7 Steps for Standing Out on LinkedIn
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LinkedIn is finally growing out of its Jurassic Park phase.
From a deserted social media network inhabited by eager job seekers and lurking “do you have 15 minutes for a call” type of salespeople- the platform is finally shaping up. With new features like LinkedIn Stories, a sleeker interface (less dinosaur-ish), and an exponentially growing number of content creators waking up amid a sea of shiny corporate ads disguised as posts, 2021 will be packed with action.
As a software sales executive (a shameless ex “lurker” myself), I’ve always been a heavy user. Then, last summer, looking for a creative outlet during what felt like the 10th lockdown, I decided to give content creation a try. Oh boy, little did I know the grounds were so fertile. By posting a few times per week, I’ve obtained over 15,000 engaged followers, over 1.5M of organic reach (0 ad spend), got listed on Scott Ingram’s (a LinkedIn influencer) Top 100 LinkedIn Sales Stars 2020, not to mention the hundreds of messages I received around job offerings and opportunities.
Madness. As Gary Vaynerchuk put it: "LinkedIn now is where Facebook was 5 years ago". Attention, and loads of it, are organic right now, freely accessible to anyone ready to jump into what can seem like an intimidating room full of colleagues, managers, and high standards. Before I knew it, I started getting approached by CEOs, top executives, and young professionals alike for help with their personal branding. So here I am, sharing my proven, non-sugar-coated digital candy.
Before we jump into the tips, consider the opportunity. Only 0.5% of users post on LinkedIn every week. Meaning, whoever is creating content is getting an unfair share of free attention and exposure to 2nd and 3rd tier connections (“friends of your friends”). LinkedIn is where loads of business happens, with the most senior, influential user base out there. The mindset though is its largest differentiator. While we surf on Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook for leisure, we typically go on LinkedIn during work hours or when we’d like to learn about business opportunities and network. We’re receptive, a tad more patient and curious- which makes a huge difference for community builders.
The challenging angle is that it’s a bit more political. On the one hand, you’d need to post bold content that may at times seem a bit controversial or have the “whoa, what did he just say” effect to actually build a community of eager followers. On the other hand- you probably wouldn’t want to be too flamboyant and cross lines that could backfire on your career. Finding the balance that works for your goals should be considered with care.
So, if you’ve decided to embark on your personal branding journey, put on your best virtual attire, and follow my 7 tips for nailing your LinkedIn brand in 2021:
- Leave vanilla flavor, consensus-fuelled, outwardly promotional content behind (people can smell it from far). You won’t cut through the noise by just having nice, trying-to-please-everyone content. Posts around celebrating team wins, photo collages with your dogs and babies, and insights that don’t actually spark debate- won’t get you very far. Your content needs to challenge the status quo, engage on an emotional human level, and be at times somewhat non-conventional and eyebrow lifting. There’s a price to pay for building a passionate community and that’s vulnerability. If you won’t expose some eccentricity, some unique perspective and take a stand courageously- don’t expect to become a top voice. Remember, if everyone kind of likes your content, and no one hates it- no one loves it either. Decide with yourself your balance between bold and “corporate pleasing.” I can promise you that on the other side of fear, there are very sweet fruits lying on the ground.
- Decide on who your target community is and, more crucially, who it is not. It’s very important you create your content for a particular niche audience - learn what really interests them, engages them, helps their journey. Only when you define your insiders and outsiders clearly, you’ll be able to produce content that really gets them hooked, and consequently, you’ll become a category leader. As Pedro Adao (The Challenges guru) put it "carve a niche so tight only you fit in".
- Niche down onto three content pillars:
- Insights - Crisp, updated professional tips and know-how that can help your target community. You don’t have to be a bigshot business guru to share valuable content. Think about your target followers. What bite-sized insights could help their daily lives? What could make them more awesome? Think practical, step by step, proven advice that has helped your own career.
- Personal stories - You could post loads and loads of helpful tips, but if you don’t let your personality and spice shine through - you’ll likely not evoke much emotional bond. You need to connect to your community on a more intimate, personal basis. Include short personal development stories, important life lessons you’ve learned, things you wish you had known when you were younger, etc. In this kind of posts, use words that stress emotional states on an almost visceral level. Take your cape off occasionally, superman/superwoman.
- Entertainment - Picture this: thousands of people are scrolling through LinkedIn, stressed from their workday and on their 4th cup of coffee. In between vanilla, obnoxiously promotional “download our free whitepaper” posts, they suddenly bump into an entertaining, funny, or playful post of yours, which puts a smile on their face. Boom. Unexpected entertainment drives the most engagement and boosts the follower-creator bond; it’s exactly the sort of content that propelled me forward the most with my own community.
- Include video - interestingly, reach tends to be smaller for video as it’s not a video-first platform. But (and there’s a big "but" here), the engagement rate and impact video has is unparalleled (3-4x higher engagement rate than text, based on my experience). Seeing another person come alive on a mostly text-based platform ought to make you stand out. Start with short 60 second videos, and once you build up a loyal community, you can go longer as you've earned more of their attention. Don't overthink the quality of your videos. The equipment I use is my iPhone camera, a LED ring light, a small microphone, and a paper green screen (which is totally optional). Authentic, front camera clips work even better than polished productions (see TikTok's top-performing videos as proof). Just make sure the light and sound are clear and add subtitles for those who watch videos on mute.
- Book your content creation slots on your calendar. Either pick a day in the week to plan your content fully for the next few days, or dedicate 30 minutes a few times per week for this purpose. The most difficult thing about content creation is to turn it into an actual habit- so when you are writing content, avoid email and phone distractions. There's no magic or hack here- consistency and focus are key. Once results come pouring in your serotonin levels will motivate you to keep going. Until this happens, you’ll need to not just rely on motivation but follow an organized, disciplined framework to translate your goals into action. So, open up your calendars and make it official.
- Post 3-5 times per week. Don’t overthink the execution; frequency and speed matter a great deal, and this is exactly where almost all aspiring influencers fail miserably. They overanalyze, allowing the veil of perfectionism to slow them down until they quit. Give yourself time to experiment, tweak and diversify content formats- long text, short tips, videos, funny memes, interesting stats, inspirational quotes etc. Take a few months to find your sweet spot and keep going.
- Engage with others. The LinkedIn algorithm highly encourages discussions. Hence, a large portion of your profile traffic will come from engaging with other users' posts, especially commenting (resharing has minimal reach, by the way). Avoid the "nice" or "that's awesome" kind of comments. Instead, take a few seconds to write something thoughtful that would get people clicking on your profile. On days I engage more, I immediately see the positive effects with a lot more connection requests and visitors. Remember, content creation is not just your own posts; it's also your thoughtful comments!
This opportunity train won't be parked here for long. LinkedIn will become saturated like all other popular social networks, and then we'll have to pay to play. I’d encourage anyone reading this not to wait, not to over-strategize, and start somewhere. You’ll never feel fully ready- plant the seed, water it everyday and you’ll figure it out as you go along.