LinkedIn launched its Influencer program in October 2012, inviting the best and brightest to contribute exclusive content to their LinkedIn Today content platform. There are currently over 300 LinkedIn Influencers, including Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Richard Branson and David Cameron.
But LinkedIn Influencers aren’t all household names. There are company CEOs, university professors, journalists, business authors, renowned marketers and digital entrepreneurs. Applications to become a LinkedIn Influencer are currently closed, but every now and then LinkedIn may invite applications from anyone who believes they too could add value and join the ranks.
Why become a LinkedIn Influencer?
Joe Pulizzi is the founder of the US-based Content Marketing Institute, a regular conference speaker, and author of the book Epic Content Marketing. Earlier this year, Pulizzi successfully became a LinkedIn Influencer during the last round of invites and applications. After a few months of submitting regular content, Pulizzi is seeing definite benefits.
“I hear from more people about the content on LinkedIn who are not currently in our database, so the posts get me in front of a very different audience,” he says. “Also, sharing has been off the hook. A few posts have over 300 comments and 100,000 views. And I see jumps in book sales whenever a post is scheduled.”
So how does someone join this highly influential and elite group? What makes a LinkedIn Influencer?
“LinkedIn has the big thought leaders, like Branson and Jack Welch,” says Pulizzi. “But they are trying to fill the gaps with niche content experts. So the best advice is to become the clear informational leader on a particular niche subject.”
The term ‘thought leadership’ is often thrown around to describe the mountain of content released every day in blogs, e-books, magazine columns, even social media updates. But if every business blog and content marketing strategy is considered ‘thought leadership’, then we have many, many leaders with fewer and fewer followers.
Genuine thought leadership stands apart from this echo chamber of “me too” noise. It has to offer something different that can’t be found elsewhere. It should provoke new ideas, not merely retread established thinking. And it has to drive valuable, actionable insights, backed with the authority and reputation that only comes from deep experience.
So while almost anyone can install WordPress, fire up a blog with posts on “10 tips to this” and “Five ways to that” and call themselves a thought leader, LinkedIn is looking for something a bit more special.
Do you have a specialty or niche that you can make your own?
A unique voice
Above all, a LinkedIn Influencer has developed a personal brand and a unique voice that is unmistakably theirs, coupled with experience from years or decades at the top of their chosen field.
This doesn’t mean you need to win a Nobel Prize before you qualify (although I’m sure it helps!). What it does mean is that your ideas, comments and insights have to be unequivocally yours. Your article has to offer opinions and commentary beyond the widely available information. You need to be able to editorialise and add value beyond the mere regurgitation of facts or advice any Google search could deliver.
If you’re producing blog posts or content no different to a hundred others, then you’re not ready yet.
How to become a LinkedIn Influencer
So how do you achieve that? It certainly won’t happen overnight. In fact, it can take years before you gain the level of influence to qualify.
One way is to build a solid reputation through other channels as an authority in your niche. Start building a reputation for original, fresh and inspiring content and ideas that reveal a deep understanding of your industry as well as current and future trends. Maybe that does mean starting with the corporate blog, but it doesn’t end there.
“Is the person a regular conference speaker? Do they have a book?” suggests Pulizzi. “The biggest key would be online influence over a subject.”
Submit articles to trade journals. Try to become a regular on the speaking circuit. And make sure your content reaches the largest possible audience by nurturing a strong following on social media and encouraging plenty of sharing and discussion around your ideas. And network with other influencers and key thinkers in your field.
If you’ve already established a body of work and begun to build a reputation as a trusted authority, why not take the next step and pitch a business book to a publisher?
None of this is easy. Not everyone can be a leading authority on a topic. Becoming a LinkedIn Influencer means you are recognised as the best of the best. And that means only a very small number of applications will ever be invited to join those exclusive ranks.
However, each new achievement serves as further evidence of your thought leadership and reputation, taking you one step closer to becoming the authority in a niche subject. These are worthy goals with obvious benefits for your business even if you never achieve the status of LinkedIn Influencer.
“To go big, you have to go very small,” says Pulizzi. “And therein lies the opportunity.”