Marketing to B2B professionals is notoriously difficult, so LinkedIn represents a tantalising proposition.  They're growing at a fair lick, to the extent that they recently topped 150 million members.  The Groups feature is particularly attractive due to the ability to both message other group members and of course the ease with which you can promote your content in these groups.

With the LinkedIn share button, or services like AddToAny it's as simple as clicking the button, selecting all the groups you want to drop your link into and clicking submit.  You can of course change the title and description of your 'post' but it isn't required to share your link on the group.  All told it probably takes about 20 seconds.  So marketers can easily be seduced by the possibilities of such an approach.  Who wouldn't be tempted by the chance to showcase your content or offer to a few hundred thousand people (depending on the size of the groups)?

Of course, LinkedIn limit the number of groups one can be a member of to 50.  That doesn't stop some marketers though.  They simply create multiple versions of their own profile, done purely with the intention of max'ing out their groups allocation and spamming them as often as possible.  That this practice is actually forbidden in the LinkedIn TOS is hardly important.

Misuse of the Services.

LinkedIn may restrict, suspend or terminate the account of any User who abuses or misuses the Services. Misuse of the Services includes inviting other Users with whom you do not know to connect; abusing the LinkedIn messaging services; creating multiple or false profiles;

The implications of this

Working in this profession I'm a member of several groups around social media and online marketing.  These groups are generally deserted, except of course for the large number of people doing drive by link dropping.  Take the eMarketing Association Network for instance.  On the surface it has nearly 400,000 members, all of whom you'd assume are social media savvy.  Must be a great place to chat with like minded people.  The reality however is that in the last week, it has had 1,000 new 'discussions' started, but just 500 comments.  So out of 400,000 people, there are only 500 comments left to discussions.  Doesn't exactly suggest strong engagement does it?  That there are so many new topics with zero activity does suggest that lots of people are dumping their links and never returning.

It's not just the online orientated groups that suffer from this.  The Harvard Business Review group has over 150,000 members, yet generates just 1.4 comments per new discussion.  There is very little actual engagement going on on LinkedIn groups.  Contrast that to the Process Excellence Network group that I manage, which is getting nearly 5 comments for each new discussion.  That looks like a much more engaged community to me.

So what should marketers be doing?

So if so many groups seem to be over-run by link droppers and have very little actual user interaction, it would seem very likely that the vast majority of these huge potential user bases are not looking at the link you've just dropped, let along clicking on it.  It might be a quick and easy marketing strategy but in this business you get out what you put in.  That you are also running the serious risk of pissing off group owners by showing no interest in their group is one thing, but given that creating multiple profiles is against the TOS of LinkedIn you run the risk of having your account suspended, and to be honest I doubt any decent users would shed a tear over your dismissal.

Here are a few things you can do to promote your content properly on LinkedIn Groups.

  1. Choose quality, not quantity – What I'm about to suggest will take a bit more time, so I recommend selecting the groups you want to work closely with carefully.  I recommend you check the stats available for each group to gauge not just how many members they have but how active they are.  You want groups where there is a lot of community engagement.  I suggest a minimum of 2 comments per new discussion would be a good benchmark to gauge whether the group is being used by real members rather than just marketers.
  2. Get involved – Communities have been likened to dinner parties, and you wouldn't go into a dinner party and start selling to people, so don't do it on a LinkedIn group either.  Take a few minutes each day to join in discussions, maybe post up new topics that are of general interest to the group and are not from your company.  In general become a good community member.  You're building your reputation here, so don't be tempted by shortcuts.
  3. Talk to the group owner – Once you have a reputation as someone with an interest in the group, then you can get in touch with the group owner and see if there are any possibilities for working together.  Try and create some win-win situations where the group wins and you win.  This may be things such as adding your rss feeds to the group, or it may be more detailed involvement such as offering up important people for interviews by the group.

Those are just the first steps.  Marketing is so often about connections, so building relationships and developing marketing partnerships that benefit both sides are a great way of adding scale to your efforts.  It's a much better approach than simply being a drive by spammer.

How do you use LinkedIn groups?