LinkedIn is upping its user experience game by improving LinkedIn Groups. According to a recent email from company officials, the changes will allow Groups users to:

  • Participate in vibrant conversations with the ability to reply to comments, edit your posts and comments, and post native video and rich embedded media.
  • Stay up-to-date with notifications of the latest membership and social activities in your groups.
  • Get involved in your groups on-the-go from the LinkedIn iOS and Android apps.

Are LinkedIn Groups worth the effort for your brand or for you as a marketer? We caught up some LinkedIn Groups users to find out what they’ve gotten out of the platform and if they believe these updates will improve the user experience.

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Networking with Like-Minded Professionals

Millions have flocked to the LinkedIn Groups experience. More than half of the 575 million LinkedIn members worldwide are in at least one group, according to LinkedIn’s Darlene Gannon, director of corporate communications. Launched in 2004, Groups was one of the professional social networking site's first products. 

According to LinkedIn, its Groups experience “provides a place for professionals in the same industry or with similar interests to share content, find answers, post and view jobs, make business contacts, and establish themselves as industry experts.”

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Room for Growth

For some, however, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing with LinkedIn Groups. “The site has become increasingly complex, forcing many to relearn basic practices and continually integrate new site features and functions,” social business psychologist JD Gershbein wrote in the Huffington Post in March of 2016, a few months after LinkedIn redesigned Groups and launched a standalone iOS app. “As the size of user’s networks increase, there is increasingly more information to process, and the Groups can easily slip through the cracks of conscious awareness.”

Constant Iteration

Fast forward to 2018, LinkedIn is still working on improving the experience and has been doing a good deal of work on the platform over the past year, according to Mitali Pattnaik, director of product management for Groups. “Over the past year we’ve been focused on developing a new Groups experience, completely rebuilding it from the ground up and integrating it into the LinkedIn website and app to make it easier for members to access, join and stay updated on conversations,” Pattnaik told CMSWire. “We are constantly working on improving the experience even further for our members and admins and will have a number of new features that will be rolling out over the coming months, such as the ability to feature posts in your groups, pre-moderating content, and content search within your group.”  

Will the improvements work? Greg Cooper, who provides LinkedIn training, noted that engagement levels will be the ultimate sign that LinkedIn’s revamped look on Groups worked. Driving user participation and engagement is the number one challenge for LinkedIn, he said in a recent blog post. However, he added, “unless LinkedIn can persuade users to join in more often, then groups are dead anyway and arguments about what other features should have been included are academic.”

That said, some new features Cooper noted include:

  • The group page design mirrors the homepage
  • Members can add images and video to posts
  • Posts can now be edited
  • The topic search is gone
  • Group announcements are not available (for the time being)
  • Email notifications have been discontinued
  • Group admin roles have been simplified
  • The spam filter has been beefed up

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Lack of Targeting

The users that spoke with us had varying opinions about the effectiveness of LinkedIn Groups. Lauren Crain, digital marketer at HealthLabs, said her company is a former user of LinkedIn Groups. “Without the ability to really target new audiences, we never really saw any ROI,” she said. “We stopped using it a few months ago, and haven't noticed a drop in our conversions.”

Tool for News Gathering, Rather than Engagement

Tim Absalikov, co-founder and CEO of Lasting Trend, said that LinkedIn groups are not as active as Facebook Groups and are “usually used for gathering new information and news rather than conversing.” His team doesn’t use LinkedIn Groups as much as it once did. Their strategy involves putting out a lot of valuable information pertaining to their industry and specialties. With the approach, Absalikov said his team gets “mediocre engagement on the post themselves, but you may get some people who reach out to you personally to ask about your expertise when done correctly and if they perceive what you’ve shared as valuable.”

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Learning Opportunities

Sales, Productivity Gains

Some see LinkedIn Groups as a direct generator for positive sales and productivity results. Aisha Farooq, lead generalist for BTC Dubai, has the responsibility to increase sales for her ERP software solution provider company in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). LinkedIn is the main media her team uses to promote services across the UAE. “As a marketer I would say that LinkedIn is emerging steadily from the marketing perspective,” Aisha said. “Businesses get good PR from the groups. LinkedIn Groups are an effective marketing tool to increase sales and get productive results.” 

Farooq cited how she's specifically using LinkedIn Groups to successfully:

  • Target audiences directly - “We can directly talk to our targeted audiences like CFOs, financial analysts and financial officers. We can view the profiles of the people and thus get their links directly,” Farooq said.
  • Invite followers - Based on LinkedIn profiles BTC can invite people according to region to follow the group. “In this way, the audience will be specific according to our needs,” Farooq said. 
  • Increase SEO - Farooq said through LinkedIn Groups her team can increase its ranking on Google via keywords.
  • Analytics through which users can view the engagement - “This helps us in getting a correct audience,” Farooq said. “For instance, if we see the audience is not from Dubai or UAE, then we can invite people accordingly.” 

Products vs. Discussion

LinkedIn Groups also provides a community management system through which users get all activities in the Group to keep the members updated and engaged. Further, Farooq said she can create custom messages that would be automatically sent to people interested in joining a LinkedIn Group. “This is a great opportunity to let your audience know about the service/product you are offering,” she added.

LinkedIn’s Pattnaik did advise that companies should use Groups as a place to bring customers together to have discussions around topics that have a natural tie-in to brands, rather than directly promoting a product or service. “This helps,” she said, “create more meaningful connections with your audience that could result in generating new prospects and leads, or group members sharing your content and news with others in their network.”

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Connecting with Highly-Qualified Leads

Hamna Amjad, community manager at Ridester, deemed LinkedIn Groups “very effective for building relationships and business networking that consequently lead to sales and expanding your customer reach.” These groups give you an opportunity to connect to highly-qualified leads, and the right LinkedIn Groups can also give you insight into your target audience, which can help you develop your marketing strategy, Amjad added. “People generally use these groups to exchange ideas about specific topics with other like-minded people,” Amjad said. “Therefore, your strategy should be to join a few groups in your niche and provide them with this information, then establish a reputation as a thought leader in the space.” 

Engage in meaningful conversations with group members and try to add real value to the group, she added. “Once you've done that, post a few links in the group. You can even start your own group for your business interests. This will further enhance your credibility, as well as open doors for new opportunities to promote your business,” she said.

LinkedIn Groups Success

LinkedIn’s Pattnaik said some of the most successful and active groups seen on LinkedIn are ones that focus on driving conversations on specific topics, as well as giving and getting help, such as the Military Transitioning Veteran Network, Australian Women in Security Network (AWSN), the Business Designers group and Bay Area Discovery Networking Group. She also cited strong enterprise company examples of Groups usage, including HSBC — China Business Network and Bain & Company Global Alumni.

What’s Next?

So what’s ahead for the LinkedIn Groups platform? An email to Groups users from company officials promised some more enhancements down the road that include the ability to easily access your groups from a navigation panel on the LinkedIn homepage, start and join the latest group conversations right from the main feed and discover new groups from the My Network tab on the desktop.