This post continues a series on effective writing in social media.
Online "discussions" are not particularly new; many of us have been active in them since the early days of Internet chat rooms. But LinkedIn has helped move the popular image from a leisure-time diversion to something equally valid for achieving professional goals.
Of course, it only works that way if you maintain a professional image in your postings. To get the most from LinkedIn discussions:
Don't try to use discussions as direct sales tools. It's been said many times in this article series, but it deserves all the emphasis it can get: social networking is not a free advertising venue. Anyone who writes, "If you purchase my product/service this will no longer be an issue for you--go to this address to learn more," is at best annoying to the majority of the discussion's participants and at worst risking being kicked off the network.
Don't, however, be afraid to reveal your business affiliation at all; speaking "as a publisher/travel agent/engineer" adds credibility to your remarks on relevant topics. Don't write a lengthy bio, though; anyone who wants to learn more can click your link.
Don't ever lose your temper. The worst thing any professional networker can do is act childish, and nothing is more childish than letting an anger reaction show in its full ugly colors. Even if someone says something that offends you--even if they insult you directly--never question their intelligence or call them names. "Shouting" with all caps or adding "swear symbols" is, if anything, worse; being openly defensive or directly contradicting someone isn't much better; and arguing your point of view in comment after comment will soon have every other discussion follower wishing you'd disappear. Explain your opinions objectively and concisely; accept that someone will always disagree with you in the end; and if someone else gets nasty, remember that the smartest thing to do is ignore it.
Do say something substantial. "I agree with so-and-so" just takes up screen space. Explain why you agree--and do it in a way that adds something new to the discussion. Don't just rephrase the comment you're agreeing with; open up new ways of looking at the issue.
Do include referrals to other experts and helpful articles. While recommending yourself is usually verboten, recommending others is part of what social networking is all about. And if you know of a full-length online article that casts further light on the subject, you can even get away with having written it yourself. (When referring discussion readers to another Web page, do include enough description to arouse interest; few people bother clicking a link unless they're reasonably sure it's worth the trouble.)
Do keep your actual discussion comments short: three paragraphs at maximum, one wherever possible, and no more than 100 words per paragraph. In online discussions no less than off, talking too much makes you a bore.
When starting a discussion yourself, do choose your opener to arouse interest. A hint of controversy, a new twist on a popular topic, an appeal to curiosity or altruism--all will attract participants to the discussion. But if you ask a "same old question" or are so vague that no one can decipher what you actually want to talk about, your opening post will remain the sole comment.
Do proofread your contribution before posting. Obvious typos can only hurt your professional image; likewise for an overdose of "padding" words ("maybe," "very," "usually"). Banish all such!
Many entrepreneurs have found much new business through LinkedIn discussions. Learn to discuss like a pro!
Other posts in this series:
Social Networking for the Business Writer: Profiles
Social Networking for the Business Writer: Network Updates
Social Networking for the Business Writer: "Cold Call" E-Messages
Social Networking for the Business Writer: The E-Article Connection
Social Networking for the Business Writer: LinkedIn Q & A
Social Networking for the Business Writer: Top-Ten List