October 6, 2023 / Esther Choy

With 930 million members, LinkedIn has replaced the need for business cards, serving as both a digital resume and online networking platform across all business types and industries. Given the platform’s prevalence and the importance of telling leadership stories, knowing how to best utilize this online tool for sharing stories now appears to be a critical leadership skill.

In this second instalment of the series Leadership Skills For The 21st Century, we’ll investigate what advice has been circulating about how to write an effective LinkedIn post and what evidence exists to support this advice, but more importantly we’ll ask questions about the efficacy of veering into the personal on the biggest professional platform in the world.

Unfortunately, there is very little data. It appears that even LinkedIn provides no research or support for its users to answer these questions. Armchair experts, on the other hand, are quick to weigh in on how to write engaging LinkedIn posts. And anyone who has spent much time on LinkedIn knows there are few often repeated categories for LinkedIn posts:

  • The humble brag: highlighting a recent accomplishment of an organization, colleague, or self.
  • Career milestone: celebrating work anniversaries, promotions, or new directions.
  • Expert opinion: commenting on a breaking news story.
  • Upcoming events: spreading the word about a product launch, webinar or other happening.
  • Leadership story: sharing workplace insight with a personal story.

Despite these commonly-used formulas, the question remains, what kind of posts perform the best, garner the most reactions, and grow your network in meaningful ways? Though the power of storytelling is obvious, sharing personal leadership stories appears to be the most risky. On the world’s top professional social media platform, should we stay in the “professional lane” and avoid sharing our personal lives? Further, how do we define personal? How personal is too personal? In the age of showing our vulnerabilities, how do we go about showing just enough, but not too much?

LinkedIn has a newsletter with “Members Spotlight” series that appears to shed some light on these questions. The weekly newsletter analyzes effective posts, like this one, providing insight into why this post is so effective: “Recruiting manager Bonnie Dilber challenges her audience to re-think the value of certain jobs.” They go on to describe how she does this.

  1. “Bonnie sets the scene with a real life situation and great storytelling skills.
  2. She leans on her expertise as a recruiter to spell out what she thinks is a decent livable wage.
  3. Bonnie’s use of specific examples and comparisons backs up her position on what a “valuable” job is in a convincing way.”

In this evaluation, LinkedIn gives a nod to the importance of storytelling skills to capture an audience’s attention. But good storytelling has been found to accomplish more than simply capturing attention. Harvard Business Review contributor Jeff Gothelf argues: “Telling a compelling story is how you build credibility for yourself and your ideas.” Does this attribute of storytelling translate to LinkedIn?

It is hard to say: LinkedIn’s own metrics on what qualifies as a “post that works” are opaque. In their member spotlight, they share example posts that range from truly sensational with 3,000+ reactions and 200 reposts to others with substantially fewer engagements (less than 50, for example).

Although advice is abundant, data-based evidence provided by LinkedIn remains elusive. When giving guidance for measuring and improving engaging content, LinkedIn’s own Ads Marketing Leader Steve Kearns, does not offer suggestions on the types of posts to write, but rather what kind of visuals to include, noting that images, videos, and live-streaming content perform the best. He suggests: “Feed scrollers are naturally drawn to striking visuals. Posts with images typically average twice the comments of those that don’t” and “video drives 5x more engagement than other types of content. Live-streaming specifically has been a hit, with Live Video generating 24x more engagement.”

Digging deeper, LinkedIn’s most recent B2B content marketing report also leaves us with very little data on what types of posts their customers are reporting as most effective at engaging a wide audience. In the screenshot below, the closest piece of data is that posts with 1,500 or fewer words perform somewhat better than longer posts.

With the number of people who share personal stories on LinkedIn, there is anecdotal evidence that these types of story posts are engaging and help build up networks. In a recent LinkedIn post, I shared a recording of my family jumping into Lake Michigan together to thank the hero who took the initiative to record this moment and also highlight the importance of collecting special moments like these: “We didn’t think ahead to set up a camera before the jump. And even if we did, in the time that it took to set up, the daughter who was hesitant would’ve changed her mind. This was a now or never moment.”

This personal post performed reasonably well. Quite a few colleagues I’ve not been in touch with in years reached out, sharing encouraging comments and sending private messages about their own related experiences. But beyond anecdotal evidence like this, is there data that reveals whether or not we should be sharing personal leadership stories on LinkedIn to help us gain trust, engagement, or a bigger audience? If you have insight or hard data to answer this question, please share it with us! Or add to the anecdotes: why do you post on LinkedIn? What do you post?

And to the good people at LinkedIn: Please open up this black box for your 930 million members. What kind of data-based research can you share with us to help us better navigate these questions around the use of leadership stories on your platform? We love a good anecdote, but we want data too.

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Esther Choy

Esther Choy founded Leadership Story Lab in 2010 to help others leverage the art of storytelling to create extraordinary opportunities.
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