“Writing is failure,” were the opening words of my first post on LinkedIn in April 2019, a quote from the American writer, Ta-Neishi Coates.
I had less than 300 connections at the time. The post was seen by a handful of people and received just six comments: one from my sister, one from my business coach, a couple from friends of mine and one lonely reply from me.
My first post ended with the words:
“Don’t be so hard on yourself. Get something down on paper. Then make it better.”
Getting something down on the page and pressing the big blue POST button is the only way to find your voice, boost your profile and build your audience on LinkedIn.
A couple of years after my first post, I have over 4000 followers and my posts are regularly seen by thousands of my connections. The most popular ones generate significant engagement with upwards of 100 comments and likes a regular occurrence.
Those numbers might not be that impressive compared to some of the heavy hitters on LinkedIn (LI) but more important than the numbers is what posting regularly has done for me and my business.
Here’s how I did it and what worked for me.
Table of contents
I spent a long time lurking on LI before I took the plunge and posted for the first time.
Before my first post I was a skeptic. I read a lot of touchy-feely, self-help type posts and wondered to myself:
‘Why should I invest time and effort in this platform?’ and ‘What can I add to the conversation?’
I’ve since learned that posting regularly helps you build your tribe and discover connections in your industry who you can learn from.
Overcoming your skepticism, your fears and your lack of confidence is one of the biggest challenges to sharing your thoughts, opinions and stories. The only solution is to start. Here’s how.
IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD
“So many of us go through life with our stories hidden, feeling ashamed or afraid when our whole truth doesn’t live up to some established ideal,” writes Michelle Obama in her book Becoming.
The former First Lady says her parents taught her to be proud of her story, of who she was,
“even when it’s more real than you want it to be. Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own… In sharing my story, I hope to help create space for other stories and other voices.”
“It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”
If you haven’t posted on LinkedIn before, stop to ask yourself why?
Write down what exactly is stopping you from sharing your thoughts and opinions. Successful business people are usually very good at what they do. They’re used to being in control. They strive for perfection. That’s what makes posting on LI so scary to some people.
You need to realise four things:
- If you haven’t written before, your first efforts will be far from perfect. Some of your early posts will probably suck. That’s okay.
- You are not in control of how people react to what you write. So it’s pointless worrying about it.
- There are no right or wrong answers on LinkedIn. It’s your story, your opinion, your truth.
- It gets easier.
To find your voice on LI, start by liking and commenting on your connections’ posts or people in your industry who you think would be useful to connect with.
Find out where your audience hangs out on LI and who they engage with. Search for hashtags related to your industry. Here’s a good place to discover relevant hashtags.
Follow the contributors in your industry with the most likes and follows and start commenting on their posts.
Also follow some LinkedIn experts like Andy Foote, Lynnaire Johnson, John Espirian and Glenn Marvin, who post valuable content all the time about what, and what not to do on the platform.
Agree or disagree with what your connections post but be mindful that LI is a largely positive forum. ‘Haters gonna hate’ on other social media platforms but they tend to get short shrift on LI.
Try and add value with your comments by cutting and pasting a relevant quote from a popular business book, or an example from your own experience that validates or contradicts the point made in the post.
Ask a valid question to spark debate and more engagement for the original post. Or add real value by providing an answer or a solution to a question asked by the writer.
After you’ve engaged with a post, send a connection request to the writer with a personal note explaining why you want to connect. You don’t need to invest much time in this exercise to get a return from it.
Start with the 5x5x5 rule: Spend five minutes commenting on five posts and sending five new connection requests.
The more you read and comment on other people’s posts, the more ideas you’ll come up with for your own posts. You’ll also build your tribe who will be invaluable when you start posting regularly yourself.
START COLLECTING IDEAS
If you’re stuck for something to write, a winegrower who lived in the south of France in the 1500’s might have the answer.
Michel de Montaigne, was a nobleman and government official and one of the first people to write about himself. People wrote memoirs before Montaigne but usually focused on their great achievements.
Montaigne wrote “whatever was going through his head when he picked up his pen,” and his writing created “a mirror in which other people recognise their own humanity,” according to Sarah Bakewell’s biography, ‘How to Live’.
Montaigne tried to make sense of what people did by examining his own thoughts and reactions to everyday events.
Some of his essays include: ‘Of the custom of wearing clothes’, ‘How we cry and laugh for the same thing’, ‘Of Thumbs’, ‘Of Cruelty’, and my favourite: ‘How can you reassure a friend who thinks a witch has cast a spell on him?’
I don’t intend to write about any of those on LI but I have a Google document where I collect quotes from whatever books or articles I’m reading.
I’ve got a list of headings including: ‘On Writing’, ‘On Books’, ‘On Story’, ‘On Business’, ‘On Content’ etc.
Whenever I’m stuck for something to write on LI, or something to say in a comment, I pick a quote and start from there.
Some of your early posts should set the scene and tell the story of who you are and where you’ve come from.
SHARE YOUR ‘ORIGIN STORY’
My 11-year-old son is obsessed with superheroes and their origin stories. He spends hours reading, drawing and telling me about his favourites.
Listening to him recently, I realised I’ve spent most of my working life writing origin stories, in my case, about elite athletes and successful business people rather than men in tights.
Whenever I interview someone, I spend most of my time on their origin story. I want to know how and why they got to where they are now. I want to know about the journey, not the destination.
Steve Jobs said:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”
We all have origin stories and we should all take time to look backwards and join the dots.
Go through your CV and jot down a few bullet points next to each job.
Write down what you liked and hated, what you learned, why you left, and how it relates (or not) to what you do now. Then join the dots and tell your own origin story.
‘Your Origin Story’ explains where you’ve come from and what inspired you to follow the path that led you to this place in your life. It gives you and your business credibility.
You can use your origin story to craft a killer headline and profile on LinkedIn that tells people who you are.
You can use it as the starting point for posts that demonstrate your passion for your product, service or industry, and most importantly describes why your life experiences, your years of accumulated wisdom, your wins (and losses), uniquely qualify you to do what you do and do it better than anyone else.
So much has changed recently. Does ‘Your Origin Story’ convey your new reality and new way of working?
FEEL THE FEAR AND POST ANYWAY
Après-Post Panic Attack or APPA is a term I coined to describe that feeling you get a few minutes after you’ve pressed the big blue POST button on LI and shared your thoughts with the world.
APPA hit me hard when I started posting consistently. The good news is the more you write on LinkedIn, the more you build your posting muscles and reduce the fear factor.
It’s like flying with a baby. The first time you do it, you’re on edge for the whole flight wondering what the people around you must think as your child screams their lungs out. You soon learn that once the plane takes off what happens next is largely out of your control.
You realise you can not give a f*** about what anyone else on the plane thinks of you or your child. That doesn’t mean you let them run riot.
If they cry or spew or bang the headrest of the seat in front of you or run up and down the aisle, yes, you do your best to control them. BUT you cannot control what other people feel or think about you.
So feel the fear and POST anyway.
WRITE THE WAY YOU TALK
Sitting down in front of a blank screen and deciding how to start your story, blog or LinkedIn post can be torture. Worse still is having pages of notes and ideas but no clue what should come first.
If you’re struggling, don’t stress. The key to good writing is for it to sound so much like you that your friends can hear your voice when they read it. Your audience at the start is likely to be your friends and immediate connections and they will engage with your posts more if it sounds like you.
Spend a large chunk of your time on the headline and introduction.
If you can hook the reader with your opening and get them to read past the first couple of lines, chances are they will stick with you to the end.
Starting at the beginning also helps you clarify what it is you want to write about. So be patient.
Listen to your gut when you are writing your lead. Your intro should sound and feel right to you.
MIX IT UP
Use the different tools LinkedIn offers when it comes to posting. Try text posts, long form articles (like this one), post an image, make a video, or build a slide deck.
Mix up the type of content you post as well. The hard sell doesn’t work on LI. You have to give before you receive. Here’s my version of the E-I-E-I-O method for LinkedIn.
EDUCATE your audience by sharing your wisdom, expertise and experience. Give them free tools and tips.
INSPIRE your followers with positive stories of your successes and what you’ve learned from your failures. Go deep. Be vulnerable. Share a personal story but make sure it illustrates a universal truth that will resonate with your audience. Celebrate your customers’ wins as well or highlight other inspirational people or companies in your industry. Share the love.
ENHANCE your brand by telling people what you do, why you do it and what you’re up to. Take people behind the scenes and give them a sneak peek of the process involved.
INVITE your followers to share their thoughts, experiences (and comments) by asking a question at the end of your posts.
OUTRAGE or entertain with caution. Be wary your posts don’t come across as preachy or judgemental but don’t be afraid to state an opinion. Try to do it in a way that encourages debate.
With all of these types of posts, bear in mind the values you want to get across. Don’t post something that contradicts your values and what you stand for.
GOOD TIMES, BAD TIMES
A lot of people spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to play the LI algorithm. I’m not one of them.
How LI decides who gets to see your post first and therefore determine whether it lives or dies depending on whether they like it or not, is still a mystery to me.
If you’re new to LinkedIn, start by writing one post a week and build up to two or three if you can.
For three months last year I posted five days a week, Monday to Friday, but it wasn’t sustainable for me. It takes a lot of energy and time to commit to that type of schedule.
Now I try to post on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday because the LI algorithm apparently rewards consistent posting. Consistency = momentum = more engagement.
Figure out a time that works for you and try it for a few weeks. Then try a different time and observe the results. Repeat until you find the optimum time for you and your network.
I try to block out five or ten minutes either side of when I post to engage with other people’s posts.
If you leave a comment on one of your connection’s posts and you follow up with a post of your own a few minutes later, the rule of reciprocation suggests they are more likely to return the favour.
That leads onto the importance of getting early engagement on your post which is more important than what time you post.
It really helps if you’ve got some friends or work colleagues who you can notify when you post something new and ask them to like or comment on it.
So the most important factor to consider when it comes to timing is to post when it is most convenient for other people in your network to like or comment. It’s cheating in a way but the more engagement your post gets in the first hour, the more people in your network will see it.
You can pay to be part of a LinkedIn pod, an online community that engages with your posts.
I haven’t gone down that road because I don’t see the value in having a bunch of random people in different industries who may or may not get value from your post, commenting on it because they have paid a monthly subscription to the pod.
LI is not a numbers game. Having thousands of connections and people commenting on your posts is pointless unless it is helping you build real relationships with people who might potentially want to work with you someday.
Disclaimer: Last year I joined an online community of copywriters and content writers from around the world that I found via LI. We critique each other’s work, offer advice and resources, share job tips and referrals and for one month last year we did a LI challenge. We tried to post something every day and we engaged with each other’s content. By the end of the month I had increased my followers and profile views significantly and improved my writing. Think about creating a challenge of your own to fast-track your LI progress.
Whenever you post something, make sure you like and reply to every comment. This helps your post be seen by more of their connections. I take it a step further by liking my own posts and comments. Again, some people might consider this cheating or narcissistic but it helps with engagement.
Another way of increasing engagement is to post a link in the comments rather than in the main body of your post.
LI doesn’t like people to leave the platform so if you include a link in the body of the post, it is likely to be seen by fewer people.
Sharing a post from another website is another surefire way of getting little or no engagement. Write your own spin on the story you want to share and include a link to the article in the comments.
THINKING OUT LOUD
One of the benefits of posting consistently is it forces you to think about your business, your skills and what value you can add to your network. The best way to connect with people on LI is to translate your ideas and experiences into stories that other people can identify with.
Unlike other social media platforms where people are obsessed with portraying the perfect online version of themselves, the best content on LI comes from people sharing their mistakes, failures and lessons they’ve learned.
In ‘The Storyteller’s Secret’ Carmine Gallo explains why “some ideas catch on and others don’t.” He says:
“Storytelling is not something we do. Storytelling is who we are, and there’s a storyteller in each of us. Your story can change the world. Let it out.”
The daily discipline of posting 1300 characters has helped me write more concisely and efficiently. Writing helps clarify your thinking and you will get better if you write every day.
LI posts are shorter than blog posts so they’re a great opportunity to practice your writing. Plus you can recycle your posts on your Facebook page and your website.
DAMN THE BEGRUDGERS
There’s a certain amount of cynicism on LinkedIn. Every now and then I see posts mocking other people for writing something inspirational or obvious. Or worst of all for posting a humblebrag (the post that starts with “I’m so honoured and surprised to win this award for…”
Ignore the cynics. Write what you feel like writing. If others read it and like it, great. If they don’t, they don’t.
Big Questions with Cal Fussman is one of my favourite podcasts and the day after Kobe Bryant died, Cal replayed an interview he did with him last year.
They talked a little about basketball but mostly they talked about storytelling and Kobe’s experiences of writing a poem about his retirement that was made into an Oscar-winning animated short.
“If we can all challenge each other and help each other understand certain things about ourselves and gain a larger perspective on the world as a whole, certainly if we can do that in our stories, that’s the magic. The story doesn’t just live on the page, it helps the person reading the story interpret their own life in a different way.”
That’s a powerful way of explaining why stories and writing matter.
So write your heart out and damn the begrudgers.