LinkedIn groups for IT pros: How to find the best

The right strategy can help you find worthwhile groups

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Group members you respect
connections in group
With members-only groups, you can't see discussions without joining, but you can see a list of people in your own network who are members of the group.

When you browse through groups on LinkedIn, you'll see a list of your 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-degree connections who are part of the group, even if it's members-only. If you find a number of like-minded colleagues or people whose opinions you respect in this list, it's an indicator that the group might be right for you.

Open groups also display a box in the lower right column of the group page called "Top Influencers This Week," showing the group members whose discussions have generated the most responses. (Members-only groups have this box too, but it's not visible to non-members.) If the most active participants are thought leaders rather than spammer types, it's a good sign that the group is worth investigating further.

Numbers

The number of members who belong to a group and the number of active discussions you see going on can provide some clue about the feel of a group. After all, there's no sense joining a group where all you hear is crickets chirping. On the other hand, a conversation among hundreds of participants is likely to feel less intimate -- and perhaps less targeted -- as one among just a few.

Regardless, numbers don't tell the whole story for any group. "It's not the quantity, but the quality of the discussions, the caliber of the participants, and the reach and influence of the group" that matter most when deciding which groups to participate in, says Paul Sonnier, manager of the Wireless Health group. You may find that highly moderated smaller groups provide the most relevant, specific value.

Group etiquette

A group's value is highly predicated on the actions of the group's members. Spend any time in groups and you'll quickly get a sense for the do's and don'ts of group participation. To help you avoid making some faux pas that can quickly label you a neophyte and hinder your networking efforts, our LinkedIn experts offer these tips:

Listen first, then talk, recommends Vermeiren. "First react to discussions started by other people," he says, and only begin to initiate discussions once you have discovered the atmosphere or culture of the group.

"Never sell in a group -- that turns other people off," adds Vermeiren. "If someone asks for a supplier and you might be the right fit, don't post that in the group, but reply privately."

Be careful about cross-platform postings, warns Breitbarth. "Because of little tools like the Twitter box, you can post status updates across platforms. People are bringing way too many tweets and Facebook-type updates to LinkedIn, and that is turning business people off," he says.

LinkedIn is a business-oriented social media site -- users are unlikely to care about what you had for breakfast or how you feel today. "Post only worthy information that is very closely aligned with business objectives," says Breitbarth, and use the cross-posting tools carefully.

Best practices for group involvement

There's no doubt about it -- participating in groups can be a big drain on time. It can quickly become overwhelming if you don't have a strategy for getting the most value with the least time commitment. Both LinkedIn features and personal practices can help you maximize your time and impact.

For instance, you can turn off email notifications for discussions in the groups you participate in, says Breitbarth. "Only leave on the email notifications of the groups you think are the most important where you wouldn't want to miss a conversation," he says. And even with those important groups, it makes sense to control how often you want to be notified of discussions.

You can set these preferences when you join a group or change them later in the My Settings page for each group.

Breitbarth recommends developing a schedule of online activity, including LinkedIn status updates and group involvement. For instance, you could check in at LinkedIn to read and participate in discussions in your groups twice a day -- once at lunchtime and once just before you shut down for the day, or whatever times work best for you.

Ideas for sharing information and starting conversations can come from multiple places, notes Breitbarth, if you're alert to them. "When reading magazines and websites and going to events, step back and go, 'Is there anybody in my audience that should also know the same information?' I think you'll find a certain number of people in your audience would love to hear that same information and will appreciate you bringing it to them."

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