Lurk First (and Four More Tips on Beginners Getting the Most out of LinkedIn Groups)

April 23, 2012

Interested in finding a new job, switching careers, attracting more clients or building a stronger professional network? LinkedIn Groups is the place to be. Groups provides opportunities to meet and engage in discussions with members of your industry, your alumni community or other professional interest areas. Becoming active in LinkedIn Groups is like attending a professional conference every time you log on.

To join a group, start exploring the Group Search page, which has recently been updated to make it easier for you to find the most valuable places to network. Then click “Join” for any groups that sound appealing. Once you’re accepted as a member, you’ll be able to post and comment on discussions, review job postings, connect with your fellow members and more.

With over over a million groups on LinkedIn, you’re bound to find several communities that are beneficial to you and your career. But with so many opportunities to participate, what’s the best plan of action? Here are five ways to get the most out of LinkedIn Groups.

1. Extend relationships with your in-person networks. The first groups to join are those you belong to offline. For instance, become a member of your university’s LinkedIn alumni group, any corporations where you’ve worked, any professional or trade associations you belong to and any non-profits where you volunteer.

Because you share a “real world” affinity with your fellow members, these are the environments where you’ll likely feel most comfortable seeking advice, connections or information. You might post a general career question, such as “Does anyone have advice on making the transition from consultant to full-time employee?” Or, you might search each group’s members for people in your desired industry to whom you can reach out and request an informational interview.

2. Be an industry insider. Next, join groups related to your industry (or the industry you want to join if you’re a recent grad or career changer). You’ll stay up to date on important industry issues, must-read articles and other hot topics.

To find the most valuable industry groups to join, be as specific as possible in your search criteria. For example, type in “social media marketing” rather than simply “marketing” if that’s your particular interest area. If your search comes back with lots of results, LinkedIn helps you filter by showing you which groups are “Very Active” (definitely where you want to be for the most potential opportunities) and which groups include members of your network (if people you admire belong to a particular group, that’s a great sign that you’ll find value there as well). Join as many industry groups as feel relevant to your interests -- you can always drop out if the discussions aren’t valuable for you.

3. Lurk first. In any group, your best bet is to “lurk” first without commenting to get the lay of the land. Check out what topics receive the most comments. Look to the “Top Influencers This Week” area to see which members are driving conversation. Visit the “Manager’s Choice” discussions, where the group’s manager has elevated certain conversations that he or she feels are most important for members to view. You can also get a feel for the overall tone of each group’s discussions (Casual or buttoned-up? Highly technical? Globally or regionally focused?) before you contribute.

4. Demonstrate your expertise. After lurking for a little while, dive in! Discussions are a fantastic place to be visible and highlight your skills and expertise to a broad audience. You can answer a question, add your opinion to a discussion, share advice with someone seeking help, comment on a posted article or all of the above.

To make sure your contributions are having a real impact, craft them as if you were speaking on a public panel or writing a letter to the editor of a news outlet. If your comments are relevant and helpful, people will take notice by commenting back and / or “liking” what you say. Some fellow group members may even offer more than that. Recruiters and headhunters love to scan group discussions to discover talent, as do journalists seeking expert sources and conference planners seeking presenters.

5. Create one-on-one networking opportunities. In addition to engaging publicly in groups, you can also use group discussions to build or enhance one-on-one relationships. Let’s say you’re scanning discussions in an industry group and you come across a comment that’s strongly related to your interests or expertise. In addition to -- or instead of -- posting a comment publicly, you can take the opportunity to reach out directly to the person who posted the discussion.

You can do this by clicking on “Reply privately” next to the person’s comment and writing a message such as, “Dear Greg, Thanks for sharing your question about how to find a social media marketing job in the Denver area. I’m looking for a similar role, but in the Boston area. Perhaps we can chat sometime and compare notes?” To continue the live conference analogy, think of this strategy as having a side conversation while attending a large networking event. Your goal is not to directly ask for a job or client, but to network in a mutually beneficial way with someone who shares similar professional interests.

Finally, what can you do in a group if you don’t see any immediate opportunity to comment on a discussion, answer a question or reach out privately? Simply make it your goal to add value every time you visit each group (which should be a few times a week at least). You can add value by “liking” an interesting discussion, voting in a poll or perhaps forwarding a posted job or article to someone in your network. LinkedIn Groups are about building community, and in any community, every action counts.

This is just a starting point but we’d love to hear from you if you’ve tried some unique ways to participate on LinkedIn Groups. Leave a comment or tweet us @linkedin.