Wednesday, July 08, 2009

 

Reaching new customers with LinkedIn Groups

LinkedIn’s relevance not only as a professional networking tool but as an active social media marketing tool is increasing at a rapid rate.  Among the various ways to network and reach customers on LinkedIn, the Groups feature offers significant, measurable opportunity for smart companies.

In a nutshell, LinkedIn Groups are opt-in set of individuals who share a common interest.  There’s an extremely long tail of groups on LinkedIn, covering a wide variety of subject matter.  Chances are, whatever market you’re in or product/service you’re selling, there’s at least a handful of groups on LinkedIn focused on it.

They may not all have thousands of members, but these individuals each represent not only a prospective customer, but an influencer who can reach others in their own networks – beyond the confines of the specific online group.

Using these groups to grow your own business won’t work immediately.  This isn’t direct marketing with immediate response and revenue, at least not likely.  To benefit from these groups, to provide value to other members and earn their confidence, respect and business, you need to take the time to become a respected, valued member of the community.

But with time and focus, LinkedIn Groups can deliver thought leadership, new customers and even new brand ambassadors for your business.  Here are a few recommended steps to get started.

-          Join relevant groups:  Do several wide searches in the Groups section to see what’s available and relevant to you, and your business.  Don’t think like a marketer or salesperson, think like a customer (and you’re the customer).  Where can you provide value?  For which groups do you have something constructive to add (not just a sales pitch)?  Those are the groups where organic participation will be easier and more effective from you.

-          Post articles of interest:  Start building a presence for yourself in the group by posting articles of interest.  Do not post articles from your own site or blog, at least not initially.  Build credibility with the group and for yourself by offering purely educational and value-added content from across the Web that other members will appreciate.  These articles will not only appear on the group home page, but also in email digests sent to the majority of members.

-          Participate in discussions:  Look for questions you can answer, or questions worth introducing to the discussion board.  Be educational, and do not sell.  Recommend ideas, solutions, other services or products beyond what you directly offer. 

-          Reach out to individual members:  Once a member of a group, LinkedIn gives you the ability to send and receive direct messages from other members without either party revealing their direct contact information.  If you see comments in the discussion board that could use a direct vs. group response, use this feature to contact the individual member.  This is a great way to start building an individual relationship with a member who may be a good sales prospect, but do so based on providing value and earning trust.

-          Invite your customers to participate:  The best way to start introducing your product or service into these groups is not through you directly, but through your customers.  Invite a handful of your customers to join the LinkedIn Group with you.  Their engagement with other members on a variety of topics will give them the credibility to – when the time and context is right – introduce and recommend your product. 

 

 


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