This post was authored by Joel Don, a consultant specializing in digital marketing, social media and public relations services for the technology, industrial and biomedical sectors. Joel has served as ISA's contract social media community manager.

Some might consider it social media heresy to use LinkedIn groups to promote a business or sell products. After all, LinkedIn established groups as a place for members to post business questions and industry viewpoints, discuss news and group-related topics, seek career guidance, make valued professional connections and learn about new job opportunities.

So can you really market your company or brand on ISA’s LinkedIn group, or any LinkedIn group for that matter? The answer is actually a qualified yes − as long as you take the time to develop your strategy and approach, and always be mindful of the boundaries established by the managers and members of each group. Let me show you how.

First, a little background on this social channel. LinkedIn, which has surpassed 260 million monthly active users, is popular with professionals because the focus is business. That distinguishes LinkedIn from other popular channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. So it’s only natural for you to consider leveraging groups for business development, lead generation and even direct sales. Although there are now more than 2 million groups, LinkedIn smartly capped the number you can join to 100. That has the beneficial effect of ensuring that members are actually committed to the groups they have selected, and quashes efforts by social media scorecard keepers who might think membership in thousands of groups suggests a more important or valued LinkedIn presence.

Read the rules

Before you jump into a group to showcase your brand, your first step should be to survey the contributions of the group, assess the tonality of the discussions and read the group rules. Rules? Yes, most actively managed groups have published rules that are more or less guidelines on acceptable content. Unfortunately, LinkedIn buried the group rules link in a recent system update. You’ll find the rules by first clicking on the graphical letter “i” in the upper right hand corner of the screen, then select “Group rules” from the menu options.

There’s a common theme with groups that have created rules: no commercials. What they are saying is posts should be vendor-neutral and otherwise free of business marketing, sales pitches, product promotions, self-promotion, event announcements or links that drive traffic to a business website or blog. Links to videos, PowerPoint presentations, white papers and magazine articles that only showcase a single vendor also may not meet the non-commercial guidelines of a group.

Selling via the way of social

The secret is to promote the social media way. Stop selling and start sharing your industry, technical, professional or subject matter expertise. People are already overwhelmed with marketing messaging, advertisements and promotional content. If you agree that traditional sales and marketing strategies are falling short because of consumer resistance, why would you take a conventional content strategy and simply push it at a social media venue, where users have come to expect the new transparent way of connecting with brands and companies?

Here’s another LinkedIn group misstep: sharing a link without a comment or reason why you are posting the article or blog. Ask yourself what you would like to discuss about the article with other members.  Otherwise, it’s considered hit-and-run posting and I’ve seen members respond with comments such as “OK, so what’s the discussion?” A LinkedIn group is not a newswire service.  And it’s not a news sharing or discovery service such as StumbleUpon or Reddit.  If you share an article link, spend an extra few minutes and tell everyone why you want them to read it.  You probably wouldn’t simply send an email to your boss or business colleague with just a pasted link in the subject line.  So don’t do that in a LinkedIn group.

So now that you know how to post, you’ll want to focus on what to post to ensure your “discussion” isn’t flagged by group managers or members as inappropriate. Remember, members joined the group to learn, discuss and connect. Turn off the sales machine, and fire up your social skills. Think of the group as highly valued networking time at a professional event. Focus on industry themes, ideas, technical issues, career issues, workplace problems and trending topics. If you want to share an article link or blog post, compose a great headline prompt to attract attention, and then offer backup information or details in LinkedIn’s mislabeled “optional” field.

In addition to posting interesting and relevant discussions, widely engage with the group by commenting, liking and sharing posts by other members. That’s engagement, and your ticket to the indirect selling strategy that will attract attention to you and your business. In groups, sell your expertise to create lead generation opportunities. If your sole intent in posting to LinkedIn groups is to directly market or sell your products or services, you will be quickly disappointed by the results. Your LinkedIn profile, which effectively is your real-time, constantly updated business card, is connected to every post, comment, like and share. It’s the pathway that will drive sales leads.

Finally, be careful about the content you share. Don’t let marketing collateral disguised as a white paper, a PowerPoint presentation or a single-source article (i.e. you or your company as the only quoted source) sabotage your LinkedIn group marketing strategy. LinkedIn allows managers to enable members to police content submissions. The rules on what is a discussion vs. promotion can vary from group to group. Some groups are more actively managed than others in terms of ensuring separation of vendor-neutral content from obvious or veiled promotional content. Since you are limited to membership in 50 groups, would you join a group that enabled discussions to be filled with advertisements and promotions? Study the interests of group members, feel the pulse of the discussions, and market your views and expertise as your means to making the business connection.

About the Author
Joel Don is the community manager for ISA and is an independent content marketing, social media and public relations consultant. Prior to his work in marketing and PR, Joel served as an editor for regional newspapers and national magazines throughout the U.S. He earned a master's degree from the Medill School at Northwestern University with a focus on science, engineering and biomedical marketing communications, and a bachelor of science degree from UC San Diego.

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