7 insider tips for building thought leadership on LinkedIn

This article was first published by Russell Yardley on LinkedIn

I recently published an article called “Why non-executive directors should pursue thought leadership on LinkedIn”. In this article I’m following up with some practical tips for how non-executive directors can build thought leadership on LinkedIn.

Once again, in addition to my experience and opinions, I’ve asked two experts on the space to contribute. Those two experts are:

  • Clifford Rosenberg – MD LinkedIn Australia, NZ and SEA
  • Steve Pell – Director, Thought Leadership Partners

1. What to post about on LinkedIn

The most successful posts are useful. They help someone do something new, see something differently, or make a decision. I know I’ve done something right when a LinkedIn follower tells me they have used a story of mine to illustrate or enhance their own presentation.

Articles and ideas that excite people and raise questions are a mark of quality output. I take note of the feedback I get from readers. I read comments and analyse the responses. I find out what gets people enthused, and what has pushback.

Sometimes I’ll republish old posts if there’s good reason. It may be that something in the news has made it particularly relevant, or it may be that I think I got something wrong, I’m never afraid to revisit my ideas and admit when I’ve changed my point of view if I have become educated by feedback or new and better information.

Most importantly, write what you know. Write something only you can write, because you have a deeper understanding than most, or a new perspective on a subject.

Clifford Rosenberg says, ‘we consistently see that the posts that do well on LinkedIn are strongly aligned to that person’s area of expertise, interest, and passion. They are authored to provide insights and share personal learnings to LinkedIn members around the globe.’

We consistently see that the posts that do well on LinkedIn are strongly aligned to that person’s area of expertise, interest, and passion. They are authored to provide insights and share personal learnings to LinkedIn members around the globe.

For more discussion on what to write about, see the video from 0:05 – 3:40

2. What NOT to write about

What NOT to write is almost as important as what to write. Don’t spout opinions that aren’t supported by facts. If you can’t back up your position, you’ll be found out quickly, and the internet loves letting someone know they’re wrong.

For example, following my post What Board Directors Need to Know About the Blockchain a close friend of mine called me to say that quote from Marc Andreessen is an urban myth he never said it!

I was able to search Evernote and send him the link to Professor Russell Roberts’ interview with Marc pointing out the exact quote at 34 minutes and 20 seconds into the interview. You can hear Marc saying that blockchain technology is the most significant development in the internet since the internet itself.

Don’t write about something that is boring or obvious. Nobody wants to read a rehash of the same thing they saw last week and the week before that. Bring something new to the debate.

Negativity rarely works. Vindictiveness, or vengeful sprays about people or companies are seldom received well on LinkedIn and will inevitably come back to bite you.

That’s not to say you should never post anything controversial. Disagreement can be valuable. A provocative post that gets people talking and commenting is a successful post.

Disagreement can be valuable. A provocative post that gets people talking and commenting is a successful post.

As Pell puts it: ‘Absolutely have a strong opinion. To be a true thought leader, you’re sometimes going to be perceived as crazy and outside of the norm. Just make sure your version of crazy is constructive, not destructive.’

3. Tips to write engaging articles for LinkedIn

My wife, a professional writer, taught me to keep notes of everything. She keeps a journal, but I use Evernote and Mindmeister. I’m constantly gathering content for future posts, articles or interviews. I have Evernote installed on all my devices and every time I hear a snippet of wisdom, or read an article of interest, into Evernote it goes. I then use Mindmeister to connect those ideas together as the foundation for a post.

I start with a premise and one key thing I want someone to take away from my piece. I build an article around that take-away. I take several sessions to get to final draft as I go back, reflect and edit.

Steve Pell, who has deep experience in building content for thought leadership, has three tips for writing engaging copy:

  • Write the way you talk
  • Use short paragraphs
  • Use lots of subheadings

I’ve taken these on board in my LinkedIn posts. Sometimes it’s easy to use technical terms or trade lingo. ‘A rookie mistake is to use language that is far more complex than what you use in conversation,’ says Pell. ‘This can be distancing for your reader’.

It can be tempting to write academically, with long paragraphs that cover everything you know about a subject. That’s a sure-fire way to put your reader to sleep. The trick is to write in short paragraphs that are easy to follow.

Subheadings make an article scannable and easy to understand. They are especially important on web copy, where people are used to scrolling through quickly.

For more tips on how to write great articles, see the video from 03:40 – 6:58

4. Don’t underestimate the importance of a great headline

Never underestimate the power of a good headline. The headline is the first thing – often the only thing – people will see in their newsfeed.

As Clifford Rosenberg says, ‘the best posts on LinkedIn have short descriptive headlines, accompanied by a compelling photo’

I like to start with a slightly controversial but honest headline. These can often take a lot of trial and error to get right. Pell says sometimes headlines can take as long to write as the article itself. ‘The headline has one job to do and that is to get someone to read the first line of the article. If it doesn’t do that job, it has failed,’ he says.

The headline has one job to do and that is to get someone to read the first line of the article. If it doesn’t do that job, it has failed.

I have a caveat: the headline has to be supported by the story. There has been a marked backlash lately against clickbait headlines that lead to an underwhelming article. If you have a great headline, back it up by delivering a great post.

For more tips on writing great headlines, see the video discussion from 6:58 – 10:35.

Here are some tips on how to publish on LinkedIn:

5. Getting started with distribution

‘Distribution often gets left behind when people are thinking about thought leadership on LinkedIn,’ says Pell. ‘Your post is viewable by millions of people, but that doesn’t mean it will be viewed by that many. It’s really important to think about how you go from publishing a great article to getting the first dozen comments and starting that flow of engagement.’

When I left IBM to start my very first business in 1985, the only way to get real exposure was through PR companies. It was expensive and difficult to get major coverage to the right audience.

With a platform like LinkedIn, you can access an audience of millions of readers. However your audience is unlikely to run to thousands (or millions) unless it’s supported by a well thought out distribution plan.

As Clifford says, ‘As soon as your connections begin engaging with your content, LinkedIn has a natural amplification effect. Whether your connections are liking, sharing or commenting on your content, those actions are pushed into the newsfeed. The more engagement you can generate from your connections and followers, the larger your potential audience becomes.’

As soon as your connections begin engaging with your content, LinkedIn has a natural amplification effect. Whether your connections are liking, sharing or commenting on your content, those actions are pushed into the newsfeed. The more engagement you can generate from your connections and followers, the larger your potential audience becomes.

With this as context, you should build a distribution plan that emphasises building engagement from your connections quickly after launch. Personally, I’ve found it effective to notify my connections via email. I also know of people who’ve successfully used Twitter and other social channels to help build initial momentum on LinkedIn.

When thinking about distribution, it’s also worth contacting the PR and social teams of any organisations you represent (in either an executive or non-executive capacity). These teams are usually only too happy to help promote your content through corporate channels.

When thinking about distribution, it’s also worth contacting the PR and social teams of any organisations you represent (in either an executive or non-executive capacity). These teams are usually only too happy to help promote your content through corporate channels.

6. How to measure results on LinkedIn

A great thing about LinkedIn is the ability to measure results accurately and immediately. Clifford Rosenberg says ‘there are four main metrics you can look at to assess how successful a post has been on LinkedIn. Authors should look at views, likes, shares and comments. All of these metrics are shown in real time on the posts dashboard.’

These different metrics tell you different things about the success of a post.

The number of views on an article or video tells you how successful your headline and topic choice has been. Once you have several posts looking at views provides a snapshot of which subjects are most popular. You can begin to analyse why certain posts do better: Is it an attention-grabbing headline? Is it aligned to a specific area of your expertise? Is it particularly practical or novel?

More important than the number of eyes on an article is the level of engagement it inspires. Likes, shares and comments all track engagement, at progressively deeper levels. One helpful tip I’ve learnt when tracking engagement is it’s much more important to focus on the percentage figure of readers engaging with your content than the overall number. Achieving twenty comments could be either good or bad depending on how many people read the article – it’s much more meaningful to know that 10% of readers commented.

Ultimately insightful, thoughtful contributions to the conversation by others in the field are the best mark of a successful post. When there has been a substantial stream of comments on a Post I scrape the comments into Mindmeister grouping them into topics. Then after 10 days or so, I edit carefully whilst acknowledging each valuable contribution and repost as I did for ‘Your Comments 10 Powerful Technology Questions for the Boardroom’. The audience can then use this curated content to advance their board’s thinking on the subject without having to trawl through 100 comments.

Insightful, thoughtful contributions to the conversation by others in the field are the best mark of a successful post.

7. Make sure you see results at the top of the funnel and the bottom of the funnel

Steve Pell describes measurement in terms of “top of the funnel metrics” and “bottom of the funnel metrics”. Top of the funnel are those things I’ve described above: the number of views, likes and shares, and the number of valuable comments.

Steve’s “bottom of the funnel” measures whether this has this translated into opportunities. It looks at whether you have seen an increase in invitations to sit on new boards as a non-executive director, speaking opportunities at prestigious conferences, interviews for magazines, or TV appearances.

I’ve had several approaches since harnessing the possibilities of LinkedIn. I’ve taken up one new non-executive directorship and spoken in a number of forums.

In addition, I’ve had a number of directors inform me that they’ve included my articles (and the comments) in board reading packs. Given my aim of improving board-level conversations on technology governance, that’s perhaps the strongest indicator that my thought leadership has been successful.

For more discussion on how to measure results, see the video from 10:35 – 14:20