Your LinkedIn Style Matters
Using Your Authentic Style to Build Connections
Here’s an excerpt of my Milestone Mindset LIVE conversation with LinkedIn Style Guide expert JD Gershbein. We share an empowering perspective on creating authentic content and connections on LinkedIn that lead to real, lasting relationships for your business.
JD is a public speaker, broadcaster, writer, facilitator, media producer, and improviser. As an early adopter of LinkedIn, he has developed a deep expertise in how people engage with the platform and shares his knowledge in the LinkedIn Style Guide newsletter.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Infusing Your LinkedIn with Your Personality
Nancy Sergeant: I’m here with JD Gershbein, the founder of the LinkedIn style guide. Hey, JD, how are you doing today?
JD Gershbein: This is a big surprise to me, Nancy, I thought you were bringing me in to talk about conflict resolution.
Nancy: I knew you were gonna get sassy right in the beginning.
JD: I’ve got to pull back on the throttle and go back to the default program on LinkedIn. Yeah. Okay. Good to be with you.
Nancy Sergeant: Thank you, that’s what we promoted. So, I help nonprofits and small to midsize businesses grow their revenues. We spend so much time helping people create the foundation of their marketing strategies so that they can use everything that’s available to them today to reach the right people at the right time. And LinkedIn is the biggest B2B online networking platform. Both online and offline, style is impacting everything we do. JD has mastered bringing his style and helping other people bring their style to LinkedIn to get better results. Tell us, what is a LinkedIn style?
JD: When I created my LinkedIn account in 2006, there was no conversation going on about personal branding, or social selling, or thought leadership or any of these designer vocabulary terms that we use here today. There was no creator economy, no attention economy, it was a bunch of folks who saw something really great in this platform and created a profile. But the site went merrily along and throughout its history, it innovated to inspire more interaction. So even though it’s a business social networking site and buttoned up to a certain point, we’ve also seen how this site has humanized and democratized along the way. As a LinkedIn specialist, my goal in training and development is to let people know they’re on the right track and to help infuse more of themselves on the site. That’s what’s going to move the needle in their lives professionally.
Nancy: It can take a little bravery to put yourself out there, so take the first step. My whole premise with milestone marketing in lots of ways is to really take the first step. See how your audience responds, get comfy, and then take another one and take little risks along the way.
No Growth Outside the Comfort Zone
JD: You evoke a very famous quote and oft-cited quote: there’s no growth outside the comfort zone. And on a site like LinkedIn that has really opened itself up, where we can superimpose ourselves on the platform and pursue this sense of style, we should bring in things that are non-business and important to us as human beings. And as we talk today, two and a half years into a pandemic, there has been a lot of humanity that has crossed over onto LinkedIn. And we’re pouring ourselves out there on this now, confessing our frailties and our vulnerabilities.
This type of content was not on the platform. Through the early years of LinkedIn, everything was business oriented. Everybody was asserting themselves as teachers, or professional developers, or advisors or executives. And that was what the site wanted. But now everything is more genuine and down to earth.
Nancy: And if you take a step back, being genuine and authentic is how you succeed anywhere online. Tell us how you got here, building your authentic LinkedIn style and helping others do the same.
JD: I believe our LinkedIn style is an extension of our real-world persona, and what people see of me on this platform is consistent. Throughout my professional and personal life, what you see is what you get with me. And when it comes to how we proclaim ourselves to the business world, this is where this notion of style comes in. For me, it’s an extension of the personal branding conversation that I’ve been in really since it started circa 2009 or 2010, when people were starting to talk about personal branding, and it was a concept that was truly coming to the fore because of LinkedIn.
I always go out there with the intention of being myself. And if you really want to learn LinkedIn on its most immersive level, the psychology, the social science, the applied neuroscience, and through the lens of applied improvisation. I’m your resource here because I just look at this thing a little differently. And that’s what 100,000 hours plus on the site will do for you.
Nancy: Tell us a little bit about your background in improv.
JD: I can honestly state that I’ve improvised my whole life. For me, LinkedIn is everything I’ve been trained for. I have a bachelor’s in English, almost by default, because I was pre-med back in those days, but I like literature. went on to finally get into medical school, but left on my own volition a month shy of completing my freshman year. It just wasn’t for me. It was dad’s plan, not mine. And I fell into a graduate program at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, got my MS, and then went on to get my MBA in marketing communications. When I look at my literary leanings, my psychology background, and my business studies, I think a career in online media is perfect for me. It just kind of happened. And that’s the beauty of improv. It’s serendipitous. And within a few days of creating my LinkedIn account, I had transitioned from a traditional marketing practice to a consultancy solely focused on LinkedIn. I’ve never shut up about it since I laid eyes on it.
Nancy: So you fell in love with LinkedIn.
JD: I’m smitten with this thing. LinkedIn is all about relationships. It’s about leveraging your style, leveraging your origin story, your signature story to create opportunities and drive results.
Nancy: I want to share a parallel story about my career. I was going to be a teacher, but they put us right in an inner-city resource room, almost day one. I knew in the first semester of freshman year, this was not the right place for me. So I hopped over to the next building, became a marketing major, and it fit like a glove. I started on Madison Avenue after college and have been in it since then. A few years ago, I created the Milestone Marketing Blueprint to help nonprofits and small to midsize businesses have access to strategies that they couldn’t otherwise afford. Like you, I created something to bring what I’d learned and share that wisdom with more people in a way that I can enjoy and they can afford. You’ve done something similar with your LinkedIn Style guide. Tell us more about it.
LinkedIn Is an Engagement Medium
JD: The guide really extends the training that I’ve had in improv, as I’ve learned through so much observation and experience on stage and on the site. After engaging with thousands of posts over the year and authoring hundreds, if not thousands of posts myself, I have a very good idea of how people engage on LinkedIn.
If I’m going to go out there and talk about style, I better walk my talk and have some sense of style. The LinkedIn style guide extends the personal brand conversation that I’ve been in for the last decade, plus. And it really gets into another layer of how we express ourselves on LinkedIn.
I borrow from improv because I look at every exchange on LinkedIn as being on stage with a conversation partner, and that scene has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Throughout the scene, there may be some conflict. There may be a time when I have to kind of intuit or invent something specific for that scene. But I’m always having banter with people, I’m always there. If you were to look at my message center, that’s become my superpower: keeping 1000s of conversations in play simultaneously. I never give people an ending. I’m there for them, if they want to resurrect the conversation we had five, six years ago, I’m there.
That’s really the key as to how style works: it is how we reveal ourselves to others. Each time we communicate with someone, each post, each tweak to the profile, there’s something that’s reflective of the way we do things, our innermost manner. And just being very aware of how we’re received in the online world. That is the cultivation of a virtual style.
Nancy: You’ve underscored this in everything you’ve said today, but this is not a broadcast medium, it’s an engagement medium. The algorithm we need to know is to engage meaningfully and add something to the conversation.
JD: It’s the human algorithm at play. It’s not what lies beneath the screen that’s important. It’s what’s in front of the screen. A profile should have a nucleus of information about you that you. As people are motivated to investigate you further, it gives them what they need to make an educated decision about you as a vendor, service provider, or employee. From there, you transition the conversation. LinkedIn is really that seamless interface, that bridge to get you from information on someone in real time to a 30-minute zoom conversation where you can create a sales moment and start talking meaningfully about the products and services you provide.
Opening conversations on LinkedIn is probably the greatest challenge for most users. In my experience, it’s what I talk the most about with clients. How do they an intro to somebody? How do you play the sleuth game and network your way into a meaningful conversation and create influence and impact?
Nancy: That may sound daunting, but what is being said today is you already have a style, we’re not telling you to go create one. We’re saying, be you.
JD: On LinkedIn, we create style through what we say, the words we use, how we produce visuals for ourselves, how we cut videos. Borrow from your own personal playbook. Do what’s right for you, my style guide is just to kind of cheer you on along the way. When we work LinkedIn honestly and with integrity, and really make a concerted effort to meet people where they are in the world, not where we think they are, then the conversation starts to flow. You have a much greater chance of developing a relationship.
Nancy: That pearl of wisdom applies anywhere, not just on LinkedIn. Let’s talk about the creative economy.
Content Builds Community and Community Enables Better Content
JD: On the one hand, you’ve got the creative economy. On the other hand, you’ve got the attention economy. And these two are supposed to kind of meet in the middle, but it’s just so hard because of this constant called clutter.
In the creator economy, which is this ability to voice what’s inside us, more and more people are becoming creators. It’s a designation that users take on to indicate that they produce content, whether it’s written, whether it’s visual, whether it’s auditory, they are producing content. Content creation is coming with and executing on ideas, and ideas are the currency of the creator economy.
Content, on the other hand, has to intersect with an audience, through the attention economy. It’s getting tougher and tougher to get into the eyes and minds of people. The challenge is there for everybody. Do what you can to get the best content out there. Put your ideas forward in a straightforward way. Stylistically, show your personality. Show your Moxie. Show your value, and hope that it will intersect with the right people. And if not, you lead them to the content. I play the inbound game. I’m leading people to my content instead of the spray and pray approach that’s so popular today in the predisposition toward vanity metrics.
In the case of the newsletter, my LinkedIn style guide, that’s an opt-in piece that I get as being in the creator mode on LinkedIn, which is a separate setting in the account. And once you’re a creator, you have access to all of these features and functions that are designed to give you greater coverage to create great content, and most importantly, build community. Everything they’re doing at LinkedIn is set up for content creators and community builders. Content builds community and through community, you can engineer greater content.
Nancy: A lot of great things to unpack there! Before I close this out, I’d like you to make a final point or a takeaway that helps current LinkedIn users feel comfortable about taking the next step wherever they are.
JD: I would give them six words. A sentence if you will.
You are on the right track.
You are on the right track. I like my clients and students to know that you are on the right track, you will not implode your career. If you do anything really wrong on LinkedIn, you may get your hand slapped once or twice. It’s a trial and error you keep doing. The point is to keep showing up and showing up well on LinkedIn. And over time, people notice that they are learning about you. That will translate into positive change.
But the key is, if you’re dying to say something on LinkedIn, say it — because someone is waiting for it.
To contact JD Gershbein, click here.
To contact Nancy Sergeant at Sergeant Marketing, click here.