Copyright (c) <a href='http://www.123rf.com'>123RF Stock Photos</a>

There is a lot of buzz about social media as a free marketing tool. However, without a little judicious review, your social media efforts can quickly consume a good chunk of your resources. In short: choose where you invest your time wisely. Here, we examine the pros and cons of starting a LinkedIn Group and using it to grow your business.

What is a LinkedIn Group?

Similar to a Facebook group, a LinkedIn Group is a congregating place where people with similar interests can gather to discuss topics related to their business. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn is seen as a professional platform filled almost exclusively with professionals and job seekers. Anyone who is interested in starting a LinkedIn Group should choose to establish a “closed” rather than an “open” group to prevent spam (more about this below).

The pros

As a large, professionally-focused social media site, LinkedIn is a popular marketing tool for many reasons. It’s easy to use, filled with high wage earners and can also be a good recruiting tool. LinkedIn is mandatory marketing for most big companies, so there is a large gene pool of high wage earners and potential clients on the site. Theoretically, a LinkedIn Group is a good way to engage these people and capture their interest. For an agency that specializes in a few specific products, a closed LinkedIn Group is an excellent place to broadcast news and share stories and ideas.

See also: 6 Ways to Generate Leads on LinkedIn

Setting up a LinkedIn Group is painless. This is something that can be accomplished in an afternoon once your LinkedIn account is set up. Send out invitations to all the people on your LinkedIn lists and you are ready to go. Users and administrators can both start forum topics. It is best to approve all members and forum topics before releasing them into your group.

LinkedIn is a congregating place for employees and unemployed people looking for work, and it can be a very useful recruiting tool. A group offers one way to prescreen potential candidates before officially inviting them for an interview. Though a LinkedIn profile is more formal than what you would see on Facebook, you can still glean useful details about a candidate’s personality and background.

The cons

Spam is the No. 1 reason not to join or start a LinkedIn Group. Over a three-month testing period, joining LinkedIn groups yielded on average 20–30 spam mails per day. Even when a user expressly removes herself from a given mailing list, the spam just keeps on coming. Moreover, unless a closed group is established, spammers will infiltrate all sections of your group like a disease. This is why it’s important to establish your group as “closed” from the beginning, as noted above.

The amount of spam on LinkedIn can translate into a serious time commitment to the group. New members must be screened and their profiles must be checked before allowing them into the group. Similarly, moderators and group members need to quickly identify and remove spammers from the group if they do enter.  Viveka Von Rosen has written a very good article on ways to identify spammers during this screening process. All of this translates into time-consuming moderation for the group.

Another drawback to a LinkedIn Group is that it isn’t always an effective driver of website traffic. The material put in the group forum must be good enough to generate interest and interaction, yet it must also be shallow enough to encourage users to seek more from your website. In some ways, it can be easier to just start the interaction on your own blog, send out RSS feeds and encourage people from LinkedIn to visit your site without the investment of time and energy that a LinkedIn Group requires.

In conclusion Return on investment is something to watch and track with every social media effort. The time lapse to see results from an investment in social media is usually six months or more, and a LinkedIn Group is no different. My best advice? Establish a strong social media plan and monitor results closely. Social Media may be a “free” marketing tool — but it’s not always as free as it first seems.

For more from Lisa Pluth, see:

3 Ways to Target the High Net-Worth Market Online

Facebook Ads vs. Google Adwords: Who Wins?

7 Ways Mobile Marketing Can Improve Your Client Relationships