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#sowhoknew: How I added 100,000 Followers on LinkedIn in just 6 months

LinkedIn are running their #ThisIsSuccess theme this week so I thought what better subject to talk about than how successful writing on the LinkedIn Publishing platform can be.

When I started writing on LinkedIn Publishing in January 2015 I had just 400 Followers. It took me 2 years to get to 10,000. And then it took another 4 weeks to reach 25,000. And in the past 6 months? It has risen to almost 125,000 Followers. Want to know how I did it? Well me too, so I decided to try and find out…

When I began publishing on the LinkedIn platform, the concept was relatively new. It had begun just a few months earlier and, to be honest, I hadn’t really been that bothered. That’s not to say that I wasn’t interested in writing because I was. I had been blogging for various advertising and media publications for many years with a modicum of success. I had been reposting the same pieces on LinkedIn and they had garnered a decent amount of views but, beyond that, I hadn’t been that prolific. The catalyst for change was Andrew Goldman who was the Agency Partnership Lead at LinkedIn and he simply suggested that I take the same content and publish it using the LinkedIn Publishing platform. Being a somewhat cynical sort I initially rejected his advice but Andy can be (shall we say) rather persuasive. So in January 2015, I repurposed a magazine article I had written and waited for the results…

It was hardly a raging torrent of readers but it didn’t do too badly. ‘Leaving Las Vegas – CES 2015 Highlights‘ did 504 views, 40 likes, 2 comments and 0 shares to be precise. What I also noticed was a slight blip in the number of Followers I had, which crawled over the 400 mark. Next up? ‘Killing Creativity – the Death of the Copywriter?‘ And this fared rather better. Over 1000 views and again another decent bump on the number of Followers. Then, a few weeks later, ‘Burn your Résumé – LinkedIn has made it obsolete‘ racked up over 4000 views and there was a significant spike in Followers. It was also featured by Business Insider and Yahoo Finance. Hardly a revelation but there was also a clear correlation in terms of the views of articles and the number of followers I added. And equally the more Followers I added, the better the viewing numbers became.

Within a few months, the average number of viewers I had for an article went from hundreds to thousands. In July 2015, I wrote ‘Forget Greece, the real financial crisis is happening in China‘ and for the first time I broke the 10,000 views barrier. In fact, it went on to have almost 20,000 readers. Arguably, even more importantly, was the fact that the number of Followers tripped over 1,000. As the rest of the year progressed, the numbers of views and Followers steadily rose culminating in my highest ever read article in December 2015. The listicle piece ‘6 Stupid Office Rules That Should be Banned‘ did an astonishing 144,587 views. I don’t even think it’s the best piece I have ever written but it clearly struck a chord with readers and the editors at LinkedIn.

Within a week of that milestone, I got an email out of the blue from LinkedIn telling me that I had been named one of their ‘Top Voices for 2015‘ and also ‘Agency Publisher of the Year‘. As you might imagine I was more than a little blown away. And equally there was a massive jump in the number of followers which, almost overnight, went up to over 3000 Followers. I was still a little perplexed as to how I had achieved it but (don’t get me wrong) I was absolutely thrilled as well. Given it was then the Christmas vacation, I had a few days to reflect on what had happened and, during those moments of introspection, I hatched a plan to write a book about my experiences.

The pieces on LinkedIn Publishing continued into 2006 as I was simultaneously writing the book. I stuck to my original plan of writing one article a week on LinkedIn whilst beavering away on the book. For 3 months, I didn’t watch any TV. My evenings and weekends were consumed with writing. Even on flights or taxi journeys I tapped away at the keyboard or watched that slowly blinking cursor waiting for inspiration. Did it ever feel like a chore? Nope. I enjoyed every single minute.

Then in April 2016, I finally realised a life long ambition. I launched my first book. ‘How to be a Top 10 Writer on LinkedIn‘ was published through CreateSpace on Amazon as a paperback and e-book. All 340 pages of blood, sweat and tears out there for the public to consume. And once again another fillip in the Followers, pushing the numbers to over 5,000.

And the general consensus on the magnum opus? Thankfully it was pretty darn good as it turns out. The reviews are good (5* ratings all the way on Amazon so far), I’ve made many new friends on the back of it and it has encouraged me to work on a new book with one of those new LinkedIn pals. Mike Adams read an article I wrote entitled ‘14 Business BS Phrases That Should Be Banned From the Workplace‘. He thought it was a good idea for a book. I agreed. And a new journey began with a follow up article in August 2016 called ‘Which ‘Business Bulls**t” phrases annoy you the most?‘ which was a crowdsourcing piece inviting LinkedIn readers to tell us about their most reviled idioms with the added opportunity of being featured in the book. It became my second highest read article with 80,000 views and literally thousands of suggestions for bulls**t words and expressions. Not only that, the item was picked up by Inc.com and they ran their own version of the piece which added thousands more phrases. Just last week we signed with literary agent Piers Blofeld from Sheil Land Associates and another step on the journey towards publication of the new book was taken.

And all the time, my number of Followers was steadily building. The 6k, 7k, 8k markers were swiftly breached and then rocketed past 9,000 at the end of 2016 when I was named a LinkedIn Top Voice again for the second year running. The writing continued unabated into 2017. In mid-February the number of Followers finally moved past 10,000 and I was genuinely delighted. I took a quick snapshot of my profile page to share the fact with anyone who might be interested (and also in the hope that it would encourage some others to follow me as well).

That simple picture share announcing the 10,000 Followers mark was viewed/shared/liked over 100,000 times. But more significantly, it absolutely did the job in terms of attracting new Followers. I have been adding new Followers at the rate of about 5,000 a week since that post. Within 2 weeks, the number of Followers had doubled to 20,000. I really thought that it would slow down after that but the run rate has continued at roughly the same pace ever since and shows no signs of abating. It also attracted the attention of both Inc and Forbes who approached me to become a regular columnist with them. Not only that but I have noticed a significant uplift in the viewing of my blogs. Compared to the same time period (2016 vs 2017) the total viewership of my articles has risen by a whopping 300%. That’s surely no coincidence.

So, as I am sucker for a list, here are 5 things I have learned in the past 6 months:

  1. More readers means more Followers (see below)
  2. More Followers means more readers (see above)
  3. LinkedIn Publishing really does work (not that I didn’t know this already) if you want to raise your profile
  4. Write about what you love and write regularly (if you write it, they will come) – I commit to at least one piece a week
  5. Market your achievements (don’t be shy, as Muhammad Ali once said “it ain’t bragging if it’s true”)

Reaching 125,000 Followers has been a fascinating personal journey and the ride has actually been fun. When you consider that around 160,000 stories are published on LinkedIn Publishing every single week and around 3 million unique writers across the globe are publishing on a regular basis achieving this level of engagement is no mean feat. And it proves that it can be done.

That said, it’s certainly nowhere near the highest on the platform. Many of the INfluencers have followings well into the millions (e.g. Arianna Huffington, Sir Martin Sorrell, Richard Branson etc.). And several of my ‘LinkedIn Top Voice’ contemporaries have many more Followers than I have. Tai Tran for example who is a Forbes ’30 Under 30′ and fellow LinkedIn Top 10 Writer at the tender age of just 22 already has nearly 250,000 followers. Tai’s advice? “To grow your following on LinkedIn complement your weekly long-form posts with regular short-form updates. Engage with followers (and non-followers) with in-depth articles and easy to consume updates. For example, I shared an update about developing New Year themes along with sharing my favourite book titles. That update alone reached over 150,000 people, most of which were non-followers.”

Having a decent following on LinkedIn isn’t everything and it doesn’t interest everyone. But if you are interested in developing your personal brand and want your writing to reach a broader audience then adopting some of the simple principles I have outlined might just help. And, frankly, if I can do it then you can too. It’s at least worth a try. What have you got to lose?

Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is the Global Media Lead - Nestlé at Mindshare. Previously, he was the Managing Director - Global Accounts, OMD Europe. Previously, he was the CEO, Asia Pacific – OMD. Prior to that, he was Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). He has also had stints as worked as Managing Partner at Omnicom Media Group owned media agency, PHD where he successfully launched their second office in the UK. He began his career at JWT and has over two decades of experience in advertising, media and marketing communications.
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