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Starting a Linkedin group isn’t just a flip of the switch.

When it comes to social media marketing for businesses, LinkedIn is at the top of the list. Unlike Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn builds networks of business professionals interested in related “business” topics without the glut of cat pictures.

Using LinkedIn for lead generation requires understanding the medium and how to align your audience to your message. One way to do this is by starting a LinkedIn group. LinkedIn groups bring like-minded people together to share information. They can help you identify contacts, share information and learn more about your marketplace. They can also be incredibly difficult to measure and manage in terms of B2B lead generation.

Starting a LinkedIn group: 5 things to know before you start.

1) Building an Audience is Still Your Biggest Challenge
Just like any other marketing program, building a reliable, interested audience is essential. Starting a LinkedIn group is cheap and easy, but getting people to join is another matter entirely. Getting people to join your group can be accomplished with personal invitations, paid promotions or organically. Your strategy for this will greatly depend on what you are trying to accomplish and how quickly.

2) Content is Critical
It’s a familiar refrain, but it’s one that holds true here as much as anywhere. If you’re starting a LinkedIn group, you need to have a reason for people to join, follow and return. This is where your content comes in. Your content will drive the conversation forward. It should inspire people to contribute and most importantly, not be overbearing. LinkedIn groups work when they are open dialogs, not one-sided sales messages.

3) Manage Your Membership Carefully
If you do a good job of building your content, you also want to review the postings of others to eliminate blatant sales messages. Groups thrive when they bring together people who are sharing valuable information, but they quickly turn into vendor sales tools when not monitored. This means defining the rules upfront and blocking people who are more concerned with spreading their message than helping others.

4) Keep Members Engaged
In the early stages of your group, you’ll probably need to do a lot of hand-holding and management to keep the conversation going. This includes posting questions for the group to answer on specific topics, doing poll questions, sharing best practices from others or highlighting member accomplishments. Your goal is to make the information within your group value and personally relevant to the individual members.

5) Evaluate Why You Are Starting a LinkedIn Group
Using a LinkedIn group for lead generation, like any other social media marketing platform requires patience and persistence. Don’t expect leads to magically appear. Instead, understand upfront what you are trying to get from the activity and make sure you have a plan for how to achieve these goals. For example, LinkedIn can be a good way to identify new contacts, collect information on industry trends or people’s opinions. If you don’t understand how you’ll achieve success, step back and reconsider your reasons for starting the group.

Finally, before you do anything consider the long-term impact your group will have on your business. What other marketing opportunities will you need to give up to organize and manage this group? If the value of those programs to your lead generation activities is greater and more realistically achieved than using LinkedIn, you need to adjust your priorities to those activities first and only return to LinkedIn when it makes the most sense for your business.