HuffPo 2.0? Inside Look at LinkedIn Influencer Program

I never believed the high click counts on LinkedIn share buttons. You know, happening upon a web page and finding more people had directly shared to LinkedIn than Facebook? You gotta be kidding me, LinkedIn is people search + resume, who the heck consumes content there? 

My perspective changed when Dan Roth invited me into their LinkedIn Influencer program (fancy name aside, it means I have early access to their longform publishing tool called Megaphone. All other users can only share links or short updates). This program is the seed of an effort which, along with the LinkedIn Today newsfeed, is meant to turn LinkedIn into a daily destination and the largest business content publication on the web. [here’s me on LinkedIn]

Two weeks in, here are my early observations. 

1. Page Views Galore! Two of my first four posts hit 100,000 views with the other two between 15-30k. That’s 5-40x the traffic average I see self-publishing. And at 100k+, actually compares favorably to some of the tech sites where I’ve guest-blogged. Some percentage of traffic is organic and algorithmic (personalized content recommendations for LinkedIn members) but the LinkedIn editorial team plays a big role. Their kickstarts via onsite placement and social promotion have been a thumb on the scale for me. As the Influencer group grows beyond the current 200 invitees, it will be interesting to see if traffic fragments. 

2. Engagement Too! Each of these posts drove thousands of social network shares and hundreds of comments. LinkedIn’s native commenting interface makes it near impossible to engage but I understand they’ll be enhancing this soon. And by being a real identity professional network the LinkedIn team believes quality of discussion will be high. 

3. Already More Followers Than Facebook. LinkedIn members who aren’t connected with me bidirectionally now have ability to ‘follow’ me a la Twitter. So far 8,000+ have chosen to do so. That’s larger than my public Facebook subscribers (far smaller than my Twitter & G+ communities but with faster velocity at start).

4. Operating Like a Content Company. Headed by former editor Dan Roth, the LinkedIn Newsdesk looks to enroll writers, solicit content and promote posts much like a full service online publication would. They don’t provide editing services (at least not to me), but definitely feels like they’re going down the Huffington Post roadmap. Attract notable or promotable columnists and exchange free distribution for free content. 

5. Duh, Career Content Works Here. Whereas the most popular content on my blog tends to be technology industry specific, the LinkedIn crowd is hungry for general purpose business and career content. “It’s fine to get an MBA, just don’t be an MBA” really generated heat. This sort of positive validation causes me to think about my publishing in a segmented fashion. Before I deprioritized writing these posts, now I’m much more motivated. 

6. Who Are These People? I found myself getting excited about the follower community forming here and definitely want to see some group analytics. Before, LinkedIn was for people I’ve met at least once IRL; now I ache to learn more about my readers. And I want this information to also be available in context across the product. For example, when I’m looking at a profile, can I see whether this person follows me or has read/commented/shared something I wrote? What an ice breaker and also opportunity for LinkedIn to add another relevance signal to relationships.

7. Skills to Pay the Bills. So far LinkedIn skill Endorsements haven’t been of much interest to me. I don’t want to just sit there and vote up my friends in “Product Management” or “UX Design.” It lacks context and I’m not motivated to cow click.  Additionally I’ve paid no attention to the endorsements given to me. HOWEVER, when reading other Influencer posts on LinkedIn, I did find myself wanting to show approval of the content. Not just by Liking or +1’ing but by giving positive feedback to the author in specific categories. For example, the great column by a founder and his latest funding round deserved a “+entrepreneurship.” Sure that might be less meaningful than an endorser who worked alongside this founder, but c’mon, (a) LinkedIn is already filled with random barely know you connections and (b) they can change weight of these endorsements based on their understanding of your relationship to the individual. ie did we work at same company and are connected or did I just read their post? For me there’s a lot or promise in a simple ‘skill/reputation system’ which accompanies bylines. I’ve told this to Klout team since it’s within this context that +K could work as well.

So despite my initial skepticism, I’m now thinking about LinkedIn very differently. As they open up longform to more users, you should keep an eye on growth and direction as a content distribution channel.