Content marketing has become a sexy industry. Everyone wants to get in on the free traffic from Google, craft posts that go viral, become a sought after industry-leader, and make more money.
But it’s never as easy as it sounds, especially when the industry is obsessed with fragments of advice that have no depth.
The fact of the matter is, many of these ideas are truth. But that doesn’t mean they’re helpful.
“How do I grow on social media?”
It’s along the lines of telling someone to “work hard” if they want to be successful.
I mean, yes, hard work helps but it isn’t altogether actionable.
My intention with this article is to pull back the curtain on this phrase. How can we actually provide value on LinkedIn?
I’ll be breaking it up into four brief sections: The importance of being selfless, the small actions that stimulate initial growth, how to create a “valuable” content strategy, and evidence of more real world examples.
How Selfless Can You Be?
Providing value does stem from selflessness.
You’re giving. You’re not receiving or asking for a single thing from your followers. You’re not promoting yourself or anything that directly benefits you.
But here’s where we also limit ourselves.
The most selfless that we can be actually involves being selfish.
Here’s my rationale, (and that of anyone on the internet).
I want more website traffic, more social followers, more backlinks, more engagement…
I’m greedy, right?
The absolute best way to earn these things, in the long run, is by being selfless.
You see, when you really take the time to “provide value” for other people, you win long term.
And it’s disappointing that it’s a long-term move, but it’s the best investment you can make.
It’s in this way of thinking that the more selfless that we are, the greater it will benefit us.
Okay, this has been a lot of high-level thinking. Let’s start getting into how you can be selfless on LinkedIn. How you can, as the experts say, “provide value”.
Micro Actions, Macro Growth
This is a misleading subheading.
Micro only leads to macro in the long run, so this isn’t a growth hacking strategy to a million followers in a couple months.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
LinkedIn works like any other social media. People post updates and the more engagement that their posts receive, the more the algorithm distributes them.
This means, especially in the beginning, that it becomes essential to build your small fan base.
Who are the people that you have personally reached out to, chatted with, liked their posts, etc?
This is the micro. It’s unscalable, but it starts a relationship that will pay dividends tomorrow.
It’s important because it’s this base of “friends” that you’ll initially need to get any traction whatsoever on the platform. These will be the folks who engage with your content.
Don’t worry about having too much to do in the future. If you end up with too many notifications to attend to, that’s a good problem to have and it means you’re doing something right.
- Actively like and comment on other posts, make it more than “This is great”
- Respond to comments on your posts
- Include a note with every connection request
- Respond to connection requests you receive
- Have conversations off LinkedIn (ie. ask to hop on a phone call)
- Mention others in your updates, articles, and comments
Content Makes the Digital World Go Round
The give and take on LinkedIn is everything.
You can promote people and help amplify their content by liking, commenting, mentioning and more.
But you’ll never grow unless you’re creating content too.
Believe me, this is still a part of giving, and “providing value.”
And there are various ways you can provide value through your content.
First, I suggest breaking it up by audience.
Most likely you’ll be connected to three main audiences on LinkedIn.
In developing a content strategy for the platform, these will be the three audiences that you speak to.
Typically, I break it up into “general professionals, professionals in your industry, and potential customers.”
You can help these people in different ways:
General Professionals: This is a great opportunity for sharing stories about your professional experiences, general life lessons, career advice, and even LinkedIn topics. It’ll be content that nearly all professionals can relate to.
Think of yourself as either helping people with quick tips or simply entertaining them with stories. Both keep them engaged if done well enough.
Professionals in Your Industry: This sort of content is specifically crafted to help those who are either in your industry or have a similar position to yourself.
These folks won’t be interested in your product most likely, but they are looking to solve similar problems to yourself.
They need to find similar clients, they’re looking to improve similar processes, and they’re on similar career paths.
If you can help them with any of this, they’ll reward you with engagement.
Potential Customers: Content for potential customers is not promotional, at least not directly promotional.
You shouldn’t be sharing a major discount sale you’re running, or posting your prices.
Rather, this type of content falls into the top-of-the-funnel category. You’re educating the customer.
I don’t think there is a problem mentioning your company, but keep your content focused on topics that serve the potential customer.
Otherwise, why would they ever bother to pay attention to what you’re sharing?
How can you help them solve problems that relate in some way to the offering you have?
For example, let’s say you offer content services to B2B companies.
Instead of talking directly about what you do, share your experiences to help them for free.
Perhaps you could offer a quick write-up on how B2B companies can generate leads with content marketing.
Or you could write up a short guide that lists out tools they will need to manage and publish content.
Free help is always a great way to get on their good side.
Here’s a quick example: John Barrows offers sales training. Rather than talk about himself and the training he offers to companies, he plans on helping people with a topic they may be struggling with:
- Understand your audiences, most of us have three main ones
- Create a content strategy based on who we are speaking to
- Avoid promotion of yourself, focus on problem-solving, tips, and stories instead
- Bridge the gap between the information people are seeking and the offering you provide, that’s the sweet spot
Content Examples for Clarification
Stories are an excellent way to connect with most people on LinkedIn. They may be simple anecdotes about your career, inspirational stories about overcoming major obstacles, or simply life lessons.
Below, Ben Meyer tells a short story about the benevolence of a coworker and compares it to how he feels about LinkedIn connections. It’s a story that anyone could smile about, and perfect for professionals from any industry.
As I touched upon above, it’s natural that you’ll attract people from your industry and those that hold similar positions.
Most likely you won’t be selling anything to this group of people. However, what makes them important is that they understand you, what you do, the state of the industry, etc. more than general professionals.
Furthermore, they have similar problems and aspirations.
What type of content serves these opportunities?
Give them access to information that serves them in their everyday lives. It’s not about solving a single problem for them, but rather solving small problems every single day. Or offering tidbits of information and news on the industry.
Or simply stories that they can relate to more than someone in a different industry.
One great example is Quentin Ford. He constantly shares social media news and tips, along with ideas and events.
He seems to be in it for the long run and doesn’t mind giving out free information to those in his niche. Excellent strategy.
Creating content for potential customers is similar to creating content for those in your industry.
In fact, as a result of creating content for other professionals in your industry, you’ll naturally attract customers.
Despite this overlap, content for potential customers is part of your funnel, and it often has the intention of driving people back to your website.
You’re trying to say, “Hey, I know what I’m talking about, let me help you”.
Once again, it follows this pattern of “value” and “giving”.
Put simply: answer questions that customers are asking, and show that you know how to answer those questions.
Matt Janaway offers an excellent example in this post. He’s encouraging followers to check out an article that answers a question all web owners ask: How do I get more traffic?
Since he serves business owners with websites, it fits well into his content strategy.
Now it’s your turn to “provide value”.
Don’t get caught up in the simplicity of the phrase.
Rather, zero in on how you can be selfishless. Where can you provide the most benefit to your followers?
It truly depends on your offering, your customer, and your personal brand.
Is it best for you to wow people with newly researched statistics, attract followers with breaking news in your industry, or to simply make people laugh and smile with your stories?
You have to align what attracts people with what is business savvy.
Although it is nice to have a large following, if it doesn’t lead to business or genuine relationships, what was the point of joining LinkedIn in the first place?
Best of luck!
Henry Foster is a digital marketer from the Greater Boston area. He writes about social media, content marketing, and online growth strategy at IgniteMyCompany.com.