coate400x400v3This is a guest post by Andrew J. Coate, the Community & Content Manager for Kapost. He is responsible for “Being awesome. Like, online and stuff.” He’s in Boulder, CO. Say hi @andrewjcoate.

I have a problem with LinkedIn groups. They’re awful.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But Coate, don’t you manage the largest content marketing-focused group on LinkedIn?”

Why yes. Yes I do. And that’s awesome, great, superb, fun, fantastic, neat, and all the positive adjectives. The group is booming in membership, interactions, and is of productive business value to Kapost. Generally, it’s not awful!

But sometimes it’s awful.

Don’t worry, this post isn’t about to head down Rant Road or make any left turns at the intersection of Bitter Avenue and Jaded Street. There’s plenty of value in LinkedIn groups—when done well.

What does “done well” look like? Let’s start with what it doesn’t look like.

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Not where this post is going

What’s the problem?

When running a search for LinkedIn Groups on the Google machine, it’s remarkably easy to find information on how to market to LinkedIn groups or derive business value out of them.

LookingForLinkedInGroups

The first few pages of search results show us how to make LinkedIn groups valuable to businesses. It’s much harder to find reasons a LinkedIn group is valuable to the average LinkedIn user, aside from vague “connect with other industry professionals” or “position yourself as a thought leader” type tips.

Unfortunately, we’ve run into a bit of a problem with definitions. “Positioning yourself as a thought leader” has often translated to “share stuff you find interesting” or worse “promote whatever blog post you wrote or whatever thing you want people to download,” which, in the wise words of Cartman from South Park is “totally lame, you guys.”

Too much emphasis has been placed on marketing or selling ourselves—as companies and individuals. The result has been that most groups end up as wastelands of links to blog posts.

The screenshot below shows the stats from a different large content marketing group on LinkedIn, run by a recognizable brand. Notice how discussions and comments tend to hover around the same numbers, with discussions per week often outnumbering comments. Not much incentive to be participate, eh?

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Discussions without comments aren’t discussions

What’s the fix?

At Kapost, the Content Marketing Academy group was once in a similar state. Our mandate was to grow the group, but I didn’t see much point in a giant group if people were just collecting the logo for the “Groups” section of their profiles. Plus, absolutely nothing about sifting through a wave of submissions to find a few articles worth sharing with the group sounded appealing to me. *cough*

As a response, we made a somewhat radical move. We banned submitting links to the discussions section of the group. I explained it to the group as follows.

DISCUSSIONS AREA: 
Consider this the “out to dinner with friends” section. If you were out with friends and wanted their honest thoughts about a recent event, would you: 

A. Write a blog post and email them asking them to comment on it? 

B. Scribble the name of an article you read about the topic then toss it on the table without explanation? 

C. Ask them to share their personal insights or experiences? 

The correct answer for this group is C. 

The discussion area is dedicated to actual dialogue. It’s a “no links zone.” To post in the discussion area, please submit a question or comment to the group that stands alone without links to outside promotions. 

This change was met with overwhelming verbal support in the comments, followed by an extreme jump in engagement. Prior to changing these guidelines, our group averaged 1.2 comments per discussion. After, it spiked to 15 comments per discussion and has steadied to between 10-13 comments per discussion still—nearly a year later.

We shifted how people viewed our group. It used to be a place to post stuff. It was a place to push.

Now, it’s a place to seek something—an answer, a relationship with other marketers, actual value. People are using the group properly.

For more on how revive a stagnant LinkedIn group, I detailed the philosophical and psychological changes we made in step-by-step posts called How to Make Your LinkedIn Group Not Suck and How to Grow Your LinkedIn Group.

But when Mention initially reached out to me for this post, they expressed interest in learning not only how to spur interaction in groups, but how to keep that interaction going.

You know, the tough stuff.

Below I’ve included four strategies for keeping the conversation flowing, but these don’t represent the four best strategies. They’re not “the top 4 ways,” or “4 essential tactics,” or any other list post variation.

I say this because if, as the manager of a LinkedIn group, you’re able to foster an environment where people want to come, talk, and share thoughts and experiences — the group will operate like a killer party and will flow naturally. There will be ample ways to keep the good vibes going, and you’ll know them because you’re the host and you know what your guests like.

Now, how to keep a great party going…

Talk about the weather

At some point every conversation trails off. Even the best, most highly engaged ones lose steam eventually. In these moments, I find it beneficial to have low-barrier-to-entry posts available that people can easily comment on. These posts might ask people for recommendations, or to list their likes and dislikes, or to give short (tweet-length) comments to be included in content—all simple ways to get people comfortable contributing.

I don’t want to diminish the value of these conversations. Icebreaker topics, as corny as they can be, help people warm up to the idea of sharing. They also provide group moderators and fellow members an opportunity to take a look at the types of people drawn to the group.

IntroYourself

Talk to that weird guy in the corner

The ebb and flow of comments in the Content Marketing Academy has been fascinating to me. Some conversations I expect to fade quickly, only to watch them gain 90 comments and stay relevant days, even weeks later. Others, I make myself a bowl of popcorn and cozy up on the couch expecting a great show, only to stare at the LinkedIn group discussion version of color bars.

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I just want to go on record and saying while writing that sentence about popcorn I did, in fact, get up and go make popcorn

If a question doesn’t get picked up by the group, you can help by starting the conversation. Be the first to engage with that lonely post in the corner. You may not have a great response or know the answer, but just saying as much will make the contributor feel valued and want to participate again.

Introduce the weird guy to the others

A lack of comments on a group discussion isn’t always the sign of lack of interest. Maybe the question was poorly worded and people don’t know how to answer. Maybe it’s a tough one, and people are scared to answer and/or going to come back to it after further thought. Maybe it just got posted at an awkward time. With a lot happening in an especially active group, it’s easy to overlook things.

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The guy in this picture has a great smile

I like to use the Group Announcement feature to call out the lesser known discussions. Once a week, LinkedIn allows group moderators to send an email to all members. Most groups use this to pitch boring webinars or push their own agenda. I keep it about the group. By sending a digest of less commented-on posts you give people a new reason to come back and interact. You also send the message that every discussion is important.

Have a party starter ready to go

Have you ever been to a party that’s kind of muddling along when someone bursts through the door and proclaims, “The party has now arrived!”?

We may roll our eyes at those people, but the truth is they often bring a jolt of energy to every party they attend. Either that, or they’re [CENSORED]. Let’s focus on the former scenario.

In my life, it’s a guy named Brian. I know that if I bring Brian to social situations, we’ll be fine. He’s friendly and fun and no dance floor is complete without his moves.

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I’ll let you guess who Brian is in this picture

Every solid LinkedIn group has a Brian — a person who loves to start threads and comment on other threads. Find your Brian, and when things start to fade, call on that person to stir things up. Have them comment on lonely posts or start a conversation about the weather. Having people as excited as you are to keep the energy flowing takes a lot of pressure off you.

Those are just a few ways to keep to conversation flowing. They take some work, but most good things do.

Speaking of flowing conversation, I’ve started a discussion in Mention’s LinkedIn Group. Come say hello.

As Kapost's Senior Community & Content Manager, Andrew J. Coate is responsible for "Being awesome. Like, online and stuff." His likes include living in Boulder, running, hockey, Chicago deep dish pizza, craft beer, social media, his lovely fiancée Jill, and photoshopping people's faces onto things. His dislikes include hangnails, the phrase "YOLO", really large malls, and Billy Corgan.

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