LinkedIn is the top social network for lawyers looking to build their networks and develop business. The platform is approaching 600 million users, and offers powerful tools to mine for data and make connections that can help lawyers achieve their business objectives. But these benefits won’t result without some effort. Lawyers need to be strategic in their approach on LinkedIn. And one of the most important strategic priorities is to create and share content that reaches the right audience.
Last week I shared some fundamental best practices that, if implemented, will help lawyers stand out on LinkedIn. This week let’s take things a step further with some ideas to accelerate your LinkedIn performance to the next level. The only way to make a really big impact as a lawyer on LinkedIn is to put your best content front and center.
Want to create viral content on LinkedIn that spreads beyond your immediate network and positions you as a thought leader in your space? Yes, of course, but the real question is: How?
Let’s go right to the source for the answer. In December, LinkedIn released its list of “Top Voices” from 2017, and in doing so shared what makes the most influential people on the platform so successful. Here’s an excerpt:
“Regardless of location, the same formula worked to develop an audience: consistency, depth and an authentic desire to create conversations (not just content). Some 71 percent of our Top Voices published at least once a month and usually much more often: four times a month, on average. That consistency paid off. Compared to all members writing and sharing in 2017, the Top Voices received on average 5X more comments, 72X more likes and 7X more shares on their posts, articles and videos. Each of our Top Voices generated over 120,000 new follows this year — almost 330 new followers a day.”
The data from LinkedIn’s Top Voices report suggests that content is still king. As LinkedIn explained, if you want your message to spread, “It’s the power of your idea that matters.”
Step 1 to Viral Content on LinkedIn—
Create Awesome Content
Lawyers who want to make an impact on LinkedIn through their content must put the work in to create valuable content. Like anything else, you get out what you put in. Writing, itself, is not sufficient. There’s too much noise in the LinkedIn marketplace to expect anyone to read something you’ve written unless it’s interesting, rare, and valuable. You can’t mail it in. You can’t do what everyone else is doing. Many people are writing content. To stand out you need to impart wisdom.
Instead of thinking about what you are doing as content marketing, approach your writing efforts on LinkedIn as “wisdom marketing.” Imparting wisdom through your writing requires you to dig deeper. It requires a greater degree of education, substance, and thoughtfulness to shine through in your writing. It places a premium on quality. Only lawyers who impart wisdom through their content on LinkedIn can build a foundation of trust, loyalty, and mutual respect with members of their network.
If you expect members of your network to give you their attention, you must first give them your wisdom. A shallow thought is like mindless small talk in that it’s easy to ignore. To leverage the “power of your ideas” on LinkedIn, you must blaze new ground and inspire audiences on a deeper level. This means creating and sharing compelling, original content. It also means providing new and helpful insights when you share other people’s content. Never “click” and “share.” Always “click,” “comment,” and share to contextualize content for your audience.
Step 2 to Viral Content on LinkedIn—
Understanding How the Algorithm Works
While the quality of your content is of primary importance to get noticed on LinkedIn, speed and a smart strategy for distributing content is also critical. But to craft a smart strategy, it’s important to know what game you’re playing.
Again, LinkedIn provides insights on this issues and explains the ground rules for how content gets spread on the platform. It’s critical to know how the LinkedIn algorithm works so that you can build your content distribution strategy to best leverage it. Here’s how it works.
Vetting Level 1—Robot Classification
When you post a status update on LinkedIn, it goes through a vetting process. The level of engagement your post receives throughout the process determines its reach. LinkedIn explains that the “role of the LinkedIn feed is to provide timely, professional content.”
When a new image, text, or long form post is published on LinkedIn, it instantaneously is run through a LinkedIn classifier (a robot) that labels it as “spam,” “low-quality,” or “clear.”
Vetting Level 2—Network Testing
If your post is classified as “clear,” it is then distributed to a small segment of your connections—only a fraction of your network (connections and followers), and almost no one outside of it, will see your post at first.
How your content performs within this segment determines whether it will surface elsewhere. If it “scores” well, particularly within the first hour of posting, then it has a chance to spread.
Scoring is based on the numbers of likes, comments, and shares your content receives. Different actions have different weights within the algorithm. For example, a “like” may receive one point in the scoring system, while “comments” and “shares” are weighted more strongly, receiving two and three points, respectively, because they involve more engagement and are better predictors of quality and popularity. Again, performance within the first hour is particularly relevant.
If your post scores poorly, it is “demoted” (i.e., not distributed more broadly). If it scores well, it will be surfaced more broadly because it has been deemed of “high quality.”
Vetting Level 3—LinkedIn Internal Human Review
If a post scores well, it may then be passed along to human editors at LinkedIn who will make a qualitative judgment as to whether your content is “good.” If it is, it will continue to be displayed to additional audience segments. If it continues to score well, its reach will continue to expand throughout second and third-degree feeds. Ever wonder how posts with thousands of likes and hundreds of comments from people you don’t know appear in your LinkedIn Feed? They have gone through loop after loop of scoring and assessment, have performed well, and as a result have been broadly distributed across the LinkedIn network.
Step 3 to Viral Content on LinkedIn—
Have a Strategy and Prioritize Speed
Now that you know how the LinkedIn algorithm works, you can create a strategy to take advantage of it. Assuming you’re creating non-spammy, quality content that is classified as “clear” (not a high bar to meet), your goal must be to get as many likes, comments, and shares as quickly as possible.
Too often lawyers simply share on LinkedIn and hope for the best. They fail to take into account that the actions they take (or don’t take) both well before and shortly after posting can have a huge influence on how a post performs. There are many actions you can take to increase your chances of creating broadly-distributed content. What follows are a few of the most important components of a smart LinkedIn content strategy.
Create a Relevant Network
Since your content’s ultimate reach is based on how it performs among the small segment of your network to which it is initially distributed, it’s important to have a targeted network of contacts. In other words, your contacts should be members of your targeted practice or industry niche. For example, if you’re a healthcare lawyer, then presumably the content you produce is relevant to members of the healthcare industry. Therefore, when you produce valuable content for members of your network, it should perform well in terms of likes, comments, and shares. But if your LinkedIn contacts are widely distributed across a number of industries, rather than concentrated in the healthcare industry, then your healthcare law-related content will be of little relevance, and thus score poorly, within your network.
Engage with Your Network
If you expect other people in your network to like, comment on, and share your content, you must like, comment on, and share their content. I don’t have any hard data to back this up, but as an observer of social media behavior, and through my own experiences, it’s clear that people are much more likely to reciprocate through likes, comments, and shares with someone who engages with their own content. It’s the law of “Content Quid Pro Quo.” In addition, respond to the likes, comments and shares your content receives as quickly as possible. Express appreciation. Answer questions. Expand on insights. Create a conversation around your content.
Spread the Word (and be quick about it)
There are two primary ways to share content on LinkedIn. One is through a Status Update, which is limited to 1,300 characters. Status Updates are great for short, punchy posts paired with a relevant image. Content that you publish elsewhere, such as on your blog or other third-party website, can also be promoted to your network through a Status Update. You can also publish longer-form content directly on LinkedIn through the LinkedIn Publisher tool. Publisher allows for 40,000 characters worth of content, so much like Medium and other online blogging platforms, Publisher allows you to get deeper thoughts before a broader audience. All LinkedIn users have access to all content on Publisher, so it’s a great tool to allow others to discover your content.
Whether you’re creating a shorter Status Update, or a longer post on Publisher, it’s important not to simply publish it and hope for the best. If you want to create something that has viral reach, or even moderate reach beyond a small percentage of your first degree connections, you need to put a bit of work in. And you need to act quickly.
After LinkedIn distributes your content to a small segment of your network, its algorithm determines the popularity or value of your post based on the number of likes, comments, and shares it receives within the first hour of publication. If it’s deemed “clear” and popular, it spreads. If not, it doesn’t. Help propel your post into the algorithm by promoting it, and asking those in your network to do so as well. There are several ways to do this.
Create an engagement group with a small number of your contacts (no less than 5, no more than 20) who are part of your market niche and are active on LinkedIn. The objective of an engagement group is to like, comment on, and share one another’s posts. After you publish something on LinkedIn, use the LinkedIn Messaging service to notify members of of the group about your post (and provide them with a link), and ask them to like, comment, and share immediately.
Use a LinkedIn automation tool, such as LinkedIn Helper Chrome Extension, to send a personalized, 1-on-1 note to a larger group of your LinkedIn contacts with a link to the post. This type of automation tool allows you to craft one private message (make sure it’s non-spammy and non-salesly) that automatically populates recipients’ names into the message, and gets sent to a pre-selected group of your choosing. What could take hours of copying and pasting in order to send one-off private messages to 200 members of your network can be done in mere minutes with automation. Returning to our healthcare law example, if you write content about the implications of HIPAA for hospital administrators, by using an automation tool you can pre-select all of the contacts in your network for whom your content is relevant, and write a message with a link to your post explaining to your carefully curated list that you wrote something specifically for people like them. (Note of caution: Be careful when using automation tools. If you abuse them by, for example, sending too many messages in one day, your account can be restricted or shut down by LinkedIn.)
Use your other social media channels, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as your email list, to drive traffic to your LinkedIn post.
Bottom-line: The more engagement you get with your posts, and the faster you get it, the more likely it is that your content will spread on LinkedIn. Like all things worth doing, it takes some work. But once you understand the ground rules for how content gets surfaced on LinkedIn, and have a strategy in place to create engagement with your content, you’ll be on your way. Busy lawyers have limited time to spend on platforms like LinkedIn. But by working smarter, not harder, you can make a bigger impact with your content.
Looking to make a bigger impact on LinkedIn? As part of my coaching program, I work with lawyers one-on-one to help them leverage the power of LinkedIn as part of a broader business development and personal branding strategy. I also work with law firms to implement training programs and workshops that help groups of lawyers, from associates to partners, create more opportunities on LinkedIn.
If you’re interested in creating more personal brand awareness, growing your network, generating leads, and turning leads into new business using LinkedIn, contact me at 313.432.0287 or firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free consultation to discuss how we can work together to craft a coaching or training program for your or your firm's needs. Also, please check out my new book, The Essential Associate, which is now available for purchase.