[IMGCAP(1)]LinkedIn Groups can be a great way for you to expand your reach and meet others in your industry, referral sources and potential clients. Here are some tips that you may find useful.

Joining

• Look for groups in the industry you are trying to reach. Use the search feature to see what is already out there before creating a brand new group. Someone may have already done it for you.

• Look to see what groups your clients are in. This is a great way to see which groups are out there that may be good for you to join.

• Add value and be active. Make regular posts and start discussions that are on topic and interesting to other members. Also, add comments to posts that others have uploaded to build more awareness for you and your firm.

• Connect directly to those you find interesting. Being a part of a group gives you access to LinkedIn members you may have never found any other way. Send connection requests (personalized, of course) to those to whom you want to connect directly.

Creating

• Pick a good group name. Use keywords that your target audience will search for, and make sure your purpose is clear.

• Create a group for an industry or niche, not your firm. People will be more likely to join a general group. A firm group will probably only bring in members of your firm, and it feels too self-serving.

• Decide whether you want it to be an open or closed group. Anyone can join an open group. Content posted in an open group is indexed by search engines and can be shared to Twitter and Facebook. Members-only groups are much more controlled.

• Control content and members. As the manager of a group, you have a certain amount of control about what goes on in your group, but you also have the responsibility to manage it.

Promoting

• Invite co-workers, colleagues, clients and referral sources to join. This will get you started until others become aware of your group.

• Promote the group on your Web site, blog, email newsletter, email signature and any other social media networks. If you don’t tell people it’s there, you won’t get members!

• Invite industry experts to join and engage. The more interesting the people and posts in your group, the more people will want to be a part of it.

• Integrate your group into your other marketing efforts. Every time you do a webinar, hold a lunch and learn, or attend a meeting, notify your group. Promote the group when you have speaking opportunities too. Also consider posting a recap of the meeting content after it takes place.

Managing

• Add discussions, news and jobs. The more opportunities for interaction, the more valuable the group will be to the members.

• Use featured discussions to highlight particular content. As the manager of a group, you can decide what content gets featured in the top right corner of the group page. Use this wisely.

• Import your blog RSS feed. If you have a blog, you can automatically post content as it’s added to your group page.

• If your group is member-only, you’ll have to manually approve each member. It’s nice to send a welcome note, with any group rules included, as members join.

• Highlight active group members. Add them to the featured post or thank them for adding beneficial content. Active members are important to any growing group.

• It’s about the group, not you. It’s not about selling your services, though you can talk about what you do. It’s more about interaction and conversation.

• Poll the group to find out what they are interested in. This is a great way to check in from time to time to make sure members are engaged and getting what they want from the group.

• Keep an eye out for off-topic or rude posts. Send a note to those who are not “playing nice” asking them to get in line. If they continue, delete them from the group. It’s your responsibility as a manager to keep the group clean and beneficial to members.

This just really scratches the surface, but gives you some information so you can decide if joining or creating a group is the right thing for you and your firm. What advice do you have to add? What groups do you find the most useful? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk is president of BBR Marketing, a firm that provides marketing strategy, services and tactical implementation for professional services providers.