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Career Success
DEC 5, 2017

How to be a Social Media Superhero: My Lessons from 4 Years on LinkedIn

By Yoshito Hori

Once upon a time, it was only possible to post articles on LinkedIn by invitation. Back in June 2013, I was one of just four Japanese people (including the Prime Minister) asked to contribute to the site.

I recently had my readership stats analyzed based on a sample of the last 10 articles I’d posted. Some of the findings were surprising—in a nice way.

– One of my articles got over 472,000 readers. This was three times more than the most read articles of Richard Branson and Bill Gates from the same sample.
– Thanks to this one hit, my average reader number was ahead of Bill Gates.
– On average, two out of three of my followers read my articles. This gave me a reader-to-follower ratio of 1:1.5 which compares very favorably indeed with Richard Branson at 1:227 or Bill Gates at 1:232

Of course, there’s one obvious reason why my reader-to-follower ratio was so much better than Branson’s or Gates’s.

I have way fewer followers—just 80,000 versus around 12 million for Gates and Branson. Paradoxically, that makes it easier for me to get a good percentage of them as readers!

What do follower numbers mean?

As far as I can see, the number of followers that LinkedIn contributors have is determined more by how famous they are than what they write. People follow world-famous businesspeople like Richard Branson and Bill Gates because of who they are. If you want followers, global celebrity is probably the best place to start!

If you’re less well known (like me), then, even when your articles go viral, the conversion rate for turning one-time readers into full-time followers is very low. Building up followers is a slow and arduous process!

How to get more shares

If you want your articles to get read by lots of people, you’ve got to get them shared.

What prompted nearly half a million people to read that recent article of mine which went viral? It seemed to be partly to do with the photo (a rather ugly baby whose face set off jokes in the comment thread), partly to do with the title (about the role that positivity plays in leadership) and partly to do with the content itself.

Either way, 12,000 people shared it with their friends, creating a nice flywheel effect.

Aside from using pictures of ugly babies (!), I have a few tried-and-trusted techniques that I believe boost my number of shares. Here are the 4 Rules I follow.

1. Solicit Engagement

Always end the article with a question that invites feedback. This triggers a virtuous circle of engagement, when the commenters start debating with one another and the comment thread takes on a life of its own.

2. Be Straightforward

Try to discuss things in a frank and personal way that your audience recognize as sincere and unique to you. Super-famous people like Bill Gates or Richard Branson have all sorts of reasons for being careful about what they say. They don’t want to cause a political storm or to give away too much information about their private lives for security reasons. Relatively unknown people like me, who are free from such worries, can be more fearlessly honest. People will share posts that they think are authentic and heartfelt.

3. Be persistent & be humble

If you want to get the occasional share-driven breakout hit, you’ve got to be patient. Even though you may not get high reader numbers, just keep on posting. At some point, you’ll produce a hit article which will take off and get lots of shares. When one of your articles does finally find a large audience, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve found the magic formula. In my experience, online success is hard to replicate and has a large element of randomness. A proportion of your articles will hit the sweet spot and attract readers, but you will probably not be able to predict which ones or why.

4. Enjoy the experience

Remember, for an individual to be able to communicate directly with a global audience is still something quite new and extraordinary. It’s important to enjoy the process, from thinking up topics to addressing reader feedback. The biggest proportion of my readers come from the United States. They have never heard of me, or of GLOBIS, my Japan-based business school. It’s fun for me to connect with a wholly new audience.

My global communication platform

I am Japanese. Japanese is my mother tongue and my business is headquartered in Tokyo. Inevitably, I do most of my social media posting on Twitter and Facebook in Japanese. Here on LinkedIn, I find myself at a double disadvantage: I’m less comfortable with the language and less familiar with the issues.

Still, LinkedIn is the only online forum where I write in English and therefore the only one where the context is global rather than local. It’s my chosen venue to reach out globally—and I am making the most of the experience.

What is your experience of reading (and publishing) stories on social media?  What is it that makes you want to share a story with your friends?

These are interesting questions and I’m looking forward to your answers.

After all, “we are all publishers now.”

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