Simon Owens
May 31 · 17 min read

Back in 2011, LinkedIn announced that it was hiring Dan Roth, who was then the editor of Fortune.com, to serve as its editor in chief. Given LinkedIn’s then role as mostly a repository for online resumes, the move had many scratching their heads.

Over the next few years, though, Roth’s team would roll out a number of editorial products. It started by curating outside news sources, sending LinkedIn users to articles published by business publications like The Wall Street Journal and Business Insider. Then it rolled out a blogging platform that was only available to influential users like Richard Branson and Bill Gates. Eventually, it then opened up its blogging platform to all users.

During all this time, LinkedIn was steadily hiring journalists from some of the world’s top business publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Fortune. Today, it has an editorial staff of 60, and these editors are responsible for everything from curating user content to producing their own original reporting.

I recently sat down with Linkedin senior editor at large Isabelle Roughol. I asked her about how LinkedIn editors go about curating content, how they distribute this content on LinkedIn, and how they approach original reporting projects.

To listen to the interview, subscribe to The Business of Content on your favorite podcast player, or you can play the YouTube video below. If you scroll down you’ll also find a transcript of the interview.

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This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Simon Owens: Hey Isabelle, thanks for joining us.

Isabelle Roughol: Hey Simon, thanks for having me.

You’re the senior editor at large at LinkedIn. What does that job entail?

The role of the editorial team at LinkedIn is to provide members with the news and views to talk about the things that matter today. So our job is to engage the LinkedIn membership with content that will spark or cultivate smart, professional conversations on the platform. We do that in nine countries and seven languages.

I spent a few years building out our coverage outside the U.S. I was working on developing our editorial team in Europe, in Asia, in Latin America. For the past six months I’ve been the senior editor at large, which is a fancy title for being a senior editor on the team writing and creating content every day, as well as leading some projects with other teams and providing some mentorship to editors on the team. It’s a pretty broad role, which is fun, because I get to work on the things I find important.

So are you doing a lot of management of other journalists? Or are you doing a lot of the day to day editorial work yourself?

Not anymore. I was a manager for years, and I gave that up about six months ago to go back to my creative roots a little bit. I think when you’re working as a journalist, you kind of have to work on both sides and both skillsets. Now I’m in more of a day to day creative role, as well as some strategy, but not management.

What were you doing prior to taking the job at LinkedIn?

I’m trained as a journalist. I went to the University of Missouri’s journalism school. And then I was a reporter and editor in newspapers. I was a reporter at the Cambodia Daily. I was an editor at Le Figaro in France. I’m a French native. I was on the foreign desk there up until 2011. I actually then got laid off and was kind of freelancing and exploring what was out there back in 2012 when I came across this job ad on LinkedIn about being an editor. That’s when I joined the team, in 2012.

You’re not the only one with a journalism background who was hired at LinkedIn. Several years ago LinkedIn started poaching business journalists from top publications like The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune. What was the original thinking behind this move? The person behind this entire operation is Dan Roth. What was his thinking behind hiring these journalists?

Dan was hired in 2011. He was at Fortune at the time. He’s still our editor-in-chief. The thinking at the time was that he sensed that LinkedIn was going to become more and more of a content platform, and it was important to have journalists giving it direction so you would have a quality platform and conversations. We always believe in the balance between machines and humans, algorithms and editors, together, to create really positive and quality content at LinkedIn.

The editors focus on the three Cs. Create. Curate. Cultivate. We’re creating our own original content. We’re curating — and that’s a really large part of it, since most of the content on LinkedIn is curated. So we’re trying to surface the best conversations happening in the professional community. And then cultivating, which is really encouraging people to use the platform, to have smart conversations, and to share with their community on LinkedIn.

When Dan Roth first started, he was focused almost entirely on curation at the time. I remember that some business publications, like Business Insider, started reporting that they were getting massive referral traffic from LinkedIn. It was launching these products that curated the day’s business news depending on what industry you worked in and started linking to outside sources. The idea then was to start generating native content for LinkedIn, first through the LinkedIn influencer program, and then you rolled out blogging capabilities to the rest of the LinkedIn users.

Can you talk a little about the curational aspect of the LinkedIn editorial team now? What role do editors play in finding content on LinkedIn and elevating it to a larger audience?

The product has gone through so many phases. You’re just reminding me of all the seven years I’ve spent here. It feels like a million years ago when we had just external content.

Today the editors are a big part of our content offering, what we call Top Stories. It shows up on a search environment on mobile and on the top righthand corner in your desktop experience. It’s really a curation of the top news that are vital to your professional world today, and the conversations that are happening on the platform in this professional environment.

So the editors are going to be surfacing the best and most interesting conversations from a variety of views that are happening on LinkedIn, so that you can sort of see a broad scope of the professional conversation, and you’re going to be able to see things that are happening far beyond your network. In the feed you’ll see the people you know, but you’ll see a lot more.

Right now, in the UK, we have stories about banking fraud. We have stories about British steel. And the railway system. Or AI. Or Brexit. We see LinkedIn members talking about this and sharing really important insights, because it’s the industry they’re working on, because it’s impacting their daily work.

So that top righthand widget, Today’s News and Views, that’s what you’re talking about? That seems like very general business news. I know at some point you had these individual channels, where if I worked in, say, the agricultural industry I was automatically subscribed to a channel, and then editors, if they found good agriculture content, they would distribute it on that channel and it would show up in my main feed. How much are you personalizing this content for users based on the industry they work in? How are you surfacing content that’s industry specific?

Everyone’s LinkedIn experience is going to be different. It is personalized. Because it’s based on your network, on your industry. You are going to see things that are more specific relevant to your industry, to your company, to your colleagues as well. That’s where the mix of algorithms and editors is important. You’re going to have that level of personalization and relevance coming from algorithms.

But we also see value in bursting that filter bubble. Giving you things that you don’t yet know you care about, but are actually going to be very impactful trends to the future of work, to your industry, to your professional lives.

We have editors who are focused on specific industries, like healthcare, finance, or engineering. But we also have some more broad news relevant to the professional world, and a mix of the two is important.

Where am I discovering most of that news? Is it in that widget in the top righthand corner, or is it also in the feed?

It’s going to be both. It’s going to be in the feed. It’s going to be notifications. Through the widget. It’s in the search tab on your mobile app. It’s baked in to all of your experience.

What motivates a user to write and upload an article to LinkedIn?

It’s not just articles. Posts and videos are also having massive growth. Really it’s about a couple things. It’s about establishing your professional reputation. I like to say content is the new resume. It’s not enough to have that list of accomplishments. It’s about are you staying in the know about your industry? Are you sharing your expertise with others? Engaging colleagues? Being on top of what’s going on? That’s a big factor.

It’s also people wanting to start a conversation and get informed and learn from others. One thing that I love in my experience with LinkedIn is being able to start a conversation, post something I’m thinking about, and in the comments learning way more about the topic from people who have that expertise.

The standard for looking for a job used to be that you kept your resume updated, but then you were also surfing jobs boards and applying for jobs. Would you advise someone to be also be blogging on LinkedIn, where a lot of recruiters and other industry folks are hanging out?

I think that definitely helps. You want to be out there, be a fixture in your industry. Someone people know they can come to for expertise and help. Someone who is just being social with people in their industry.

I know it can sound a bit daunting and I don’t want it to be. You don’t have to be a professional writer. There’s a lot of different formats you can use. A video can be less intimidating for people who don’t want to write. Or you can just write shorter posts and share articles. It’s really about being social, about staying in touch with your network. Not just going to them to get help. We talk about giving help and getting help. And I think, as we all know, networks are so important in getting you to your next place in your career, getting you new opportunities. I really think of content as a way to continue growing your network.

Do you see a lot of users that are publishing articles as a form of content marketing to drive business connections and leads for their businesses?

It’s definitely part of the toolbox. One thing I always caution people against is being too overtly salesy. You really want to be useful to your audience and authentic in the things you’re sharing. People can smell a fraud from a mile away. The audience is extremely sophisticated by now. Being genuine and being helpful is very important, and not just being promotional.


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Ok, back to our scheduled programming…


Can you talk about the role that LinkedIn plays in driving traffic to publishers that aren’t published on LinkedIn? That was the initial goal when Dan Roth started. How much of that is happening now?

It is happening. We’re hearing anecdotally from publishers. Our focus is really on building community and conversations. We’re seeing publishers be really successful when they’re growing a community around their content on LinkedIn. The BBC News, the Economist, those are really active and interesting pages.

Also seeing journalists take the tool in their own hands, and publishers encouraging their journalists to do that, and sharing their stories, and encouraging conversations around their stories, often getting their next story idea from the comments. And just giving professionals on LinkedIn a different point of view and a behind-the-curtains look at their careers as journalists. That’s been really successful.

What about the publishers themselves? I subscribe to a bunch of publications within my industry on LinkedIn. But I don’t know that they’re publishing a ton on LinkedIn, or promoting their content as much as they do on some other platforms. Do you feel like there’s still a learning curve, or that publishers are still slow to adopt LinkedIn in their strategy?

I think we’re still seeing adoptions. It depends on whether they’re business publishers and are publishing stories around a professional context. We’re here to really work with publishers. We’re not trying to replace them. We’re just about building a helpful, professional community.

I’m pretty active on LinkedIn. I have a lot of followers there. I really strive to be a good curational source for news within my field. I’ve noticed within the last year, any time I link to an outside source, it’s shown to a very tiny percentage of my followers now. Whereas a year ago it was shown to a much larger percentage of my followers. Whereas if I post something that doesn’t contain a link, it’s shown to a much wider audience. This seems like a very deliberate change in the algorithm. Is LinkedIn making a concerted effort to keep users on LinkedIn?

No, if you look at our editorial products, like the Top News, it’s linking out to all the newsrooms that are doing this extremely precious original reporting. So definitely not. I think feeds change constantly. Algorithms change constantly. The ecosystem is constantly evolving.

I’ve been around seven years. I’m a content creator on LinkedIn. I’ve seen the formats that work better really vary and change over time. That’s just a factor of so many different things, including how the internet is evolving and what people are responding to.

So I always encourage people to keep experimenting, and just really be focused on creating conversations and engaging with their community, and finding out where they’re getting value. Personally I find a lot more value in a couple high quality comments than any other metric. It’s a constantly evolving ecosystem.

How does the editorial team efficiently sift through so much content? Are there quality signals? Like if I have an article that’s distributed by the editorial team, is the next article I publish somehow flagged for them to review? How does stuff surface so they are able to come across it more quickly and distribute it to a wider audience?

We have search. We know what’s in the news today, and we’re looking at who’s talking about this and posting about this. So the major advice for content creators is to always be on the pulse of where the conversation is and what’s going on in the news agenda. What people are talking about. As any editor would, we know who the good contributors are, and we’re keeping an eye on them because we’ve seen their work by now. We actually try to not rely on that too much because we want to have a broad view and give room for every voice in a diversity of voices, including people who are just speaking up for the first time.

And you have that algorithm and editor mix that’s going to surface things. We’re going to start seeing things in our own feed that are picking up speed.

So if Donald Trump announces new tariffs on China, your editors are primed to check who’s writing about that and if there’s anybody who understands trade really well who’s writing an article, then you’re more likely to surface that.

Exactly.

I’ve noticed that a lot of articles on LinkedIn feature a lot of more general career advice. Is that a lot more common than more specific industry analysis? I keep seeing posts about how to hire the right people or what someone learned as a manager, and less stuff that includes industry insights.

We’re seeing both. I think members are really hungry for guidance. It’s a quickly evolving world of work, and we all have to adapt. People are very hungry for guidance and hearing from other people’s experiences to help them navigate this as jobs are changing quickly, so there’s both. There’s being on top of your industry, and there’s getting that career advice, whether you’re a new starter, coming out of parental leave, or later in your career trying to do a transition. We’re seeing all of it.

The editorial team is really focused on helping people navigate this professional world. We’re building different buckets. How do you build a future proof career? That’s both industry expertise and just adapting to all these changes. How do you navigate this fast changing world, and it’s everything from Brexit to AI disruption. How do you embrace this changing workforce? You have the most diverse workforce we’ve ever seen. We’re present in all of these countries and we’re seeing these trends all over the place. So that’s really our focus, and members are themselves sharing their content that speaks to them.

But if you’re seeing something in your feed that doesn’t work for you, you do have the possibility of curating that and sending us signals about what you want to see more or less of.

Can you talk about the original content that’s being produced by the editorial team? What’s the strategy there? Are you trying to emulate a business publication? When you’re thinking about how to deploy those resources?

We’re at about 60+ now on the editorial team and we’re hiring in a few more countries. We’re not here to replace or emulate really any newsrooms out there. That original reporting work that these newsrooms do is so precious and so important to all of us and to our futures as liberal democracies.

What we’re focused on is professional conversations. When we’re creating content, we’re thinking about what our members need to know to be more equipped to handle the future of work, and what can we at LinkedIn do that you won’t see in these other newsrooms?

We’re doing a few things. One is we like to start conversations with some of the leaders of the business world. So we have this podcast called Hello Monday that’s hosted by my colleague in New York, and we have these conversations with people with interesting careers and fascinating perspectives on the world of work coming to speak about the issues. We have an interview series with our editor in chief where we’re bringing in top CEOs, top movers and shakers in the world of work, to get their perspectives.

And then we’re doing some beat specific reporting. We have a couple awesome healthcare reporters who are writing and also curating and cultivating around the changes in the healthcare industry. I love the story we had recently on nurses’ extreme commutes, where you might have someone living in Pennsylvania and commuting to Florida to work, and the forces at work within the healthcare industry that are pushing these men and women to make these pretty extreme life decisions around where they work and where they live.

For stories like that, what we can do uniquely is bring LinkedIn data to bear to understand, for instance, in the case of the nursing story, where are there shortages of nursing in the U.S., what are the skills gaps we’re seeing? I love doing that kind of storytelling around data. It’s something unique to LinkedIn.

How scalable is that leveraging of data? Do you have to pull aside an engineer every time you want to a story? Or do you have tools at your disposal where you’re working on a news story and need some original LinkedIn data?

A bit of both. We have incredible data scientists working with us. We’re able to get those insights and make sure the science is sound, and that we work with a lot of research that is done across the organization that we’re able to leverage.

Our economic graph team launched a dashboard with the World Bank. That’s actually public. Anyone can use it in their own reporting. We’re able to use it as well.

Is most of the content consumption on LinkedIn driven internally? How much referral traffic comes from outside sources? I know when you publish an article you have the option of sharing it on Twitter and elsewhere. There’s probably some search traffic. Where does the traffic come from?

I honestly wouldn’t be able to answer that question right now. Where we’re looking at is the vibrancy of conversations that are happening on LinkedIn. Are people finding value and returning on a daily basis? That’s what we’re looking at.

For a long time LinkedIn was looked at as this place you only went to to update you resume. I read that the editorial efforts had a lot to do with getting people more engaged with the platform on a more daily basis. At your time in LinkedIn, have you seen any internal analytics showing the editorial efforts are leading to more prolonged engagement in LinkedIn?

I’d love to take that credit. I think it’s part of a company wide effort. I don’t think you could isolate one person or one team, because the work that we do is incredibly embedded within the product, or part of the product team. We’re working with software engineers and data scientists every day.

I think having the editorial team is a powerful differentiator. I like that we can set the tone of content on LinkedIn. We’re able to have one on one conversations with members to help us really understand the community. The platform has changed tremendously in the seven years I’ve been there. It’s great to see tens of millions of members receiving our daily rundown each day, which is our business news digest. We have 12 different editions around the world in seven languages. That’s a massive difference than where it was when I started in 2012 when there were like three of us editors.

LinkedIn has seemed to place an emphasis on native video recently. How has that impacted your job? Is the editorial team hiring more people with video expertise? What are you guys doing to encourage native video?

Video has been incredibly popular. We’re seeing video, as a format, being very engaging. On the editorial side we’ve had a video team for three or four years that are producing incredible things. We have a video studio in New York. We also have a video studio in our Bangalore office. We are producing hundreds of videos every year, from daily news videos to major interviews with major guests. Every editor is also empowered to create their own videos. I have a video series every week. And we’ve launched live video recently. Editors have seized that tool.

I know outlets like Business Insider and Cheddar are uploading more professional videos. But when I’ve seen videos uploaded from users, it’s been more vlog style video shot from their phones. Is that what you’re seeing from a user generated content perspective?

Yes, there’s a lot of that very immediate — it’s the magic of live video. There’s rarely a lot of production on live video. That’s the beauty of a social platform. Your video doesn’t have to look like what it looks like on TV. It’s very immediate, it’s very raw and personal and within a professional context, but it’s just real and genuine. That’s what works best. The video series I do every week is just me and my cell phone, and we’ve interviewed government ministers with just a cell phone. And it works just fine. I love that there’s a much lower barrier to entry for everyone.

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.

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The Business of Content

The podcast about how publishers create, distribute, and monetize digital content.

Simon Owens

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Tech and media journalist. Email me: simonowens@gmail.com

The Business of Content

The podcast about how publishers create, distribute, and monetize digital content.

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