I often wonder how or why busy professionals find the time (or even have the inclination to find the time) to spend endless hours using Facebook and other social media sites to tell the world what they are up to, what they like and what they don’t like. I just don’t get it, but maybe that’s because I would much prefer to talk to my family and friends direct rather that communicate in this very public way. Then again it may be that I am just old fashioned and completely out of date.

When it comes to business, however, and in particular the legal profession, I have long since learned that failing to keep up to date with modern ideas and technology is a mistake of fundamental proportions. In my long career as a lawyer (and as a Managing Partner of a very successful law firm for over 20 years) I have always totally bought in to the idea of keeping up with the Joneses (forgive the pun!) when it comes to technology and the use social media platforms for business purposes.

Managing a LinkedIn group

In addition to my role within a law firm I also run a training company that specialises in anti-money laundering training for regulated organisations. A few years ago when I was learning the basics of LinkedIn I joined a couple of legal compliance groups that were of interest to me and immediately I noticed how active the groups were and how they provided platforms for interesting debate and discussions involving professional who were keen to contribute. When you think about it here was a free knowledge base with an audience of experienced participants who were willing to contribute and share their experiences. Let’s face it, anything that is free as well as being a useful resource is bound to catch on!

I searched LinkedIn for a group that might be useful for me to join as a Money Laundering Reporting Officer working in the legal profession. My search revealed a number of groups (many created in the USA) that were linked to other professional or financial businesses but alas nothing specific for MLRO’s working in the UK legal profession. I decided therefore to create my own group and call it the “Solicitors Anti-Money Laundering Group”. This was my first venture into the Linkedin groups arena.

Almost from day one it became apparent that my group was attracting interest. I run seminars on the topic of AML compliance and I regularly assist law firms with in-house AML training. Having a group of people together at a seminar or similar event is a great way of promoting something like a new Linkedin group. There was no shortage of takers. I also found out early on that Linkedin provided a useful facility whereby multiple invitations could be sent out at the same time. The group management page allows you to invite others to join your group and there is a handy tool that makes it easy to upload a CSV file containing the email addresses of all the intended recipients. You then press the “send invitations” button and, bingo, hundreds of invitations are sent instantly.

I now have over 830 members and numbers are growing all the time. As a group owner I have complete control over who can and who can’t join and I also have control over articles that are published; for instance, I don’t want members using the group to promote non AML services. I have created strict “Rules” governing the membership of the group and members not adhering to these run the risk of being removed.

The whole Linkedin group experience over the last few years has taught me that there is a lot more to running a successful group than initially I thought would be the case.

There is no doubt that groups can be a very useful way to connect with other business people in a powerful way. Remember though that creating a group is only the first step. It won’t thrive or be of long standing benefit if you don’t put in the effort. Here are some helpful tips.

Be an active manager

  • The most important thing is to be an active group manager. Every approved member should be welcomed with an email telling them how they can use the group, interact with you and how to get in touch with you.
  • Regularly contact members directly with helpful (preferably not sales) information.
  • Scan LinkedIn and your other networks for likely members and invite them to join or get introductions from other LinkedIn members.
  • When members become prominent as contributors, support them and encourage them. They are the foundation for keeping your group active and up to date.
  • Contact non-linked in members and ask them to join your group.

Engage with your group

  • Remember this is about a COMMUNITY not just YOU. You should participate by all means, but the main aim must be to support your community. Do not over sell yourself or your services.
  • As the group grows think of other ways to connect people such as, webinars, seminars, conferences and online chat.
  • Occasionally run a poll or ask questions to get feedback from members.
  • Keep an eye on group discussions and make sure they don’t go stale. If somebody goes to the trouble of posting a new discussion make sure that you join in if no one else does.
  • Remember to thank people for their participation to the group.
  • Promote active members by supporting relevant activities they may be involved with.

Promote your group and its contributors

  • Promote your Linkedin group on Linkedin itself by sharing it with your Linkedin network and ask users to do the same.
  • Post the group URL on your website and related social media sites to encourage growth.
  • Create a badge for users to put on their websites linking to the group.
  • Talk about the group and feature, if permitted, conversations on other networks such as Twitter, Facebook etc.
  • Use both Facebook and Linkedin Ads to promote your group.
  • Whenever your do a presentation or attend a conference spread the word about your group.

Remember also that you want your group to have fun and enjoy the experience. I have found, without doubt, that the LinkedIn Solicitors AML Group has greatly raised my personal profile and reputation on the topic of AML compliance. It has taken me a lot of time and effort to get here, but it is very rewarding to have developed a successful community group on LinkedIn that serves a real purpose for its members.

Other social media activity

On the topic of social media generally at JMW we have invested a lot of time and effort into getting the best out of it. The Twitter account @JMWsolicitors now has over 5,900 followers and we have been named by I-COM as the fifth most influential law firm tweeters nationally. Social media forms an essential part of JMW’s marketing campaigns. It not only improves the SEO visibility in Google but in 2014 alone over 30,000 website users came from social media referrals.

JMW has also invested in a revitalised blog to host all JMW news, articles and commentary. The blog allows users to interact, comment and share the JMW posts all within one hub. Our marketing team manages the blog and all social media in-house to ensure all posts are personal and reflect what is happening at JMW. Each of the JMW social media platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Vine) are used in a distinct way and posts are completely tailored to meet the desired outcomes.

A final word of warning if you are planning on making more use out of social media sites within your business. A well thought out and ongoing social media policy and strategy is essential. But that’s another story!

Bill Jones is the Chairman of JMW Solicitors LLP and the Chief Executive of ML Solutions 4U Ltd, a company that provides dedicated online AML training for the legal profession.

Email bill.jones@mlsolutions4u.co.uk.

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