One of the best ways to get involved in a social networking community – and find people who think like you, work like you, have your same interests, and, eventually, want and need your products and services – is by joining groups. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter each have a groups feature that allows you to build a rapport with other members and more easily disseminate your message to a targeted audience.

Click to “next page” to get started with joining, participating in, and creating LinkedIn groups.

LinkedIn Groups

Although there’s more information related to LinkedIn groups than the other sites, this feature is fairly intuitive to navigate. After you log in, you’ll see a “groups” link along the top toolbar. When you hover your mouse over it, you’ll see several options:

  • My Groups: Once you start joining groups, you’ll click on this option to go to a page displaying all your groups. From that page, you can also visit discussions you’re following (“Following”), see LinkedIn’s recommendations for other groups you may want to join (“Groups You May Like”), view the group directory and search for additional groups (“Groups Directory”), and create your own group (“Create a Group”)
  • Groups You May Like: This is the primary way to get recommendations for groups based on your interests, contacts, and groups to which you already belong.
  • Groups Directory: This is the primary way to start looking for groups to join when you’re just starting out.
  • Create a Group: This is the primary way to start your own group.
LinkedIn groups menu

Finding groups

For now, let’s start with the group directory. This page displays featured groups, selected by LinkedIn based on their interest and popularity – and while you may certainly find a group that interests you here, most users will want to begin searching for specific groups that fit their own interests. Start with the key words that best describe your business – insurance, for starters, returns 4,525 groups, so you may want to narrow it down. You can sort by several different types of groups: alumni, corporate, conference, networking, nonprofit, professional, or other. Filtering the “insurance” key word search by networking group, for instance, returns 1,218 groups. Searching only for groups in English narrows it down further to 1,188.

Some other searches that may interest insurance producers include:

  • “Long term care insurance” for all categories returns 46 groups, including the Society of Financial Service Professionals, Long Term Care (LTC) Insurance, Long-Term Care Insurance Producers (the official LinkedIn group of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance), and Disability Income and Long-Term Care Insurance Professionals.
  • Using “health insurance” as a search term with the filter “networking group” returns 107 groups, including Insurance Professionals, Healthcare Reform, and Connecting with Insurance Agents.
  • When you search for “employee benefits” and filter for “networking group,” you’ll see 63 groups, including Benefits and Health & Welfare Professionals, Benefits Selling, and International Employee Benefits Association.
LinkedIn groups directory

As you can see, there is a multitude of ways to find groups to join. While LinkedIn is great for connecting with prospects through your existing connections, you may want to start with adding connections and seeing which groups they belong to. Joining groups that other insurance professionals belong to – especially those with connections in the hundreds – can be a great way to follow in their footsteps. To see which groups they belong to, visit their profile and scroll down to “Groups and Associations,” at the bottom of the page.

To join a group yourself, just click on the link and click the yellow “join group” button. Some groups will require approval by the moderator before you can join, which can take up to 24 hours. With others, once you click “join,” you’re in.

Participating in groups

Once you’re in a group, there are plenty of ways to get involved, learn new information, and share in the conversation. At the top of each group’s home page is a template for you to share a link, offer interesting information, or start a discussion by asking a question. It’s prefilled with your profile photo and a link to your profile that other group members can follow. Under that box, you’ll see something called “Latest Discussions.” This scrolls through the latest updates from group members and allows you or others to like a discussion, comment on it, flag it, and more. Listed below are the most popular and most recent discussions. You can also access all of the latest updates by clicking on “Updates” under the “More” tab under the group name.

Want to find out who else is in the group and how closely you’re connected? That information is under the “members” tab. Group members are asked to confine promotional activity to the “promotions” tab. Some groups also have jobs sections, and you can also search the group for certain keywords. Under “More,” you can choose to see only your activity, see any subgroups, and see a group profile.

Start a group

If you’re interested in starting a group, just go to the “Groups” tab at the very top of the page, and click on “Create a Group.” Required information includes your group name, group type, both brief and full descriptions of your group, your email, access privileges – whether it’s open access where anybody can join with a manager’s approval, or a request to join system where you or another manager must approve members – and a check box that you agree to the LinkedIn Terms of Service.

Optional items include a logo, your website or the website you want associated with the group, the language, and geographical location if you’re focused on a specific area. You’ll also be asked whether you want the group to appear in the groups directory, whether you want members to be allowed to display your group’s logo on your profile, and whether you want to allow members to invite others to join the group. If you’ve chosen the “request to join” option, you can also pre-approve members with a specific email domain, such as those from your company.

Create a group on LinkedIn

Once your group is up and running, you can invite your contacts, and the word will spread from there. Make sure to keep your group active by engaging in the activities mentioned under “participating in groups,” and invite others to do the same.

Some other tips for group success include:

  • Use a group name that includes keywords you believe your target audience will search for.
  • Have your group listed in the groups directory for easy access by interested members.
  • Keep your group active, but abide by the terms of service! Spam is not welcome on most LinkedIn groups.

Looking for more? Visit LinkedIn’s Learning Center for an overview of groups and how they work. And, for more advice from a marketing master, check out “10 Ways to Use LinkedIn” by Guy Kawasaki.

Facebook

Creating groups on Facebook is also relatively easy, and a great way to network with other professionals as well as build awareness of your business with potential clients and prospects on your friends list.

Creating your group

Once you build your profile and log into your account, on the lefthand side, you should see a “Create group” link. Click on it, and a popup box will appear asking you for the group name, members, and the privacy level of the group – whether it’s open to all, closed to select members, or a secret group.

Create a group on Facebook

Once you click “Create,” you’ll be taken to your new group’s page, where you’re asked to finish your setup by adding a group picture and picking an email address for the group. To add an email address, click “Edit Group” and click on “Choose for Group” under “Email Address.” Facebook will ask you to enter an email address, which will go to YourGroupsEmail@groups.facebook.com. We set our privacy to “secret” just because it’s a test group, but you can set yours to public, meaning both members and content are public, or private, meaning members are public and content is private. You can also provide a brief description of your group here.

Edit group details in Facebook

Interacting with your group

Once you’ve got those basics taken care of, you can post a status update (just like you would on your personal profile), and add a link, video, event, or document. To share the group with others by posting it to your profile, click on the “share” link at the bottom of the group’s news feed. You can also chat with the group if you have members online (“Chat with Group”), add friends to the group from your existing friends list (“Add Friends to Group”), or, if you’ve joined somebody else’s group, leave the group at any time (“Leave Group”).

A complete group page on Facebook

Facebook group tweaks

Just be sure to manage your group’s and your own settings to avoid annoyances, such as…

  • Messages sent to a group will be emailed to the address you used to sign up for your Facebook account. If you don’t want to receive those emails, you can disable emails by going to the Facebook Account Settings page, clicking on the Notifications tab, scrolling down to Groups, and disabling those notifications.
  • Facebook won’t ask you for your permission if your friends invite you – you’ll just be in the group. If you don’t want to join a group, you can visit the group’s page and, as discussed earlier, click on “Leave Group.” You will be removed, and your friend won’t be able to add you.
  • As the administrator of a group, you can remove people you don’t want on there – since friends you added can also add friends of theirs. But many of those well-versed in tech-iquette recommend letting your initial members know up front to ask you before adding someone, if that’s how you want things to go.

Want to know more? Check out Facebook’s Groups Help Center.

Twitter

Unlike LinkedIn and Facebook, Twitter itself has no built-in groups feature – but there are a number of third-party solutions to help you do so. Some of the most popular sites include:

  • TweetWorks: Allows you to create either public or private groups and post messages just to your group or to the group and the public Twitter timeline at the same time. You don’t need to join the service, but you do need to login with your Twitter account.
  • TwitTangle: In addition to creating groups, you can tag and rate your friends, allowing you to filter your timeline. There’s also a batch grouping feature, which allows you drag and drop friends into the groups you’ve created. Log in with your Twitter name and password.
  • Filttr: Allows you to establish groups according to filters that you can apply to your own Twitter stream.
  • GroupTweet: Turns a standard Twitter account into a group communication hub, allowing members to post updates to everyone on the group using direct messages (DM), which the service then converts into a tweet that all follows can see. To keep updates restricted to group members only, you can protect your group account on Twitter using directions on the GroupTweet site. Register your Twitter account with GroupTweet and share with your preferred members to get started.
  • Tweetparty: Create your own personal groups and message all the users you placed in your groups simultaneously with a single tweet. Just create your groups on Tweetparty, add the members you want in each group, and then DM @tweetparty with the group name and message. It will then be dispersed via DM to each individual.
  • TweetDeck: A Twitter desktop client that allows you to create groups with all of your contacts and filter messages however you like.
  • Twitter: A workaround to the no groups feature on Twitter is to tag all related tweets with a hashtag (#) so others can easily search and find those tweets, and tweet their own messages using that hashtag. For example, if you want to create a group around health care reform, you could tag all messages you’d want to show in that group with #healthcarereform at the end of the tweet. Just do a search first to make sure nobody else is using those hashtags.

Want to check out more Twitter group applications, clients, and more? See Mashable’s fantastic “30+ More Ways to Create Twitter Groups.”

Christina Pellett is the editor of the Agent’s Sales Journal. She can be reached at 800-933-9449 ext. 226 or ASJeditor@AgentMedia.com.

Ready for day 10 of the social media bootcamp? Visit our exclusive podcast with marketing expert Diane Conklin on how to manage your social media time.


Advance to Day 10 of the Social Media Boot Camp
Managing Your Social Media Time
Catch up with past boot camp tutorials
Why Social Media for Insurance Agents — and Why Now?
Getting Started with LinkedIn
Getting Started with Twitter
Getting Started with Facebook
Choosing the Right Social Media Site for You
5 Ways for Agents to Build LinkedIn Connections
Using Twitter to Grow Your Business
How to Promote Your Insurance Practice on Facebook