How I Went From 0 LinkedIn Followers to 160,770
An unconventional approach to social media (note: follower counts may vary)
I started on LinkedIn five years ago and had no idea about anything to do with the smartphone screens that display the internet to anybody that has one.
I get a lot of questions on the subject of social media and followers. As many of you may know by now, I’m the most non-influencer son of a gun you’re ever going to meet.
Hearing about personal brands, social media hacking, and followers literally makes my nose bleed and my big ears leak ear wax down the side of my neck.
But my aim is to be helpful. So I wanted to share some advice that might be helpful to anyone looking to build an audience for more than vanity metrics or an Influencer Grammy that doesn’t exist for the loudest voice.
So let’s get started and proceed without the hype, selfie poles, self-induced comas of perfection, customized hashtags, and filters that frankly screw up every good photo.
Here’s how I went from 0 to 160,770 LinkedIn followers:
Shut the Hell Up About Yourself
People don’t want to hear about you and how good you are.
Some of my early posts were diary entries that belonged in journals that live under my bed with the boogie monster.
Don’t humble-thank everybody to death, take photos of yourself endlessly and post them, or take the dreaded handshake photo while wearing a moderately priced suit that no longer fits you.
Shift the focus away from you and your gorgeous hairdo and tell us how you view the world and what you learned today.
Make every conversation at work or in your life into a bite-size lesson we can digest while eating a packet of potato chips on the way home (my guilty pleasure…shhhh).
Lose Your Job and Look Stupid in Front of as Many People as Possible
Perfection scares people away on social media because our BS Detector lets us know that we’ll never be perfect.
I lost my job earlier in the year and then avoided the subject and pretended I was still employed. It became clear that was a mistake, and so I just wrote a 1300 character post and shared that story that ended with this sentence: “It’s okay *not* to be always winning.”
Millions of people viewed that post and interacted with it, and the follower count went out of control. Why? It was real. People crave ‘real.’ They just don’t realize it a lot of the time, which is okay.
Make fun of yourself.
Show us the scars (and your pretty face if you must).
Be yourself — not who your mother wants you to be.
Do It for More Than a Year
The whole 160,770 followers thing has a lot to do with time in the game. After five years, I’d have to be an effing idiot not to have at least made a small dent in the LinkedIn universe.
A lot of the questions that people have about building audiences and having people consume their work can be answered with one blanket response: show up for more than a year, or 5+ years if you dare.
If you just followed that one tip, you could probably burn every other social media course on the planet and still succeed.
Be Aware: You Will Be a Different Person
The person you start out to be on social media/LinkedIn will change. The comments, likes, views, and direct messages will shape you in ways you never even imagined.
In my opinion, that’s a good thing. People will call BS on the lies you tell yourself; you’ll see yourself on the ugly days through the mirrors that the trolls hold up in front of your face; you’ll see how you react when your personal life is burning to the ground and you still have to hit the post button.
The person at the start of my social media journey was a rich, entitled, selfish white dude from Australia that was addicted to success. I’ll let you be the judge of who that person is now.
Either way, social media will change you in weird and wonderful ways. It might even teach you to think more deeply about your life/career.
Be Happy With One Reader
When I had my first reader Torrio, all those years ago, it was amazing. I was happy with just having one reader. I’d write articles especially for him and answer his questions in the form of a blog post online.
The size of your audience doesn’t make you feel better.
From experience, it does make your ego a little inflated, and learning to see that and deal with it can be helpful.
If your goal is to have more than one reader, you might be disappointed. Social media takes a while to build any sort of traction on, which is why the barrier to entry is so hard and many people give up and turn to the preachers of social media courses to hear their gospel of false truths.
Preach to yourself that one reader is enough, and you’ll perhaps keep going for long enough to see the fruits of your posts (the people you help).
Have So Many Career Setbacks You Make a Profession Out of It
Notable setbacks include:
- Two public relationship breakdowns
- Leaving behind a startup I loved
- Seeing loved ones die
- Having a near-miss with cancer
- Losing my job
- Dealing with a bad boss worse than Hitler
Be prepared to have so many setbacks that you use them as mini experiments that you can dispel lessons from and allow an online audience to extract value from.
The ability to share setbacks has to account for at least 50% of the audience size I never intended to reach.
Post Daily and Don’t Ask Yourself Why
This one is a recycled piece of social media advice that’s easy to implement.
Every day, post something.
It can be a few words that took you five minutes to write or somebody else’s piece of content that you’ve carefully curated. The time taken isn’t important; it’s the habit you build by posting daily that counts.
By posting daily, you avoid overthinking because you have a deadline to meet and probably not a lot of time to post. Post the first thing that comes to mind that might be helpful to one person. Do it every day.
Believe in Yourself When No One Else Will
“Social media will ruin your career.”
“Who do you think you are?”
“What you said last night was stupid.”
In the beginning, nobody is going to believe in you. To this day, I have an overwhelming number of reasons to stop. There are so many people that want to tell me how to live my life or that believe that one opinion over another is a soccer match that has a win or loss outcome.
An opinion is just that; what you believe.
The only reason I kept going for all these years is that I believed I might be able to inspire a few people, and that goal was more important than all the downsides and still is.
Here are a few downsides of social media:
- You can spend too much time on it.
- You can fall into the vanity metrics dopamine game (even if you resist).
- You can get into arguments.
- You can have people make harsh decisions on your career/life based on something you posted.
- You can be seen as somebody you’re not.
- You will have professional fact-checkers that want you to tag people you talk about and share links to back up everything you say when you can’t always do that for privacy reasons.
- You can attract an overwhelming number of trolls that want to turn your life into “Saturday Night Live” for the rest of the world to laugh at.
Like with any goal in life, there are plenty of downsides. Despite the downsides, being helpful and connecting with people still makes sense to me, and so that’s why I keep doing it.
Don’t Promote or Sell Anything
The sooner you seek to trade people’s attention for your own benefit to promote something or jam a product in their face that they didn’t ask for, the sooner you’ll slow down your progress.
Resist the urge to promote anything at least for the first year. If you can, starve as long as possible and don’t promote anything.
Your audience will grow faster if you’re not reliant on them to pay your power bill.
You could say I’m a bit weird. I talk about my dumbo ears like they’re sexy; my Aussie slang is all over the place; my grammar/spelling skills could use a touch-up; my views on different topics can be odd.
The challenge with social media is that a lot of people sound the same and try to copy each other.
Rather than mimic, they directly copy each other hoping that the person they copy has the magic secret or has read up on the latest social media hack.
The hack is to be yourself because that’s unconventional.
Show us your personality unapologetically and don’t stress if not everybody feels your vibe.
Intravenously Deliver Raw Emotion to the Arms of Strangers
My goal on LinkedIn, specifically, that has accounted for most of what you now see, has been to make people not just hear but feel what I’m saying.
I’ve gone out of my way to inject raw emotion into the arms of the people who dare to read my posts.
Until you feel, you won’t really think.
When people feel what you’re saying, they do crazy shit. They share your work like it’s an addiction, and they don’t even realize they’re doing it. They stand on their office chairs and give loud standing ovations as though they’re hypnotized. They tell stories that have been hidden away inside of them for decades in the comments section of your post.
Raw emotion makes people do crazy things, and that’s what I love to see. Why? Raw emotion brings out our human instinct to show love toward other people, and that’s a powerful idea to consider.
We don’t start wars or spread hate when we’re blinded by love.
That’s perhaps the most powerful idea social media has ever taught me.
- It takes time
- You’ll change in the process
- Nobody really knows what they’re doing
- Look stupid
- Reach one person
- It’s not about you
- Make people feel and then they’ll think deeply
- The power of raw emotion is incredible