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What’s the last group you joined?

No, I’m not referring to a weekly running group or Spanish language group. I’m talking about LinkedIn Groups.

As every marketing professional knows, one of the biggest challenges we face is finding “our tribe,” the perfect group of people that fit our target audience. We can create killer content and compelling ad copy, but if it doesn’t find the right audience, it can be all for nothing. Identifying that focused, niche segment of people is the sweet spot for growing your agency. And luckily for us, LinkedIn Groups has already done all the hard work.

There are hundreds of thousands of LinkedIn Groups out there — everything from social media to blogging to email marketing. And, joining these groups gives you the unique opportunity to interact with your prospective clients for free.

Here are five steps to use LinkedIn Groups to identify prospects and land new clients:

Find out which groups your prospects are joining

The goal is to join the same groups as your clients and prospects. If you are connected with a lot of your current customers, try leveraging the “search for relevant Groups (based on your network)” capability. Here’s another sneaky way to find out where your prospects are hanging out: go to a current client’s profile and scroll to the bottom. You’ll see a whole list of groups they’ve already joined. Or, better yet — if you’ve identified agencies or individuals you’d love to work with, find their profile and see exactly which groups they’re joining (and join them, too!). And lastly, you should search for groups using keywords and location (for example, you could search for “social media” and “Dallas” to find local groups).

Focus on quality

It doesn’t matter how many LinkedIn groups you join. In fact, joining too many groups can come across as spammy. Instead, do your homework and only join two or three groups in each category, making an effort to be an active, contributing member.

Start by listening

Take the time to monitor and understand how the group operates. Some groups welcome self-promotional content, whereas others will give you the boot if you start talking about your agency. Some groups are more focused on sharing articles and trends, and others may be more interested in networking and job searching. Make sure you can identify the tone of the group, the other members’ goals, and how you can provide value before jumping in and starting a conversation.

Establish thought leadership

Contributing to group discussions is one of the easiest, fastest ways to establish yourself as an expert. According to LinkedIn, participants who comment on group discussions get four times the profile views. And profile views can lead to a bigger network and more possible inbound leads. So, answer questions, post helpful, how-to articles, or share new industry trends. You must focus on how to educate and inform potential clients — do not pitch or sell your services. Even the slightest mention of your agency could come across as overly promotional and could undermine your credibility. I know what you’re thinking — how am I supposed to land new clients if I don’t pitch my services?  You must give before you can take. When you provide value and share your expertise, you build relationships. Relationships lead to LinkedIn connections, and when you do post about your agency, all your connections will see it. Who do you think will be most likely to respond? The person that you helped solve a problem in an authentic, promotional way.

Conduct market research

Do you ever wonder what your target audience thinks about a certain issue? Or what challenges they face? With LinkedIn Groups, you can ask them directly (and for free!). The beauty of LinkedIn Groups is that they are so focused — you can identify a couple hundred SEO professionals and get the opportunity to ask them whatever you want. Just don’t be too sales-y. If you own an SEO agency, ask fellow industry leaders what they think about Google’s new algorithm (the answers could give you new insight into prospects’ challenges). If you offer content marketing services, ask about the hardest part of creating content or how often they post on the blog. All this information will allow you to better market to your target audience, helping you land new clients.

LinkedIn is about so much more than connecting with colleagues and peers. By joining groups, you have a direct “in” with hundreds of prospective clients. And, depending on these prospective clients’ email settings in LinkedIn, the content you post in LinkedIn Groups may even appear directly in their inbox. Now that’s how you grow your agency and land new clients, for free.

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