Are you in any LinkedIn Groups? If you answered 'No,' or 'Yes, but I don't really participate,' then it's time for a change.

LinkedIn Groups are arguably one of the professional social network's best features, yet also one of the most underutilized.

They're a place to find help, information, and meaningful connections. One of the best perks, from a networking perspective, is that sharing a group with someone allows you to view their profile without being connected and even send them a message without being a first-degree connection. Have I drawn you in yet?

I could go on to explain exactly why you should join groups on LinkedIn, but several people have already done so: Miles Jennings convinced people on the LinkedIn blog, HubSpot talks about LinkedIn Groups in their guide to LinkedIn, and Power Formula has shown you how to find relevant groups.

This post is for LinkedIn users who have already joined a group or two, and are looking to make more out of their memberships.

1. Focus your energy on a few groups (Tweet this)

Although you're allowed to join up to 50 LinkedIn groups, few people actually have the time to actively participate in that many forums. It's okay to lurk in a few groups, but you don't want to try to keep up with so many new discussions that you end up participating in none.

linkedin group email digests

Instead, pick 3-5 groups to focus on. Make sure you have email digests turned on for them so that you won't miss new activity (you can adjust your email digest options in the "Group Settings" tab. Try to visit each group a few times each week and start discussions, share content, and comment on existing discussions and content.

A bonus reason to avoid spreading yourself across too many groups is that some groups show the group's "top influencers" for the week. The "Top Influencer" box shows active users who drive conversations in the group that week. Spending more time in fewer groups makes it more likely that your name and picture will appear there, which can be great for personal branding. However, if you're just liking or commenting on every discussion with a few words to appear active, it will have the opposite effect.

2. Variety is the spice of networking (Tweet this)

Try to join a variety of group types. Groups are usually singularly focused, while well-rounded networkers are not. There are LinkedIn groups focused on different industries, job functions, geographic locations, organizational associations, and more. I recommend trying to join at least one group for each of the types listed above (while keeping the previous tip in mind).

linkedin group search

Search the group directory and view LinkedIn's suggestions to look for existing groups for alumni networks of schools you've attended, any professional associations you're a member of, a local networking group, and a group for your industry or job function. This will assure that you're meeting a variety of new people and always have an outlet to turn to. For example, if you have a question about something at work, you can look to your industry group. If you need a contact in your local area, you can post in your local networking group.

3. Give as much as you take (Tweet this)

One of the cardinal rules of both networking and social media is that it's never just about you. You don't want to be too needy, or self-promotional. LinkedIn Groups have lots of members, and they all matter just as much as you do. This means:

If you frequently share your own content in group discussions, make sure you're also sharing and/or interacting with other people's content.

If you frequently ask the group for help or opinions, make sure you're also weighing in and helping other members who need it.

For all group activities, try to balance how much you're benefiting from other group members with how much other group members can benefit from you.

This isn't just about karma (although you know what they say about karma). If people notice that you're constantly 'taking' and not 'giving,' they'll be less likely to help you out or pay attention to your posts. You want to add value to the group, not appear spammy or desperate.

4. Participate in popular discussions (Tweet this)

In the default group view, popular discussions are given more space in the group's layout than discussions with little activity, and even new discussions. While users can switch between "What's Happening" view and "Latest Discussions" view, a lot of users probably don't even notice that toggle. The active discussions are where you want to be.

linkedin group view

Each popular discussion is active for one reason or another, and that's reason enough for you to jump in. If people are talking about a news item, share your opinion on what you think its impact is. If there's a discussion about an article or blog post, comment with what your favorite part was and why you liked it. Bring something new into the discussion.

Participating in popular discussions will also be great for your personal brand: more group visitors will see your name, face, and opinions when you comment on popular discussions as opposed more stagnate ones.

5. Take connections beyond the group (Tweet this)

Once you've been actively networking in a few groups for awhile, you'll find people that are regularly participating in the same discussions as you are. You may even have some one-on-one conversations with them. This is the perfect time to extend your relationship.

Talking in the group is great, but the connection is not as deep as being directly connected. If you want to take your connection further, send them a message or LinkedIn invitation (with a personalized message, of course). You can also see what other social networks they're on, like Twitter, SlideShare, etc. However, at this point, stick to networks people use somewhat professionally. It's a little soon to friend them on Facebook.

What are your favorite benefits of LinkedIn groups? Do you have any more advice for participating in them? Share them in the comments!