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updated 2/28/2014 8:18:42 PM ET 2014-03-01T01:18:42

LinkedIn groups can be a great resource for people looking to network on the career-social platform. Not only do they connect you with other like-minded people but also provide a bevy of information small-business owners and entrepreneurs can use. But are they for you?

When I first joined LinkedIn, I wasn’t sure how I would benefit from it. I wasn’t looking for a job. I wasn’t looking to hire anyone. I wasn’t interested in reconnecting with old colleagues.

Also, I’m a bit old school. When I want to reach out to someone, I pick up the phone. Regardless, I decided to create an account, because I was curious if LinkedIn could benefit my business somehow. And what I discovered is that yes, it really can.

Soon after I joined LinkedIn, I learned there was a bit of a Goldilocks phenomenon going on. Some groups were simply too large to meaningfully engage with people. Others were so small there was little active discussion.

I also noticed many people were blatantly fishing for new clients. Making a sales pitch on LinkedIn groups is awkward and obvious. Almost everyone avoided those conversations, (which weren’t really conversations at all but sales pitches) because they weren’t looking to be sold.

Related: 17 Must-Have Features on Your LinkedIn Profile (Infographic)

Let me be clear, I’ve made all the mistakes you can make on social media sites. I’ve jumped in too fast, I’ve written about all my accomplishments, and I’ve used them as a way to promote my brand and image. But people see right through all of that. Getting people to know you and trust you can't be rushed, even on a site like LinkedIn. The best thing you can do is to start off slow. Sit back and observe the dialogues that are happening: What are people looking for out of this group?  

On LinkedIn, I tried something new. I realized you need to provide people with good content to keep them coming back -- information that will benefit them. You need to really care. So I started asking questions. What were entrepreneurs and small business persons interested in learning? What would help them?

And something amazing happened. People started to respond. Comments flowed in. We were all learning from one another, and the information was actually valuable! I consider myself an expert in the field of licensing and small-business entrepreneurship but hearing other expert’s perspectives on different subjects was hugely beneficial to me. I thought I was going to be teaching, but I ended up learning.

Related: Have a Blog? LinkedIn Wants Your Copy.

To make the most of LinkedIn-discussion groups, follow these guidelines.

Ask questions that can benefit everyone. The only way to do that is to really understand the goals and purpose of the group. So do your homework first and observe the group. What are members asking for? What do they want to achieve? Don't jump in without knowing, or you will look foolish. 

Don’t sell, be social. Joining a group is like being invited to a party: It’s best to get to know people first. Demonstrate your sincerity by asking questions. What do people do? What are their interests?

Avoid dominating the conversation. Take the time to let a dialogue get going. Pause before you respond. This reaction will let people know you’re open to hearing their opinions.

Don’t brag. (You’re not the only expert.) Your achievements are much more impactful when you let others discover them on their own. Being humble speaks volumes. And it’s actually a great sales tool.

Thank people when they contribute. It’s such a simple thing to do but giving thanks makes people feel needed and helpful, which goes a long way towards establishing a trusting relationship.

Keep an open mind, even when you disagree. It’s okay to disagree. It makes the conversation that much more interesting. It’s amazing what you will learn when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Is participating in LinkedIn discussion groups benefiting my business? Absolutely. Because of this new approach, we’re receiving anywhere from five to 10 leads every day. That’s pretty remarkable. People see that we’re invested in our community. And because of that, they feel encouraged to reach out to us for more information. That’s powerful. Do yourself a favor and contemplate how you can make the most of the LinkedIn community.

Related: How to Make Networking Suck Less

Copyright © 2013 Entrepreneur.com, Inc.

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