Social media groups are topic-specific communities accessible for ‘members’ via popular social networks such as Facebook and the business-oriented LinkedIn. Members of these virtual groups can post questions, discussion starters, even news and job listings.
I’ve previously written about starting, leading and nurturing virtual groups, but there’s also an art to being a member. Master that art, and the benefits will be plentiful. Here are some ideas to help you get the most out of virtual group participation.
It’s just as sweet to receive as to give!
It’s truly okay to be a group participant who’s more focused on receiving information than giving it. Groups can be excellent sources of information and ideas, which is exactly why they may be worth your time. You are perfectly welcome to slip in the “back of the room,” so to speak, and simply take in the online banter.
And if you’re new to the whole scene, I actually advise you focus on receiving first. Observe, take in, familiarize, and then you’ll be ready with targeted questions and postings when the time is right.
What you put in is what you’ll get out.
This is not a contradiction to the “sweet to receive” point I just made. Even if you’re only participating to receive information, you still have to be an active participant, putting in time and effort to cull through postings and determine what’s useful for you.
LinkedIn groups generate daily feeds—a list of all the postings for the group—that are emailed to members for review. You can customize how frequently (or infrequently) to receive those feeds, but you simply must look at them in order to gain any benefit from being part of the group. I get feeds from each of the LinkedIn groups I’ve joined via once-daily emails, and I do open those emails and scroll through the content. I’ve established a rhythm of reading quickly, assessing and clicking through to items of particular interest. I’ve learned of many useful things by reading the group feeds, thus it’s worth the time and effort I invest.
Facebook groups often require even more proactivity from members, as there’s no integrated mechanism for auto-email feeds as with LinkedIn. I’ve also found that many people start groups and don’t nurture them; thus, I lose interest quickly. I’ll only “put in” to groups that are proven worthwhile.
Use; don’t abuse.
If you join groups with the aim to target messages to specific audiences, proceed cautiously and exercise wise decorum. In the study of group dynamics of the three-dimensional kind, it’s quite clear the conversation dominators often alienate other members and end up isolated. This truth applies to virtual groups as well. Even online, share the floor, and never use a group as your platform for virtual advertising.
The beauty of virtual groups lies in the shared interests and like-mindedness of its members. By joining a group, you do gain lines of communications with members who may be potential customers or colleagues. Don’t abuse that access; use it wisely.
Be a first responder.
Earn your chance to be heard in your online groups by offering genuine, substantive responses to others’ postings and comments. If you have an answer to someone’s posted question, “speak” up with a timely response. This is the heart of the art of conversation, engaging others at their points of need and interests to spark reciprocal exchanges.
LinkedIn actually has an integrated rating/acknowledgement system that allows those who answer question to earn ‘expert’ status on the site. When someone posts a question on LinkedIn, they can actually select what answer was most helpful. If your answers receive top rankings frequently enough, you’ll be noted an “expert” with a green star on your profile.
Offering responses is an excellent way to become a presence, as participant and a resource to your fellow group member. It’s a validating activity that adds value to the group in many ways. After all, social networking is all about online conversation, and that means two-way interaction! Commit to comment.
Bear in mind, I’m not a “joiner” by nature. I’m prone to the impromptu, informal gathering rather than the structured kind. Yet I’ve benefitted professionally from joining up and participating in social media groups, and my experience has been positive enough that I recommend other small business owners consider it as well.
Invest a little time and effort, and you could experience a group dynamic!