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The Secret Sauce of LinkedIn Groups – Finding Your Customers and Meeting Their Needs

LinkedIn GroupsFinding your audience – and figuring out what they need – used to be a lot harder than it is now.

It was time-consuming and costly and required that entire departments be devoted to it.

Nowadays, with a little strategy, even you the average time-strapped solopreneur can perform those activities yourself. You can easily inject some energy into your email list while at the same time figure out what problems those prospects have – and then win them over by providing useful information, answering questions, and generally being your polite, professional self.

What is this miracle strategy? Why, it’s LinkedIn, of course!

Bells and Whistles – What is LinkedIn?

Every big-name social platform has features that make it attractive. There are even smaller social platforms where you can engage with specific communities of people. LinkedIn has both. Let’s look at some of the basic ways people use LinkedIn.

Most of us know you can search for people, groups, and jobs on LinkedIn, but did you know you can also perform searches based on geographic location, first or last name, universities attended, and even zip code? And those are just some of the examples!

You can also view the profiles of fellow LinkedIn members – but only if they are first-degree contacts (meaning the two of you have already agreed to “Connect”) or if you share a mutual group. In addition, you can send direct messages to your first-degree contacts.

One more important way people use LinkedIn is, of course, to find jobs: Just click on “Jobs” at the top, fill in a few basic preferences (geographic location, company size, industry), and off you go! Alternatively, you can simply enter a job title, company name, or keywords in the Jobs Search box and see what comes up. My search today for “Nonprofit” jobs brought up 7,508 possibilities!

(For a laundry list of interesting statistics about LinkedIn, go here.)

How LinkedIn Can Work For You

As you can see, there are many reasons someone may want to use a platform such as LinkedIn. But what can LinkedIn do for you? Well, you can use it for one main reason: to get people to sign up for your email list. That’s right, you can find hot leads on LinkedIn!  Around 41% of people report that LinkedIn has helped them build relationships with potential customers. Why shouldn’t you be one of that 41%?

Now, you may be thinking, “Really? But the only thing I use LinkedIn for is to research companies.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “I know, right? I love LinkedIn!”  Or maybe this is more your speed: “LinkedIn? I’ve heard of that…”

In any event, the strategy I’m about to share with you can really give your list a good, solid, qualified boost. How? I’ll give you a hint: It’s done by using the part of LinkedIn that makes it perhaps the most useful social platform out there. I’m talking about Groups.

The Secret to Using LinkedIn Effectively

Connecting with the occasional individual is one thing, but LinkedIn Groups is where your return on investment (ROI) is, without a doubt, the highest. By joining the right groups, you can find prospective customers, identify their needs, and help them out – all at the same time. Here’s how:

Step #1: Join Groups Your Target Audience Would Join

Presumably, these groups should be right in your wheelhouse, but select them carefully. Ask yourself: What issues keep my prospective customers up at night? What are the big topics and movements within my industry today? What product do I have (or what service do I provide) that can provide relief for the stress and pain my prospective customers have? These questions can help steer you towards the right groups on LinkedIn.

Step #2: Click on a Discussion and Participate!

Here’s where the value of LinkedIn groups comes in: If you can answer a question directly, provide links to helpful information, or have the opportunity to share your experience as a professional, do it! Engage with your fellow group members! You have the ability to identify your prospective customers’ needs (simply by reading the original post and comments) and help them out – all in one fell swoop! This is where you can really shine; this is where you start to build your reputation. The important thing to remember is to GIVE to that community. Do not ask for their business or you will likely come across as a sleazy salesman. Instead, be helpful, engaging, and interesting.

Step #3: Ask Individuals to Connect With You

Once you have started to make an appearance in discussions and are building up your reputation, start inviting the individuals in your groups to Connect with you, and then continue the conversation. This is where most people fall short; they simply become “Connection Collectors” and never think twice about their LinkedIn contacts. But really, what good are “500+ Connections” if you don’t know a thing about any of them? In truth, it’s about quality rather than quantity.

From now on, try this: The default invitation to connect says, “Please add me to your LinkedIn contacts,” and so that’s what most everyone uses. But if you were to put your own twist on that simply by saying hi and using the person’s name, imagine what an impression that would make! “Hi Laura, we’re in the ABC Group together and I was hoping we could connect. Enjoy the rest of your day!” You would totally stand out!

And after they accept your invitation, the most important thing you can do – the whole point – is to keep the conversation going. “Talk shop” with them, build a bond. Transition the conversation over to your work email to send a subtle reminder that you are a professional. Ask them questions about their work experiences, problems, and frustrations. Keep on giving. They will see that you have their best interests at heart and they will begin to see how you can help them.

Step #4: It’s Not Just About A Single Person

Here’s an added bonus to remember: All of the group members can see the comments made during a discussion, so you have the chance to impress not only the person you’re addressing, but everyone involved! It’s like having a built-in audience!

Step #5: Send a Link to Your Landing Page – When the Time Is Right

When you feel the time is right, and after you have deemed your contact to be a qualified lead, send them a link to your landing page. (If you don’t have one, OptimizePress has some great features). If they opt in, you have an additional prospect who is engaged and very interested not just in your product or service, but in you. And if they don’t opt in? Then at least you have made a good impression on someone – and there’s a good chance they will spread the word.

The Power of LinkedIn Groups

Your fellow group members (read: potential customers) have shown you what their issues, questions, and problems are by posting them for discussion. Participating in these discussions – answering questions, sharing links, spreading industry knowledge – allows you to meet their needs and impress them.

Once they see that you can give them what they need, they will be more likely to keep in contact with you and more likely to click on that link to your landing page. And once you get them onto your website, it’s only a matter of time before they become customers – satisfied customers who will probably be happy to provide you with a glowing testimonial after all of their positive interaction with you.

As an aside, one way to leverage the information you have gathered from the LinkedIn group discussions is to use it to direct your product or service offerings. If you spend enough time participating in the groups, you will know all you need to know about your target audience, which will help you develop the products and services your customers need the most.

Helpful Tips

There are ways to get even more mileage out of the LinkedIn groups. Here are some suggestions for you:

  • Post your own topic for discussion once in a while. This can be as easy as, “How do you feel about [name industry issue]?” This will help solidify your status as a group member and build name recognition.
  • You are welcome to post your own content – links to blog posts, articles, infographics, etc. – but don’t overdo it. You are there to give, not get. Try to only do this if the content is highly relevant to the group.
  • Take the time to view the profiles of the people involved in the discussions you participate in. It can give you valuable information that could be relevant to your next comment, such as their can see their work history, or the fact that the two of you have something in common. You can use that information after you Connect with them to further deepen your relationship.
  • Always be on your best behavior in groups and remember to check your grammar and spelling.
  • Make sure you click on the box under your comment to receive emails for each new comment in that conversation. That way, if someone responds to your comment, you will be able to respond to theirs (and it won’t look like you’re ignoring them).

In a Nutshell

LinkedIn is underutilized as a place to find your audience, find out what their problems are, and then impress them with your depth of knowledge, friendliness, and professionalism. Then it’s up to you to simply ask those people to connect and nurture the relationship.

In fact, most people don’t use LinkedIn the way I have outlined here at all, which means that if you do, you will stand out! You will be remembered as “the one who reached out to me on LinkedIn.”

So go ahead, get involved. LinkedIn groups are a lot more valuable than they seem. If you don’t have a LinkedIn account, sign up for one at www.LinkedIn.com. If you already have one, read over your profile and make sure it is thorough, professional, and complete – and free from spelling and grammatical errors. And start engaging with your contacts! They’re waiting!

Are you using LinkedIn to connect with your audience? What’s worked for you? Let me know in the comments below!

About Laura Ryding-Becker

Laura Ryding-Becker is the mind behind TheNakedNonprofit, where nonprofit leaders can go for tips and articles about teamwork, communication and other interpersonal skills.Get in touch with her on Twitter (@RealLifeNP) or at Laura@thenakednonprofit.com.

18 comments

  1. Phillip says:

    Thanks for the tip. Will be using this as a guide to do gather leads for idea extraction for an upcoming SaaS software.

  2. Jeff says:

    Good article. I think the biggest thing we need to remember when we start down the social media marketing road is the notion that it’s social first and foremost, and people quickly get turned off when companies try to sell them things through social media. I think social media (especially Linked In) can be really useful for my business, but with the understanding that its not a pathway to immediate sales but rather a tool to help develop a reputation and a following in the medium to long term.

    1. Laura Ryding-Becker says:

      Hi Jeff –

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I totally agree that people can get turned off if you seem to turn from “giver” to “taker” on social media. That’s one reason I suggest to move the conversation over to your work e-mail – to remind the other person that this is, after all is said and done, business. This also puts you “in the driver’s seat”, so to speak, allowing you to direct the course the relationship takes.

      Of course, there is a delicate balance involved, as you allude to. Building relationships with potential customers or even colleagues does take time. You’ve heard of the “know, like, trust” factor? It will develop if you nurture it and are patient.

      The other thing is that not every relationship should be about turning a prospect into a customer. As Suze Orman says at the end of every one of her shows, “People first, then money, then things.”

      Our relationships, in the end, are the things that really count.

      Thanks for reading.

      Laura

  3. Marcy McKay says:

    This was especially relevant for me, Laura. Because of some contract work this past year (that had zero to do with my online biz, but everything to do with paying the bills), I had to join Linkedin.

    That contract gig is over and I’ve been debating on deleting it, but I printed out your post and will take another look at Linkedin and how it can better serve me. Thanks~

    1. laurakaz@hotmail.com says:

      Hi Marcy –

      Thanks for the comment 🙂 It can be hard to decide which gigs to take, especially when bills are involved.

      There are several other good websites for freelance writers out there (you may already be hooked up with them). I would recommend http://contently.net/category/ask-freelancer/; http://www.flexjobs.com/jobs/writing-editing-journalism (telecommuting, part-time and temp jobs – paid membership site); and, if you’re interested, https://www.freelancersunion.org/

      LinkedIn can also be a great help to you, especially if you follow the steps I outlined in the article.

      Good luck!

      Laura

  4. James says:

    Hi Laura,

    I have already had a pretty good amount of success with LinkedIn getting people to join my business. I use the majority of the tactics you outlined in your post but in a different way. Instead of looking for clients I was looking for distributors.

    I am excited about shifting gears and using everything to see how I can help potential clients. I am not blogger though and I don’t have my own landing page. I know I need both and I have just been putting if off because I hasn’t had time to sit down and fully understand the tech side of it.

    Every time I attempt to devote time to it something in my life shifts. I am also worried about making rookie mistakes and wasting a bunch of time researching for landing pages, and finding something good to write about consistently.

    1. Laura Ryding-Becker says:

      Hi James –

      Thanks for your honesty. It’s good that you are used to using LinkedIn to develop relationships with distributors – you’ll be able to transition to finding and helping potential customers when the time is right.

      Believe me, I know all about being “tech-shy”, being afraid to make mistakes, and fretting about finding things to write about! This is what I can tell you:

      1. I’ve only tried OptimizePress for landing pages, but it was super-simple. I believe Danny and the gang here use LeadPages, with great success. Tech Support should helpful, and there are always YouTube videos!
      2. About making mistakes – it happens. As someone wise once told me, “Do it badly, then improve it!” You see, once you get “it” out of your brain and into reality, “it” becomes less scary, honest. It loses some of its power. And, if you’ve made a mistake or two, no big deal. The sky is not going to fall. Just fix it, learn from it, and move on.
      3. Finding things to write about is easier than it seems. If you have passion and a deep-seeded interest in what you’re doing, topics will come to you. Plus, you can always look for topics in the emails your customers/clients, colleagues, and others send you. Or, send out a short survey and ask what your customers would like to learn about!

      Trust me – up until the last couple years, I spent a lifetime making most things more complicated than they needed to be! And you know why? Mostly because I was afraid of something-or-other. Do yourself a favor and start trusting in yourself and your abilities. Living in fear is way too hard, and you never really get anywhere.

      More power to you, James!

      Laura

  5. Howard says:

    I agree that the twin pillars of using groups and giving first can lead to success on LI. I’ve had some myself using this formula in a targeted industry group that I manage.
    In the spirit of giving first, here’s something we don’t often get from our fellow marketers…actual data and statistics…not to brag but just to confirm that this is possible.
    I spend about 15 minutes on LI daily. Usually I hit it first thing in the morning and then around lunch and then later in the day. During this time I post related materials, comment where appropriate and take care of group housekeeping issues.
    My group is closed with enrollment only after approval. And in the past year I’ve further limited new members to only actual industry members, no more consultants or vendors.
    My group has grown 19% in the past year from 14,700 to about 17,500 extremely targeted members. What you might not know about groups is that the group manager can message (announce) to the group once weekly. I usually do this to support an upcoming event. It’s a great marketing tool.
    I also use my application, approval and decline templates to give members and would-be members a chance to a) connect with me, b) join another group I’m starting (just for those vendors and consultants), or c) opt in on my website.
    Over the past year I’ve had 6,700 visit from LI directly and enrolled 350+ new opt ins (80%+ opt in rate on the form) on a specific landing page.
    To me, LI is a good source of quality leads. Thanks again for helping the community.

    1. Laura Ryding-Becker says:

      Hi Howard –

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with LinkedIn. It is, indeed, a good source of quality leads.

      I’m glad that running a LinkedIn Group has been beneficial for you. I, for one, don’t know if I have the time to dedicate to that!

      Thanks for your input.

      Laura

  6. lita.doolan says:

    Hi Laura

    Thanks so much for pointing out the ability to search within LinkedIn’s database according to Geographical location. That’s such a handy trick to narrow down a target audience.

    Great post. I am looking forward to having a closer look at this social media platform now I can see a lot more potential to it!

    Lita

    1. Laura Ryding-Becker says:

      Hi Lita –

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Searching by geographic location may be less important for folks with online businesses, but for those who have brick-and-mortar businesses, it is imperative.

      I know some people whose whole lives seem to take place online, and they forget that there’s even a world outside their doors! But being able to use LinkedIn’s search tool in this way can be extremely useful. It can also come in handy depending on what type of advertising you might want to do.

      Happy searching!

      Laura

  7. Dorothea Dykes says:

    Hello Laura,

    I have often wondered how non-profits do business and have considered owning a non -profit myself in the past. Reading your comments and suggestions gives me hope that one day I might be able to do business in the way you have outlined that really works. I would love to continue to receive helpful, not hard to do ways of improving business contacts and building new customer relationships. Please continue to send me these types of emails as they are much appreciated.

    1. Laura Ryding-Becker says:

      Hi Dorothea –

      Thank you so much for the comment. Yes, it really does work!

      I have found that the people that participate in the nonprofit-related groups in LinkedIn (there are many!) are very friendly and are willing to share their knowledge and expertise. If you are still interesting in starting a nonprofit (or just want information), that is one place to go. Just join a group that interests you, start a discussion by asking a question, and you will see people reach out to you.

      You can also see about joining your local chamber of commerce to build local, professional relationships. Look into it online first; you should be able to find some information there.

      If there is a college or university near you, see if they offer a nonprofit management certificate or degree track. Then make an appointment to with one of the instructors for career advice. You can also look to see if there are any nonprofit conferences in your area, or conferences or workshops around your area of interest.

      As for building customer relationships, there is, of course, a plethora of information here on the Firepole site!

      If you can be very specific about what you want to do, who you want to serve, and how you want to do it, you can make it work.

      Best of luck to you!

      Laura

  8. Marcie says:

    Laura, this is so timely. I’ve been enjoying LinkedIn more and I was trying to figure out how to leverage the groups plus the publishing features for my purposes, and you gave me what I needed. You are a godsend. Thank you.

    1. Laura Ryding-Becker says:

      Hi Marcie –

      Thanks for the comment. And while I wouldn’t say I’m a “godsend”, I do have a saying that goes like this: Perspective is everything – but timing is a close second!

      It’s interesting – if you look at something one way, you see it this way; but if you take a step back and look at it a little differently, you see it that way. That small variation can make a big difference. It’s almost like getting a second chance.

      Thanks for reading!

      Laura

  9. Karyn with a Y ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hi Laura,

    Great article. Many people underestimate the power of LinkedIn or simply spam groups. I love that you have outlined the importance of being helpful and then developing a relationship 🙂

    1. Laura Ryding-Becker says:

      Hi, Karyn with a Y! (Love that! 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. LinkedIn Groups seem to fly under the radar, for the most part, but they can really boost your business.

      Businesses are built on relationships, right? It’s hard enough to start a relationship cold, then build the “know, like, trust” factor, then convince a prospect to become a customer. Why not use a Group that you have in common with someone to break the ice?

      Thanks for reading!

      Laura

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