LinkedIn Groups prove manna from heaven for SMEs

We all have our favourite technology developments. Those that, as time goes on, you realise you just can’t live without.

As far as business is concerned, LinkedIn Groups is rapidly becoming that valuable to its millions of users.

In case you aren’t up with these online communities, LinkedIn Groups are essentially communities of professionals grouped by sector or business speciality.

Horses for Courses

You name it, there will be a LinkedIn Group formed specifically around an industry group.  Everyone, from veterinary surgeons to vegetarian chefs, is represented by a LinkedIn Group dedicated to their professional development.

The traditional professional bodies of the respective industry oversee many groups. But just as many are simply started by individuals looking to share information or improve their profile within the industry.

Of course there is nothing new about forming a special interest group around any given professional discipline.

What makes this new are three key factors:

1. Broadcast capabilities

While email has pioneered the notion of immediate electronic broadcast, LinkedIn Groups take it a step further by allowing recipients to respond immediately and, at the same time, allow others to view their comments in one central location.

So if email is like a mail shot, comments in LinkedIn are more like a public meeting. One person makes a comment, then others respond for all to hear.

The result is a shared discussion of the topic in question where all members of the group can and do participate.

2. Ease of connection

Not so long ago, it took years to build a professional network as it primarily revolved around your physical presence at meetings and events to build it up.

On LinkedIn, your ability to connect with others is just the click of a yellow ‘Connect’ button away.

3. The removal of distance barriers

LinkedIn Groups usually contain members from around the globe – depending on the intent of the group owners. This means that you can be connecting with someone from Hollywood just as readily as someone from Collingwood.

Another valuable aspect of groups is that many will accept members from across the business spectrum. For example, a group dedicated to pharmacy practice may well allow product suppliers to join their group – a wonderful fillip to representatives looking to create and build relationships within the profession.

Or membership may be based around a locality. For years now I’ve been trying to convince my local business group of the massive benefits of starting a LinkedIn Group for its members, for so many wonderful reasons. Unfortunately it continues to fall on deaf ears.

The discussions going on in these groups provide a range of invaluable benefits for the smaller business operator. Here’s a list of the main ones:

1. Advice and opinions from peers

Who hasn’t been confronted with a situation in our professional lives when we haven’t required a professional opinion on a challenge or problem. With LinkedIn Groups, there are literally thousands of professionals who are more than willing to provide their opinion on your issue.

So what would once have taken considerable time or money to obtain the right advice to your particular challenge can now be obtained in the space of a few hours.

2. Promoting your content, event or profile

Ordinary (free) LinkedIn membership allows you to join up to 50 groups. Given most groups contain thousands of members, that’s a sizable audience to broadcast your message to.

3. Raise your profile

A prominent profile ‘out there’ in the community is great for business as you become the ‘go to’ person for your field of expertise and gain business as a result.

Starting and participating in relevant conversations not only raises your profile among members of that group, LinkedIn also reports it by providing a snapshot of the group’s biggest influencers for that week, providing an additional boost to your profile.

4. Respond to calls for recommendations

Finally, the real gold for any business operator is the ongoing stream of calls for recommendations for pretty much any kind of supplier under the sun.

Again, it’s not just your response to that original commenter that is valuable, but the fact that all other members can see your response and either respond or make note of it, providing you with free promotion. This capability alone makes it a must for all business operators responsible for new business generation.

Like all social networking, there are rules of engagement with members of different groups.  But, managed carefully, your participation within them can be an invaluable source of information, advice and if you play your cards right, new business.

So if you’re yet to engage, join LinkedIn as soon as you can and start searching for groups to join. You may never look back!

In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.

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