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9 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Becoming a LinkedIn Thought Leader

Nikki Held  Follow

Whether you’re a CEO, an aspiring C-Suite executive, or simply working on improving your “personal brand” as part of your New Year’s resolutions, there’s a good chance that you’ve considered becoming a LinkedIn thought leader.

With more than 900 million members across 200+ countries and regions, LinkedIn is a platform with unbelieve reach—so it’s no surprise that ambitious strivers like yourself want to leverage the platform to boost your career and professional profile. 

As communications professionals, we work with many companies and executives who want to become the site’s next big thought leader. While there are certainly (paid) tools that can help you generate more views and increase your engagement, that side of LinkedIn thought leadership work isn’t this author’s area of expertise. (That said, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Prosek has an EXCELLENT digital and paid strategy team that can speak to those specific strategies. 😊) 

Rather than discuss those tactics, this piece will cover some of the key factors to consider before you dive into the land of LinkedIn thought leadership. More specifically, I strongly encourage you to ask yourself these nine questions to determine if you’re truly ready and willing to do what it takes to earn that yellow LinkedIn logo:

1. How does the look, feel, and content of my profile come across to others? 

Content may be king, but presentation is everything. Here are things you definitely need to factor into your LinkedIn profile if you want to be taken seriously as a thought leader:

  • A strong headshot (without any jarring background elements, usually best if it’s from the neck-up)
  • A relevant header photo (think: your company logo, a professional photo of your office, etc.)
  • A completed “Experience” section, with fleshed out explanations and highlights from each of your roles
  • A strategic, curated list of brands, leaders, and organizations that you follow
  • Volunteering experience—past and present
  • Past honors and awards
  • Languages spoken
  • Other helpful content including recommendations, licenses & certifications, and more

2. Why do I want to be a LinkedIn thought leader in the first place? 

While there’s undoubtedly a multitude of reasons behind your desire to become a LinkedIn thought leader, I encourage you to really put pen to paper and think about the exact reasons why. Is it because you want to look more appealing to hiring managers? Or because your company has asked you to leverage your expertise to help amplify their brand? Or perhaps it’s due to your natural competitive streak (your peers are posting constantly, but you just know you can do a better job)?

Whatever your reason(s) may be, make sure to lay it/them out clearly before diving in so you don’t waste time working on things that don’t fully align with your goals.

3. Who am I trying to reach?

Sure, there are millions of LinkedIn users that you could reach. But are those users your actual target audience? For example, if you’re a company in the consumer goods space, perhaps focusing on TikTok or Instagram, more visually focused platforms, would be a better use of your time. Or maybe you’d be better served launching a newsletter, Substack, or your own website. Also, think about the ages, genders, and other demographic nuances of who you might want to have your content reach. Then do your homework. Are those groups most active on LinkedIn, or are they more engaged elsewhere? 

Note: It’s okay if you stop reading now because you’ve realized LinkedIn isn’t the right fit for your #riseandgrind goals.

4. What are my goals, and how will I track if I’m achieving them?

Once you have a sense of why you want to be a LinkedIn thought leader and who you want to notice your work, it’s important to get more specific about your goals. Ask yourself: do I want to be known as a thought leader within a space I have lots of expertise in, or do I want to branch out to a new area and become a LinkedIn thought leader by inviting people to follow along throughout my learning journey? 

Other questions you might want to ask yourself to assess what your goals really are: do I want to be perceived as someone who’s attending exclusive industry conferences and events? Someone who’s an absolute pro at hosting panels and fireside chats? Or perhaps your goals align more with an interest in being seen as a top mentor in your industry who’s nurturing the next generation of talent. Or, maybe you want to be seen as a curator—someone who shares really thought-provoking articles related to your expertise, with your point of view included.  

Then there’s the analytics part of the equation: you have these goals, but how are you planning to track and make sure you’re meeting them?

Start by asking yourself how high you want engagement to be, about the types of engagement you’d like to receive (e.g., do you care more about comments vs. shares, about whether you’re getting more engagement on videos vs. short form posts vs. long form posts, etc.?). From there, conduct due diligence to understand how realistic your goals are based on industry standards. Then, set up a system for tracking. Maybe that’s pulling certain numbers once a week and conducting a quarterly analysis using those numbers. 

Or maybe you’re eager to grow your follower count. If that’s the case, you need to be tracking that number regularly, and you need a system in place to do so. Whatever the cadence, you need to decide which metrics matter to you most and how often you want to track and analyze them. 

5. Who’s doing it right already, and how can I emulate their strategy—but also make it my own?

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So, ask yourself: whose profile(s) do I like, why do I like them, and how can I adopt some of their strategies to build a thought leadership profile that’s uniquely my own? To be clear, I do not condone – in the least bit – copying someone’s work. But knowing who your peers and competitors are is important—as is knowing the type of influencer work that you don’t like.

6. Why should people care about what I have to say?

This question is a bit difficult because it requires you to be completely honest with yourself. You have to decide: do I actually have something interesting to say, or do I just want to? Do I have something to add to the rate hikes and inflation story aside from, “We’ll have to see what Powell decides at the next Fed meeting,” or do I have a more nuanced take than that?

As another example, let’s examine this very article. You might be wondering: why is this *checks name at the top of this post* “Nikki” girl qualified to be giving me advice? What makes her POV actually unique? Though there are certainly people who are more qualified than I am to write this post (and, again, I must mention the talented people at Prosek with tons of digital expertise in the LinkedIn space), here’s what makes me qualified enough to write this post: I spent nearly half a decade running a prominent LinkedIn thought leadership account for a President of a global Fortune 500 financial services company. That account was successful enough that it was later used as a template/aspirational benchmark for other executives at the firm, and I was frequently contacted for counsel and content strategy guidance.

So, that’s why people should perhaps value/care about my point of view. But there’s also the question of what makes my point of view unique and interesting to my target audience. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because I a) have experience, b) can write (at least somewhat) coherently about it, and c) because I’m not afraid to be honest about my skillset and shortcomings. This leads me into the final point…

Today’s audiences are sophisticated. They know how to sniff out phonies. (They’re regular Holden Caulfields, if you will.) If you’re offering more of the same, or if you’re not being honest about your experiences, your readers can tell. 

Put another way: authenticity is a must. If you’re not willing to be candid and share a part of yourself – or at the very least – your nuanced expertise, then you won’t be successful. Period. 

7. What do I want to share?

This next consideration is a fundamental building block to crafting a strong LinkedIn influencer profile: What exactly are you going to be sharing? And how often are you going to do it?

Let’s start with the types of posts you’re planning to put out into the LinkedIn universe. Some questions to think on: Will you be sharing photos, videos, long form think pieces, etc.? How much do you want to include visual assets vs. just text in your posts? (Pro tip: visuals – especially real-life photos – do well.) Are you more interested in posting short blurbs rather than longer articles? Would you rather focus on posting polls and posing single questions?

Then you have to think about the content itself. What will it be, and where will it come from? Here’s a bevy of questions that fall within that (warning—this is a long, but still far from comprehensive list): Will you be sharing interesting research from your company or the industry in which you work? Photos from events you hosted or attended? Videos or articles that offer advice for aspiring talent in your industry, or guidance on an ongoing trend in your field? Hot takes on trending stories in your sector? Your musings on celebrations like #WomensHistoryMonth? If you want to focus on video, do you have proper lighting and editing tools at your disposal? If you want to focus on writing industry commentary, will that require approval or review from your employer? Do you plan to tag other companies and/or people in your posts? In your photos? What about hashtags? Is SEO a priority? Do you want to get personal in your posts, will things be strictly business, or do you want a mix of the two?

As you ask yourself each of these questions, you’ll likely find yourself asking many more. But don’t be discouraged. Good things take time…and lots of hard work.  

8. How often do I want to post vs. how much time can I realistically allot to this?

If you’re really interested in becoming a LinkedIn thought leader, you need to decide your posting cadence. For example, when I was running a LinkedIn thought leader’s page, I was updating the content calendar every day to ensure that we were posting at least 3-4 short form posts per week and at least 1 long form post/article per month. I was also making sure that content was varied across several focus areas, including: DEI, recruiting, relevant company and client research, commentary on industry trends, company culture updates, awards, conference and event recaps, sharing recent media coverage and bylines, and more.

Oftentimes, when it comes to publishing on LinkedIn (and other social platforms) consistency is key. You should make a set plan to post X amount of times/week (or month or quarter) at Y time(s). You can also experiment with your timing if you’re not getting the results you’d like. 

You also should consider how often you’ll want to comment and engage with other LinkedIn users’ content. This is important, as doing so enables you to show up in other users’ feeds—and it creates another avenue for drawing viewers to your profile and building new connections. 

Finally, having goals is great. But a goal without a plan is just a dream. Creating content that resonates with your audience isn’t as easy as posting, “Here’s an interesting article about X topic, make sure to read it…” 3-4 times a week. As you’ve probably figured out by now, there’s so much more to it. You need a strategy, a schedule, and a willingness to put in the work every single day.

9. If I don’t have enough time to bring my full LinkedIn vision to life, do I have a team/someone I trust to manage it without too much oversight from me?

If you’ve come to the realization that you’re too busy building your empire to provide sufficient attention to your LinkedIn profile, don’t sweat it. You can work with your colleagues, pay a freelancer, and – dare I say it – you could even hire an agency like Prosek to make your LinkedIn influencer status dreams a reality. 

Overt sales pitch aside, even the act of giving others permission to handle your LinkedIn platform requires a thorough plan. Some things to consider: do you want your team to have full autonomy and do every step of the planning – from creating and posting content to analyzing the metrics – or do you want to split that up? If you want to be more hands-on, you have to decide what that looks like. For example, when supporting the President I mentioned earlier, I would write all of the LinkedIn posts for the following week for his review on Fridays. Of course, I’d always be prepared to create ad-hoc content based on what was happening at the company, in the news, etc. on a given day. But, at the very least, we had a structure and order of operations to ensure that things ran as smoothly as possible.

Yet another factor to remember: if you do want to outsource a sizeable portion of your LinkedIn thought leadership work, you can’t just hand it off to someone and tell them to figure it out. You need to sit down with them and share what your interests are, which topics are off-limits vs. very on-brand, and more. It’s one of those, “Help us help you” situations.

Before you go…

So, you ambitious aspiring LinkedIn thought leader, we’ve reached the moment of truth. As a wise man once pondered: to be [a LinkedIn thought leader] or not to be [a LinkedIn thought leader]—that is the question. The choice is yours.

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