7 insider tips for building thought leadership on LinkedIn

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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

The LinkedIn guide to thought leadership for non-executive directors

By | CEO blogging, Thought leadership | No Comments

This article was first published by Russell Yardley on LinkedIn

Over the past months I’ve been asked many times about building thought leadership on LinkedIn. There’s been substantial interest across the non-executive director community to understand how and why I’ve been publishing content on LinkedIn.

To answer these questions, in this article I’m going to provide a deep look into why I’m producing thought leadership content on LinkedIn. I’m also going to follow this up with a second article on my specific process – or how non-executive directors can build thought leadership on LinkedIn.

As well as my opinions, I’ve also asked two experts on the space to contribute insights. Those two experts are:

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

What is thought leadership?

Thought leadership means positioning yourself as the go-to person on a particular subject. It’s about leveraging expertise into opportunities.

Steve Pell says, ‘If you’re a thought leader, you should be the person who your audience thinks of as the first person they want to help solve their problems,’ he says. ‘Thought leadership means achieving front of mind positioning in whatever space it is that you’re an expert’.

Having the expertise is one thing; thought leaders also must broadcast that expertise to a wide, relevant audience. Traditionally, this meant getting published and quoted, speaking at conferences, or being interviewed for TV or print media. Nowadays we have the technology to do it ourselves, do it quickly, and do it our way – through platforms like LinkedIn.

Why should directors build thought leadership on LinkedIn?

If someone was to invite you to speak on stage at the AICD Directors Conference, would you say yes? Just like speaking at a large conference, publishing regular thought leadership content on LinkedIn puts your ideas in front of an audience of thousands on a regular basis.

For me, the decision to publish frequently on LinkedIn is a no-brainer. I get to talk about the things I’m passionate about with an audience of thousands of interested people. It’s a win-win for everyone.

As Clifford Rosenberg says, ‘LinkedIn was founded to connect the world’s professionals. Today we have well over 7 million members in Australia. There’s no better place to publish content if you’re looking to reach,and engage with, senior executives and non-executive directors.’

LinkedIn provides instant feedback and analytics tools that allow you to gauge engagement. I know where my readership comes from and if it is rising or dropping. I know if an old post has had a sudden resurgence. I can tell if people are watching all the way through a video or dropping out in the first minute.

I see comments as the ultimate validation that the content I’m producing is resonating. It’s great that some of my articles have spurred over 100 people to comment, but more importantly, those comments are intelligent, thoughtful reflections on my content. That level of engagement is comparable to an article in mainstream media.

For more discussion on why directors should build thought leadership, see the video from 0:04 – 06:15.

LinkedIn delivers relevant and high quality of discussion

The greatest strength of LinkedIn is the quality of the ‘crowd’. When I post on LinkedIn, I’m sharing my ideas.

The magic happens in the comments section below my post. The engagement and input from my audience leads to idea creation and exciting new opportunities that can never come from one person alone.

I often find myself quoting James Surowiecki’s 2004 book The Wisdom of Crowds. Surowiecki says ‘under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them’. He supports this proposition with empirical evidence. Overall, where groups of people share independent information, they consistently make better decisions than any one person in the group could.

Surowiecki identifies four conditions that need to be present to have a “wise crowd”:

  1. Diversity of opinion
  2. Independence of members from one another
  3. Decentralisation
  4. A method for aggregating options

Measured against all of these criteria, LinkedIn delivers a high quality “wise crowd”. As Rosenberg said: ‘When you look at the LinkedIn global community, it fulfils all four conditions specified by Surowiecki. You’re getting input from professionals all over the world, all walks of life and all manner of industries. There is no single, central leader with the “right” or only perspective. The platform makes it easy to comment, share or like any content, status update, or blog post..’

Illustrating just how valuable these comments can be, I’ve had a number of directors tell me that they’ve included the comments summary from my article on “Technology questions for the board” into their monthly board reading pack.

For more discussion on the benefits of LinkedIn, see the video from 08:15 – 10:21.

To build thought leadership, you must understand your followers

‘To be a thought leader, you have to have followers,’ says Steve Pell. ‘So having a clear idea of who those people are is very important.’

Whilst I agree with Steve that you need to have followers to be a thought leader, I stress that you also need to be a follower. There is no single person with all the knowledge.

When engaging with followers on social media, if you’re clued-in, you’ll recognise when others want to take on leadership roles. Be humble enough to encourage and embrace “co-leaders” who have something else to add. Doing so will make you a better leader.

I could have written this article alone. But I’m happy to call upon the expertise of Steve and Clifford. Their perspectives make my article better, but it’s a two-way street. By calling on their expertise and quoting them here, it reinforces their reputations as thought leaders in their respective fields.

LinkedIn has over 500 influencers who publish long-form content on LinkedIn. As leaders in their industries, geographies, and seniority, they discuss topics of interest, such as leadership, management, entrepreneurship, disruption, and how to succeed. This is a handpicked community of thought leaders that you could follow.

Are you a leader or a follower? If you want to be a true thought leader, you have to be both.

Add value first (don’t be a Kardashian)

Thought leaders don’t simply look for what they can get out of sharing a post or a video or article, they constantly question how they can add value for their audience. Being an expert means having a purpose and a passion, which you want to share with others. The biggest mistake you can make is thinking it is all about you. It’s a reciprocal deal.

‘You can’t be a Kardashian,’ is how Pell puts it. ‘It can’t just be “look at me”. Ask yourself, how are you helping the market? How are you benefitting everyone you’re working with?’

The “leadership” in “thought leadership” means leading a discussion that is important for the community, but it has to be two-way. Your output should be useful to your audience and help them achieve their goals.

My goal is to increase the capability of directors to make use of emerging and novel technology and to participate in good governance of decisions in the hundreds of million-dollar range. I need to get others excited and engaged and come with me on that journey. So when I make a post about the blockchain or augmented reality, I’m not just showing off how much I know; I’m constantly thinking about how it might help others or provoke a useful debate that can help boards make better technology decisions.

Use the feedback from LinkedIn to build better content over time

Rosenberg is enthusiastic when pointing out the feedback mechanisms built into LinkedIn. ‘The great thing about LinkedIn is how easy it is for anyone to engage with your content. Your audience is also authentic and not anonymous as they are logged in with their professional identity. They can easily comment or share to their network, either on desktop or mobile. There’s no stressing about the technology – it’s going to work, every time you publish a post. We’ve built in an easy ability for readers to like, share and discuss your content.’

You soon learn to spot patterns, and now within a few hours of posting I know whether my latest post has resonated, incited or fallen flat. I use the feedback (or lack thereof) to change the way I assemble things, re-prioritise and continually improve.

Engaging with the people who have taken the time to comment, and prompting further discussion and debate in the comments, is vital. If I don’t have the data or skill to argue a particular point, I may call upon my network. If I know someone who has specific knowledge about something raised in a comment to my post, or if I think they may have a different view I might approach him or her and ask them to respond, sparking further debate. People appreciate being asked to participate and that I recognise them as an authority and value their opinion.

What should your area of expertise be?

Think you don’t have the requisite expertise to be a thought leader? If you’re knowledgeable enough to be a senior executive or sit on a board, you’re almost certainly an industry-leading expert in some space. The trick is to define a narrow scope for your thought leadership.

For example it’s hard to become the sole go-to source for M&A. You need to narrow it down. M&A opportunities in Asia is still a big pool. But if you know a lot about M&A opportunities coming out of Singapore for sub-$100m cap companies, there is definitely room to position yourself. Even though there may be one or two people who know more than you, if you’ve put yourself out there, you will generally be considered the authority. The narrower you can make the scope for expertise, the easier to position yourself as a thought leader in that area.

I’ll talk about this more about positioning and specific topics in my second article in this series.

For more discussion on areas of expertise, see the video from 06:15 – 08:15

How thought leadership delivers value to organisations you represent

So what value does being a thought leader bring to organisations I advise and work with?

Being a thought leader and sharing via LinkedIn widens my network and sphere of influence. When the board needs expert input, I’m more likely to have a connection I can introduce to the discussion. In the same way, when other organisations need expert input on technology governance, I’ll often get a call and be able to make introductions to organisations that I work with.

As Clifford Rosenberg says, ‘people are just starting to realise how much value there is in their broader network. What you can see on LinkedIn is the range and diversity of people who know someone you know. 

There are over 430 million LinkedIn members worldwide that could potentially be partners, prospects or employees

Also, because people trust my expertise in the technology governance space, by extension there is enhanced trust and credibility in the organisations I represent.

Becoming a thought leader isn’t something that just happens. It requires expertise, but more importantly, passion in your subject matter. It means admitting to, and learning from, failure as well as success. It takes effort and insight into your own behaviour.

LinkedIn makes it easier than ever before, but it still requires an ongoing commitment and a willingness to work at building your profile, engaging with your audience and striving to improve. Most of all you have to be prepared to commit for the medium to long term. If you need quick results, in a week or two, this isn’t the right strategy for you.

For more discussion on how thought leadership delivers value to organisations, see the video from 10:20 – 11:50.