LinkedIn groups for IT pros: How to find the best

The right strategy can help you find worthwhile groups

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Similar groups

Once you start joining groups, LinkedIn will suggest other groups that you might be interested in.

The groups that others participate in

You may already be familiar with some thought leaders in your areas of interest -- or, as you start to participate in groups, you'll identify people who have particular expertise and solid insights. A valid question is: "I wonder what other groups they've found useful?"

groups a LinkedIn member belongs to
See what LinkedIn groups the thought leaders in your field belong to by checking their profiles.

You can find out by going to anyone's profile page, scrolling down and finding a list of groups that he or she belongs to. For instance, Miles Jennings is the group moderator for the CIO Network, one of the groups I'll recommend later in this piece. Scroll to the bottom of Miles' profile page and you'll find a number of groups that he participates in. If you respect Miles' opinions and share his interests, these might be good groups for you to look into as well.

Evaluating LinkedIn groups

LinkedIn members are often discouraged by groups that are frequented by spammers, blatant self-promoters and those who are primarily interested in growing their numbers of connections. But there's a lot of wheat among the chaff. Here are some clues that can provide some insights about whether a LinkedIn group is likely to be a good fit for you.

Members-only vs. open groups

Any LinkedIn member can join an open group, but a members-only group is limited to those approved by a group manager. Another important difference is that discussions created in an open group are searchable and visible to anyone on the Web and can be shared using other social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

lock icon
The lock icon next to the group's name tells you it's members-only.

What's more, managers of an open group may allow LinkedIn members who aren't group members to contribute to discussions. With a members-only group, on the other hand, only members of that group can see or participate in discussions.

It's easy to tell at a glance whether a group is open or members-only: In search results or other group listings, members-only groups show a lock icon indicating their closed status, and when you click through to the group, you won't be able to see any discussions until you've been accepted into the group by a manager. With open groups, you can see the discussions right away and get a sense of the types of conversations taking place.

open group discussions
With open groups, you can see discussions even if you're not a member.

This ability to spy on conversations makes open groups easier to assess up front, before joining. On the other hand, members-only groups are often more focused on specific issues of relevance to the group.

Moderated vs. unmoderated groups

While every LinkedIn group has an owner (usually the person who started it), moderated groups are managed by one or more overseers who establish rules for participation, monitor conversations and try to ensure that members abide by the rules. They may even eject those who don't follow those rules.

There are many exceptions, but groups that are unmoderated -- or not moderated well -- can become like the Wild Wild West where anything goes and conversations are dominated by the most aggressive participants, often those with something to sell.

LinkedIn doesn't provide an icon like the members-only lock icon to tell you up front whether a group is moderated or not. The best way to find out is to join the group and quietly observe the discussions for awhile. If you don't find them worthwhile, you can always leave the group.

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