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#sowhoknew: How to be a Top 10 Writer on LinkedIn

After being named as one of LinkedIn’s top 10 writers for Marketing & Social for 2015 you can only imagine my utter delight (and sheer surprise). When I received confirmation from senior editor Chip Cutter (yep that’s a real name, not a kitchen utensil) that I was included in the Top Voices on LinkedIn, I nearly burst with pride. Now, a few days later, the euphoria is beginning to wane (just a tad) and I’ve asked myself a question. ‘How the hell did I manage to achieve that?’ And I’m not the only one asking that question. So, I’ve decided to try and comprehend how I did it and I reckon I’ve discovered five ingredients of the ‘secret sauce’…

With over 400 million registered users LinkedIn is seemingly quite popular. And when you consider that over a million people are now publishing on a regular basis and over 150,000 articles are being published every week then trying to stand out is really rather tough. So what can you do to make sure that your ‘magnum opus’ is read as opposed to the other 149,999 items published in the same week? Well, based on my own experience of the medium, here are my five key recommendations to help your articles succeed:

#1. Writers write – this isn’t exactly rocket science but you need to write. And often. Writing is similar to most things in life – the more you practice the better you become. I love to write so it’s relatively painless for me. But I understand that it can be intimidating initially so my advice is to write a few articles before you make your first post. Bounce them off a few friends / colleagues and polish the pieces before you publish. And frankly if you don’t enjoy doing it then there isn’t much point continuing. If you don’t get a kick out of writing, the humble reader will spot it a mile off.

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My favourite author, Stephen King, wrote a book about his craft called ‘On Writing’ (by the way, I thoroughly recommend it if you are an aspiring author). In that book, King talks about a number of facets that have made him such a prolific writer. One of the main reasons is that he simply adores writing. In his words? Writers write. So do I. Pretty much every day, even if it’s only for 5 minutes before boarding a plane, sat in the back of a taxi or maybe even on the loo (full disclosure, don’t judge, you know you’ve done emails on the throne so why not a LinkedIn post?).

#2. Be authentic – the most popular items that I have written are the ones where I have taken a stance on a subject. I put my opinion out there to be challenged and never expect everyone to agree with me. Okay so I lied a little bit there. In all honesty I actually prefer it when readers agree with me but I don’t mind it (too much) when they don’t. I kind of adopt the principles of Pareto’s Law (on the basis that the 80 per cent will side with me, of course).

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Anyway, at least it is generating some kind of debate / discussion which is always healthy. I also try to answer as many of the ‘interesting’ comments as I possibly can. And yes, that includes the negative ones. I believe that if people have taken their valuable time to proffer their opinion then the least you can do, as the author of the original piece, is to respond to them.

#3. Have a unique style – tone of voice is your signature. I have had some astounding comments from the people who follow me on a regular basis (which incidentally has risen from less than 200 followers a year ago to over 3300 in just a year of publishing on LinkedIn). Writers love their readers (it’s validation for what they do) so when I get comments about my writing style from them I really take it on board. Interestingly they all seem to pick up on the same thing. No matter what I write, it seems that I always have my proverbial tongue stuck firmly in my (also proverbial) cheek. Even when the subject is quite serious, such as the article I wrote about the financial crisis in China (my highest viewed article at almost 19k views), I still try to find some jocularity in the story.

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I always write for myself, not the reader. The point is that if you find it amusing then there will should be someone else out there who shares the same sense of humour. So am I suggesting you adopt the same facetious style as yours truly? Nope. Just ensure that whatever style you choose make sure that it reflects your personality (remember that point about authenticity?).

#4. Step out of your comfort zone – it’s easy to ‘play it safe’ and stick to your own industry or sphere of knowledge. But follow the line of least resistance and you will most likely fail. What is much more exciting, challenging and rewarding is when you choose to write about something that you are much less familiar with. My writing habits have morphed over the last year and the subject matter has become far more eclectic. I have always been used to writing articles for the media, advertising and communications industry. But that’s a relatively limited audience. However, when I have branched out into other fields such as finance, human resources or psychology then it has broadened the appeal of the piece to a much more diverse audience.

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And frankly, it has worked in terms of securing more engagement in terms of views, likes, comments and shares. For example, a recent post I wrote about how ‘sarcasm’ is used in the work environment and whether or not it is appropriate – the response I achieved was phenomenal (over 15500 views and still rising) and from a wide spectrum of careerists ranging from acting to zoology. Seriously?

5. Get inspired by reading – I think reading is just as important as the writing itself. And I am a voracious reader. I look for inspiration in everything I read each and every day. As the aforementioned Mr King puts it:

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write”

I use a variety of primary sources but my daily mainstays are LinkedIn Pulse(naturally), Huffington Post and Mashable. That said, inspiration can come from anywhere and content has caught my eye in a dazzling array of places including in-flight magazines, a CNN news report, a random tweet or a post on Facebook. In terms of subject matter, don’t restrict yourself (see point 4). If it is something that appeals to you and you think you can find an angle, then go for it. I have written some fairly diverse items from the appeal of Adult colouring books to the Banksy ‘Dismaland’ art exhibition to the reasons why I detest conference calls. That one really resonated with a lot of readers. Funny that.

So there you have it. Follow these basic rules and I believe anyone on LinkedIn with a rudimentary understanding of language and grammar can have a decent attempt at writing engaging work. And that sentiment is echoed by Dan Roth in an interview with Forbes. Roth, Executive Editor at LinkedIn and one of the team who were instrumental in putting together the Top Voices initiative, puts it most eloquently:

“Most of these are not professional writers. They have day jobs. But they are developing expertise – these are businesspeople with a corpus of knowledge that you can now share with others along the road. I find this incredibly intriguing. Anyone can write and share and talk about what they know”

So I guess there is only one thing left to say. What’s stopping you?

Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is 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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