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How I Got 10,000 Followers on LinkedIn by Being Myself

LinkedIn is a common marketing platform for small businesses, but Nate Shalev was surprised to find that they found even more success when they were vulnerable in their posts. Here is their strategy for success today.

Jan 5, 2023 6 min readFlow
Photo of Nate Shalev
Nate Shalev

Founder of Revel Impact

When I started my business — Revel Impact, a workplace inclusivity consultancy — I realized that LinkedIn would be part of my marketing and business development strategy. LinkedIn is a natural place to connect with clients because it’s a platform for professionals. But the impact of LinkedIn on my business growth became even more profound when I started putting myself out there in an authentic way.

The morning it all changed was not a fun one: As I was headed into a coffee shop to start my work day, a woman decided to hurl some vaguely threatening and very graphic lesbian slurs at me. It wasn’t extraordinary—this wasn’t the first time this happened, and it wouldn’t be the last—but as I sat down to try and work, I couldn’t get her words out of my head.

One of my tasks for this morning was to finalize a LinkedIn post. I already had one drafted, but I wondered: Should I post about this experience instead? It was clearly affecting my ability to work, and therefore was relevant to LinkedIn—but was it too personal? While I was already posting about similar topics, I hadn’t gotten this specific or shared about my personal life before. I didn’t want sympathy, so how could I post in a way that was productive? How would my clients respond if they saw it?

I decided to post it. It performed like a typical post in the beginning—a handful of reactions and comments—but within the next few hours, the post garnered a few thousand reactions, over 500,000 impressions, and hundreds of comments.

Within the next four months or so, I would grow my LinkedIn presence from 1,000 followers to 10,000. (As of writing, I’m currently at about 14,000 and am a LinkedIn Top Voice of 2022.) About 90 percent of my business leads come through LinkedIn posts. I’ve secured over 40,000 in speaking engagements just from LinkedIn. I’ve been invited to speak on about a dozen podcasts. I received an invitation to write for Harvard Business Review in a LinkedIn message and recently had my first article published. A publisher has even reached out via LinkedIn to inquire if I’d like to write a book

So, how did all of this happen?

I’m not a brand strategist or marketer. I don’t have any other social media platforms besides LinkedIn. I built my platform mostly by being myself. Here are the pillars that help guide my content strategy. I hope they can be just as game-changing for your business as they have been for mine.

I focus on stories that tie to the bigger picture

As a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultancy, much of our content on LinkedIn highlights the importance of being who we are at work and provides tangible resources or tips to create workplaces where business and people thrive. However, I’ve found that when that advice is rooted in storytelling, the posts have so much more impact.

For example, I recently wanted to write a post about the stigma around asking for disability accommodations. I could have simply written “ give disabled people accommodations” but that wouldn’t have resonated. Instead, my LinkedIn post focused on a specific moment I had in the airport, using it to exemplify the point I was trying to make. By drawing people in with a story, they’re able to better connect with the human experience behind the point I’m trying to make, even if it’s not an experience they’ve had themselves. The post currently has 950,000 impressions, I received 8 inbound leads, 2,500 new followers, and 3 requests to speak on podcasts from this one post.

When I’m brainstorming LinkedIn posts now, I choose one trend or point to highlight and then find a specific, meaningful moment to exemplify it. It doesn’t have to be something life-changing to be a meaningful story. For example, if you are announcing a new website, think about how you felt the moment before or after you pressed publish. Think about a conversation you had with the developer. Choose one specific moment to engage your audience.

LinkedIn is a professional platform, but professionals are people and people connect to stories. They will see themselves in the moments you are describing and connect with them. They will want to let you know they connect with you by commenting and reacting—and that’s how your posts will gain traction.

I’ve made my own best practices

There are so many “experts” on LinkedIn who share their top tips for getting engagement. But, after following them for some time, I started to notice that most of the people giving advice are cisgender, white, neurotypical men. How they post on LinkedIn won’t work for my autistic, trans, Jewish, queer self.

I found that the best way for me to succeed on LinkedIn was to create my own best practices that would keep me showing up consistently, but in a way that was more feasible for me. These include:

  • Posting twice a week at the same time: LinkedIn rewards users for consistency but I knew that I could never commit to posting every day. I also knew that it would stress me out to try and figure out an optimal posting time. Instead, I post every Tuesday and Thursday at 11:30 am because that’s what works for me. Even if it’s not the most optimal time, I’m able to do it consistently—which is better than not doing it at all.
  • Engaging with posts in time blocks: The LinkedIn algorithm looks at how much engagement your post receives in the first two hours to determine how much traction it will get in the days and weeks to come. The more engagement it gets, the more people will see it. So, I pay close attention to the post within the first two hours, responding to every comment—but then I take a break to give my autistic, introvert self some rest. After these first two hours, I have time blocks where I will check LinkedIn to respond to comments and messages.
  • Skipping a content calendar for observational note taking: I have tried to keep a content calendar to develop posts but I’m not able to maintain one. Instead, I’ve found it better to keep a running document of observations and notes for LinkedIn. When I’m ready to write, I think about the specific point I want to make, check my general topic buckets, and then use my notes to craft the post.
  • Creating a post template: To help facilitate content creation, I created my own structure for each of my posts. I start with a meaningful moment, then elaborate and provide context. Next, I provide resources, tips, or suggestions, directly calling out the audience I’m speaking to (e.g., for those navigating disabilities at work or for DEI professionals). Finally, I end with a soft call to action (e.g., invite me to speak to your team or schedule a call to learn more). Having a streamlined structure makes it so I typically spend less than two hours a week on LinkedIn content creation.

These are the best practices that work for me, but they might not exactly work for you. I created based on trial and error to see what would allow me to be consistent and create content that felt right to me. I encourage you to use these best practices as a guide to create your own.

I’ve reconsidered what “should” be on LinkedIn

Like I mentioned above, the idea of sharing some of my more vulnerable or personal moments on LinkedIn was initially nerve-wracking—it didn’t feel like those stories belonged on this professional network. But I’ve come to realize that the idea that there is a strict boundary between our personal and professional lives was never true. We always brought our full selves to work, we just didn’t talk about it.

I’ve come to find that sharing how my personal experiences affect me at work is a strength, not a weakness. People hire me because they connect with my story, they appreciate knowing my values, and they trust me because I’m willing to be open.

I’ve also found it is possible to share your personal experience while still having boundaries. For example, when I post about being trans, it’s often about the barriers I face, people’s reactions to me, or the resources I need to succeed. It’s very rarely about how I feel about being trans or my personal experience transitioning. I don’t feel vulnerable because my focus is not on myself or my need to process—it’s using my personal experiences to highlight what people can do to support trans communities at work and everywhere else.

We all have unique stories. Maybe you’re a caregiver or a parent. Maybe you grew up in a small town. Maybe you’re the only woman on your team and have been for decades. Whatever your experiences are, they belong on LinkedIn. They shape how you work. Being yourself will help you grow your platform and it will help you build your business. We can’t really be anyone else but ourselves—so why not embrace it?

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