you need to determine if you are willing to make the time commitment to make the group a success. Starting a group is easy, but growing it and keeping it active can take a lot of work, especially in the beginning. I highly recommend you create a team of people who can share in the management and promotion of your group.
The topics you choose to be the focus of group discussions will determine your group's appeal. Research topics within your niche that generate interest and choose the top two or three as the basis for your group.
When you start a new group you will need to fill out a profile that includes a description of the group, which includes keywords that will help to generate interest. Look at some popular LinkedIn groups and see how they worded their descriptions.
LinkedIn offers many options for configuring how your group will function in the "group settings" section under "manage." It's important to consider all of these when configuring the "group settings."
Make sure to check the "enable the discussions" box and "news features," which is on by default. You have the option to conduct group polls and display promotions and jobs, and to allow your group members to do the same. I recommend only allowing moderators and managers to use these functions until you get to know the group members.
You can also temporarily moderate new group members, new LinkedIn members and members with few or no connections who are usually spammers.
If someone is new to LinkedIn or has few or no LinkedIn connections, I wouldn't approve their membership because they wouldn't be able to provide much value. Once they become established on LinkedIn, they will understand how groups work and be able to contribute. The only time I would admit a new LinkedIn member is if I knew the person, or someone I trusted recommended them.
You have two membership options with your group. You can automatically approve all members if you want your group open to everyone, or you can keep your group closed so everyone needs to be approved.
From my experience, open groups that serve large audiences can become unfocused if the moderator doesn't participate actively. A good group manager can keep the group focused on a topic by starting new discussions, featuring popular, relevant discussions and privately contacting members who are posting discussions that are off-topic. It also helps to have multiple moderators for a large, open group.