Developing and Maintaining a LinkedIn Group

By Lin Grensing-Pophal Sep 17, 2012

Groups are a very popular feature of LinkedIn. In fact, Wayne Breitbarth, a social media trainer and speaker, and author of The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success (Greenleaf Book Group, 2011), said that in the most recent survey he conducted of LinkedIn users, groups came up as the most preferred feature of this professionally oriented social media site.

LinkedIn Groups allow people with shared interests to come together to have discussions about those interests. For HR consultants, these groups can represent both a great source of information about trends and topics that impact their work and an opportunity to build their own online credibility for business development purposes.

There are literally thousands of groups to join on LinkedIn, representing areas of interest that are both broad and very niche-specific. But, in addition to joining others’ groups, HR consultants may want to consider creating their own as a means of sharing expertise, building credibility and making valuable connections that may result in clients or opportunities for collaboration.

Establishing Your Platform

George Bradt is founder and managing director of the executive onboarding consulting firm PrimeGenesis based in the New York City area. He maintains, and is a “top influencer” in, the “Onboarding: Best Practices in Accelerating Employee Transitions” Group on LinkedIn. Whether participating in groups or managing them, Bradt stresses, it’s not about blatantly promoting yourself. He created his own group because he felt other groups centered on too much self-promotion. “I did not name the group for my business, and I immediately invited all of my competitors and all of the thought leaders, thinking that this would be an unbiased, neutral group where people could just exchange ideas and information,” he said.

It’s important, Bradt said, when establishing a LinkedIn Group, to be very clear about your purpose and your platform: “What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? You can’t just set up a random group; it needs to have a point of view, an attitude.” His group, for instance, isn’t about general onboarding. “It’s about best practices around accelerating employee transitions,” he said.

Marcia LaReau, Ph.D., agrees. LaReau is a former HR director and a business consultant based in Bloomfield, Conn., who manages and maintains LinkedIn Groups.

“In my opinion, the most important first step of starting a LinkedIn Group is setting it up for success before actually launching it,” she said. “It can save enormous time and frustration.” She recommends the following steps:

  • Identify the desired target audience. Will participation be by invitation only, open to those in a specific industry or open to the public?
  • Identify the unique purpose of the group and ensure that it isn’t replicated in other LinkedIn Groups. For instance, is the purpose to disseminate best practices, share information or solve problems?
  • Determine the specific value you will bring to your audience.
  • Determine how you will contribute—whether through polls, your own expertise or another way.
  • Spell out the group rules and indicate expectations of members.
  • Determine how much activity is appropriate. More isn’t necessarily better, she said, “and can wear people out in the long term.”

Breitbarth echoed the idea that clear rules and expectations are critical. “Make sure you have a set of strict rules of what your group is for and what the etiquette it,” he said. “There is a major debate on LinkedIn around groups because some people feel they’re just a place to put a bunch of advertising.” If that’s not what your group is about—and, as Bradt contends, it shouldn’t be—you need to be clear about your expectations and consistent with enforcement, Breitbarth said.

Building Momentum

Once you’ve laid the foundation for your group, you’re ready to launch. LaReau recommends some best practices for this stage as well:

  • Define the initial audience to invite to join the group. She suggests having two to three times as many names as you’re hoping will join.
  • Determine at least three to four weeks of relevant activities in advance to jump-start the group. For example, plan to post an article or poll twice each week.
  • Ask members to invite two or three other appropriate individuals that they believe will contribute. Consider doing this particularly if growth is important to the group—though LaReau noted that it isn’t always.
  • Monitor and manage. Reach out to individual members after a few weeks and ask them to find an article, start a discussion or whatever else may be appropriate. Choose one person a week, she suggested, and add their post to the Manager’s Choice for the week. Encourage others to contribute to the post. After doing this for a month or two, the group will begin to run on its own, she says
  • Consider inviting new people when the group activity wanes, or invite specific individuals to contribute.

Staying Engaged

One of the challenges of maintaining a LinkedIn Group that has traction and relevance is staying engaged. That can be difficult to do, especially for busy HR consultants who are often involved in many different activities that demand their immediate attention and time.

Bradt said there are a couple of things he has done to relieve the burden and maintain the momentum. For example, while he initially sent personal e-mails to every new connection, after about No. 1,000, he cut back. And, rather than commenting on every post, “I comment on the ones that are most interesting; I try to recognize or reward the more senior-level HR and line managers that are involved.”

Another timesaver is leveraging material developed for other purposes. “Any blog entry that goes on our PrimeGenesis website automatically gets cross-posted to the group,” he said. “So that’s getting one to two things posted a week, automatically.”

While Bradt was more involved early on, the group has grown and others have moved to the forefront. Conversations continue to occur, and he will prime the pump only occasionally to jump into an interesting discussion or point out something he feels is particularly relevant.

Scheduling in these activities can also be a good way to manage the time involved, Bradt suggests. “I spend the first hour every day doing social media, seven days a week, 365 days a year,” he said. This involves activities other than his LinkedIn Group, which, he said, now takes him “a couple of minutes a day.”

Don’t be too discouraged if you see members leave your group, LaReau said. “A fluid membership is OK,” she explained. “Everyone doesn’t have to be active every week or month.” She also noted that, sometimes, allowing activity to die down a bit can actually help to build momentum. “For example, the manager might publish to the group something like, ‘Thank you for all your contributions. During the last half of November through the first two weeks of January, we are going to enjoy some down time. Please feel free to continue to post, and be ready as we ramp up again in January.’ ”

Ultimately, Bradt said, the two keys to being successful in establishing and maintaining a group that gains traction and provides value are “being a contributor and having a point of view.”

Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, is a Wisconsin-based business journalist with HR consulting experience in employee communication, training and management issues.

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