LinkedIn is a gathering place for professionals to exchange ideas, stay in touch with contacts, and develop their networks. However, many of its features that are intended to allow people to engage in meaningful dialogue have instead been used to promote products and services. This is especially true with the LinkedIn “groups” feature.
As a result, LinkedIn has recently instituted several changes to the groups feature that encourage more robust discussions about business topics and less promotional activity. The purpose, it says, is to “ensure that groups will always be the most trustworthy place for you to gather with like-minded professionals.”
What the changes are and what they mean
You can’t spam groups with content –
Gone are the days when you could consistently drive traffic to your website by sharing your blog posts in all of your LinkedIn groups. LinkedIn is now monitoring how many groups in which you share content and whether that content is directly relevant to the subject the group was created to discuss.
If you share the same link in multiple groups, or if you share content that LinkedIn deems as irrelevant, it will likely place you “in moderation” which means that any content you share will need to be manually approved by the group manager for a period of time that can last up to two weeks or longer. Also, if someone in the group reports your content as spam, you will likely be placed in moderation as well.
Finally, it used to be that LinkedIn would automatically send emails to group members with updates about new discussions in the form of daily or weekly digest. Now, it is more selective about which discussions are shared in each digest.
Groups are simpler and it’s easier to know who can see your conversations –
Groups used to have many different settings that people found confusing, and it was difficult to know who could engage with your content and who could not. LinkedIn has streamlined this to make all groups either publicly visible or totally private at the group manager’s discretion, and all groups require that you be manually accepted or invited by a group member or manager before you can join.
No more “promotions” section –
It used to be that if you had a product or service to advertise on LinkedIn, you at least had a place where you could do that in a way that was totally acceptable. This was the “promotions” section in groups. However, LinkedIn has done away with the promotions section completely.
How you can now use LinkedIn to build and develop relationships with clients
LinkedIn Pulse –
This relatively new feature is essentially a blogging platform on LinkedIn. Whenever you publish a post through LinkedIn Pulse, it automatically sends a notification to all of your LinkedIn contacts about it. You can also “tag” your post with a few relevant keywords to make it available to be seen by any LinkedIn user who’s searching for articles relevant to the topic of the post.
Any time someone engages with your post, it’s automatically shared with their contacts as well, making it easy for your content to go viral. The end result is that LinkedIn Pulse makes it easy to reach both existing and prospective clients with content in a way that’s non-promotional.
LinkedIn Company Pages –
Company pages have been around since the early days of LinkedIn, and they’re still a great place to share content that’s meant to convey the benefits of your services and drive traffic to your website. By following LinkedIn Best Practices for developing your company page, you can receive significant marketing benefits in the form of increased visibility and relationship-building opportunities with clients and referral sources.
Strategically sharing high-quality and directly relevant content –
The changes to LinkedIn groups don’t mean you can’t use them to market yourself or your company at all anymore, you just have to put a little more thought into it. Sharing articles from third-party resources like online newspapers and publications is generally a safe bet, and can still help you maintain visibility and brand yourself as a trustworthy provider of valuable information. Your original thought leadership articles are fine as well, so long as they’re directly relevant to the group and are of high-quality, meaning they provide valuable information that helps people solve a problem.
Engaging in meaningful discussions with group members –
Finally, you can do what LinkedIn always wanted all along and use it as a platform to engage people in meaningful discussions on topics that are directly relevant to your mutual interests. An easy way to do this is to spend a few minutes a day browsing the discussion topics in LinkedIn groups and to go ahead and comment on ones where you have a thought or opinion. It doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering insight, but so long as it advances the conversation then it’s a good move to make.
The person who started the discussion will see it, and so will all the people who’ve engaged with that content thus far. This can be the start of an interesting conversation at the very least, and can possibly lead to the development of a relationship that results in more business for your company. You never know. Either way, it increases your visibility for sure.
LinkedIn’s focus on using its groups feature to help professionals connect in a more meaningful way is a huge step towards increasing the quality of your social networking interactions. Sharing high-quality and directly relevant content while engaging with discussions in ways that are meaningful will help you build trust with members of your target audiences.
About the author
Steve Nichols, MS is a marketing consultant who helps professional services providers and small businesses build trust with clients. He’s the owner of Boswell Inc., and the author of "How to Market Your Firm Effectively: by Building Trust with Clients" on Amazon.com. You can Connect with him on LinkedIn or Follow him on Twitter.