Adding a forum to your Website is one way to build community within your industry. (For a good example of an industry forum, see Jill Whalen’s High Rankings Forum.)
As the forum owner, you learn what others in your industry are talking about and their day-to-day issues. You keep abreast of news and most importantly, you can answer people’s questions and thus show your expertise.
However, managing a forum can take a great deal of time, plus you have to consider the expense of getting one up and running. (Do-it-yourself forum packages exist, but if you’re not tech-savvy, you’ll most likely need help implementing one.) And, in the beginning, you’ll spend lots of time marketing your forum in order to get traffic to it.
It’s due to these “start-up” costs that I love LinkedIn’s Groups feature. A LinkedIn Group is basically a forum and best of all, anyone can start a Group in literally minutes and at little to no cost.
(You might have to pay a designer to develop your Group logo, or if you’re like HubSpot, who owns the popular Inbound Marketers Group, you might consider “advanced” Group marketing tactics such as developing an entire Website for your Group.)
As with a forum, managing a LinkedIn Group does take some time and know-how. I started the B2B Social Media Group in January 2009 and in the ensuing months have learned a few things. Here then my tips for would-be Group owners:
1. Set ground rules early on — Unfortunately, LinkedIn Groups have become rife with spam. If you want your Group to flourish, take a hard line on spam postings and don’t be afraid to use the “delete” function.
One rule I’ve set, which I did struggle with, is not letting people post links or news releases to events in the “Discussion” area of my Group. One, too many people were posting events that had no bearing on B2B social media, and two, I had started the Group because I and others wanted to learn more about social media. If the Discussion area was filled with news releases about upcoming webinars (typically promoted by marketing vendors), then were was the discussion?
Hence, I now delete all events if they’re posted in the Discussion area.
2. Don’t be an absentee owner — Judging from the comments on my own Group and visiting other Groups, many Group owners don’t monitor their Group on a regular basis. As a Group owner, it is your responsibility to start new discussions, add to existing discussions, and delete spam comments / posts as necessary.
Being an involved owner does take some time, so you’ll want to consider this aspect before starting a Group. You can promote Group members to “manager” status which allows them to delete spam posts/comments and post “featured” discussions as well as approve new members.
3. Get to know Group members — The whole reason to start a Group is to network, so it really pays to get to know your regular posters. Some nice things you can do is to thank people publicly for posting questions, send them messages through LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, etc. You can then add them to your network as you get to know them better.
4. Keep self-promotion to a minimum — It’s my belief (and you may disagree) that as a Group owner you should keep your own self-promotion to a minimum. This means you don’t post press releases about your company’s new products or services or use your answers as thinly-disguised promo opportunities. If people want to get to know you or your company better, they can read your profile and contact you directly or visit your Website / blog.
5. Keep abreast of industry news — As the Group owner, it’s your responsibility to keep discussions moving and to post new discussion topics. This means that you’ll need to read industry publications and blogs and follow trends.
It also helps to encourage people to post their questions — no matter how “basic” they seem. Based on my anecdotal evidence, some people do join Groups because they want to learn something new.
Being the owner of a LinkedIn Group has been a real learning experience — and a fun one, too. Because I’ve derived so much value from it — and see its potential — it’s why I now recommend LinkedIn Groups to my clients — either as an industry resource or as a means to build community.
What are your thoughts about Groups? Have you started a Group and what has been your experience? Do you have additional tips to share?