We’ve consistently preached social media is a forum for building relationships. Nowhere is this more apparent than LinkedIn, a network premised on the power of personal relationships. Because Twitter and Facebook house a mix of individuals, companies, interests and even parody accounts, professional intentions can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. LinkedIn, however, commands transparency and accuracy by associating users with their employers.

LinkedIn makes interaction personal

While there are company Pages for featuring businesses, the action begins and ends with the individual. Creating and maintaining your company’s presence is important, but aside from providing users with information and publishing company updates, LinkedIn offers no ability to interact outside of that space as the company. Therefore, employees become the proxies.

With the recent demise of LinkedIn Answers, Groups have become the most important area for networking and demonstrating expertise in your industry. Essentially, a Group is a timeline of discussions, and each discussion is a thread for comments and feedback on a particular topic.

Groups: The conduits to social conversations

How to Manage Group Conversations EffectivelyBefore joining any Groups, it’s important to make sure your personal profile includes pertinent information and that it’s easy to navigate from there to your company page. LinkedIn users who see your activity and want more information regarding your company and services will use the links to learn about your business and why you’re a credible resource.

To get started, find and join Groups that feature conversations specific to your industry as well as members who are willing to give and receive resources, advice and feedback. While you may be tempted to join numerous Groups for a wider reach, focus on communities where you cannot only be a resource, but also draw on the knowledge of other members. It may not show up in an earnings report, but posing a question to a group of trained professionals can save time, money and frustration.

Some Groups have an approval process for membership while most are public and open to all. Private Groups are monitored more closely and therefore, devoid of spam. Don’t discount public Groups, though, as these often have more activity than their private counterparts. Evaluate each prospective Group based on the level of activity and relevance to your business.

Most Groups will be comprised of colleagues and competitors, but some allow an opportunity for industry crossover. For example, one Group might be lawyers talking to lawyers and another could be a forum for law marketing. The activity might center around lawyers sharing what works and what doesn’t, but there is also the opportunity for a professional marketer to offer his or her own take on the topic.

Contributing to your industry conversation

Tread lightly when referencing your business in a LinkedIn Group. The quickest way to discourage engagement is through outright promotion of services. Pretend you’re off the clock or you’re doing pro bono work. Don’t tell members what you can do for them; help them figure out what they can do for themselves. If it turns out Group members don’t have time to implement the strategy suggested, they now know your company can take care of it for them.

If you’re unsure of what makes a good topic for a particular Group, take the temperature of the room first. You’re likely to see a mix of serious conversations, trending topics, recruiting and networking discussions. Choose an ongoing conversation that you can contribute to in a meaningful way. Don’t force a response just to be included. Instead of casting a wide net, focus on a limited number of discussions where you can dedicate personal attention and sustain a conversation.

Industry Social Chatter via LinkedIn.

Once you’re comfortable with the pace of the Group, start your own discussions. Ask honest questions and watch for trends. If the same topics and questions are recycled, take the initiative to dig deeper and find a solution. Maybe your company’s blog has already addressed the issue, so publish a link leading to the piece to drive referral traffic in an honest way. In this case, because the blog proffers valuable information on a thoroughly discussed topic, attaching a link will not be considered self-promotion. Conversely, it should bolster your claim of proficiency.

The key to LinkedIn Groups, as with any online marketing strategy, is to remain active. There’s no prestige attached to being a group member, but there are points and visibility to be won through participation. Approach Groups as you would any new business relationship. Get to know the other members and their needs in lieu of selling yourself and your business. Introduce your abilities through unselfish activity and the rapport you build will translate to partnerships and good fortune.