Jim Keenan says he’s probably on LinkedIn more than he should be—at least a few times a day. But if the measure of where professionals should spend their time is looking at what helps grow their businesses most, Keenan is exactly where he should be.
The founder of sales consultancy A Sales Guy and author of Not Taught: What It Takes to Be Successful in the 21st Century That Nobody’s Teaching You has amassed more than 20,000 followers on the business-focused social media platform, and routinely books speaking engagements and gets inquiries from new clients. His articles attract anywhere from 700 to 7,000 page views on average, he says.
Keenan is the embodiment of a LinkedIn influencer, says LinkedIn expert Viveka von Rosen, author of LinkedIn Marketing: An Hour a Day. While the focus of influencers on other social media platforms is often comprised of follower totals, charisma, and luck, LinkedIn and its focus on business, professional networking, and sharing expertise creates some natural checks and balances for influencers, she says. “It’s harder to fool people on LinkedIn as an influencer or to get people to believe that you’re an influencer than it is on some of the other sites,” she says.
Each year, LinkedIn publishes its “Top Voices” list of influencers who have the most engagement. But you don’t have to be a prime minister or world-famous CEO to create your own sphere of influence on the business-focused social media site. Here, influencers and experts weigh in on what it takes to have an impact on LinkedIn.
On LinkedIn, like many places, the basics are the basics for a reason. Your first step to influencer status is to ensure the foundational elements of your profile are there. That includes a well-written bio that spells out who you are and what you do, a photograph, and some background on your experience and professional affiliations, von Rosen says. These all tell people who you are and why they should put trust in what you say.
“It’s all about building that trusted adviser-type persona on LinkedIn,” she says.
Building trust also requires taking a thoughtful approach to what you post. Because the environment is more business-focused, users are typically more strategic about what they post on LinkedIn than other platforms, focusing on value to their audiences, von Rosen says. That also creates somewhat of a safety net, von Rosen says. While some content may be controversial or provocative, “you’re not likely to post one thing that destroys 10 years of work, because I think people are just more intentional and strategic on LinkedIn,” she says.
Set yourself apart
The quickest way to build influence on LinkedIn is to become a reliable and steady source of good and useful information, says Wayne Breitbarth, author of Power Formula for LinkedIn Success. Figure out their “pain point” or what they want to learn about from you, and provide a mix of created and curated information to meet those needs, he says.
But that doesn’t mean just posting a steady stream of the same-old, same-old. You’ve got to find a way to differentiate yourself, he adds. One of his viral posts, entitled “Protect Yourself Now Because LinkedIn Is Making Big Changes,” reached 2,100 shares and 113,000 views because he used the “fear factor,” he says. He advocates using the multimedia options on LinkedIn to deliver content in a variety of formats, including articles and posts, video, and slide decks via SlideShare.
Keenan says counterintuitive content works, too. A video he posted called “Relationships Don’t Matter in Sales” was viewed roughly 500,000 times, with 1,100 comments and 5,000 likes. “People came out of the woodwork to either say, ‘He’s right, we’ve got to stop thinking we have to be liked by other people,’ or just losing it. ‘How dare you, people buy from people they like and trust,’” he recalls. And that type of rigorous debate isn’t something to be avoided, he says. Challenging conventional wisdom can yield important insights, he adds.
Connect passion to profit
Fintech writer Amy Buttell dealt with many millennials and thought this generation was unfairly maligned. On Christmas Eve 2017, she wrote a post about her “crush” on millennials and her respect for the attributes that others often criticize.
She has been active on LinkedIn for about six months and had connected with about 2,000 people. But her millennial post struck a nerve. It was shared roughly 400 times, garnered nearly 6,000 likes, and had more than 600,000 views. She spun off a new business venture as an expert in engaging millennials, and the experience elevated her profile among her fintech clients, many of whom are millennials, she says. She’s built relationships through the engagement with that post and others.
“If you come into LinkedIn thinking, ‘I just want to build my business and make more money,’ you’re not going to, because everything is about building relationships,” she says.
Keenan uses simple videos and an edgy style to help his audience learn about selling effectively. It doesn’t matter that his videos don’t have high production value, he says. It’s about the message and style. “My personality is very energetic, very confrontational on purpose, very engaging. I don’t produce the videos, I look like I’m talking right to you. I educate and teach. Even my rants are teaching,” he says. “People learn that they come to be entertained, inspired, educated, and that combination of three is valuable,” he says.
A critical component of being an influencer is maintaining engagement with your audience, Keenan says. With the response volume he gets, it’s impossible to respond to everyone, but he tries to respond to at least one-quarter to one-third of those who contact him, he says. He comments on others’ content and shares content he finds valuable, usually tagging the creator to create further engagement. Breitbarth recommends keeping tabs on your notifications and posting new content at least once a week. (He’s careful to tag creators when he reposts their material to generate additional engagement.) Other influencers, like Keenan, interact on the platform daily.
Keenan also creates a “New Friend Friday” post where he encourages his contacts to interact with and help each other. “I’ve already seen these mini-ecosystems where all these people met through my network and the videos I’ve put together,” he says. Being able to create that kind of opportunity for people to connect is exciting, he says.
All work and no play can make your LinkedIn content dull. Von Rosen advocates having fun. She points to a playful “fight” that Mario Martinez Jr., founder and CEO of sales and marketing consulting firm Vengreso, and Gabe Larsen, vice president of Inside Sales Labs, had about inbound versus outbound marketing. The two posted video and text about their “duel” that attracted hundreds of comments about the benefits and disadvantages of each.
Being an influencer on LinkedIn is a balance of strategy and authenticity, Breitbarth says. “If you read LinkedIn’s research, and LinkedIn’s research is all based on data, they say that the formula is consistency, depth, and the authentic desire to create conversations,” he says.