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LinkedIn for Thought Leadership—Why Aren’t Execs on Board?

If your execs aren't active on LinkedIn, you're missing out on one of your best marketing opportunities.

But let me back up a moment.

I’ve been working for myself as a content marketing consultant and writer for the past five years, and I’ve built my entire business on inbound LinkedIn and relationship building.

No emails. No shady DMs. No outbound marketing of any kind.

Just sharing my knowledge, tips, and occasional gripes that I’ve picked up in 15+ years of content marketing. 

It works because people get to know me. 

They get to see the quality of my work.

They get a glimpse of the depth and breadth of my expertise.

And when they need help with their content, my name is already top of mind (and it’s hard to forget “Bump”).

I tell you this not to toot my own horn, but to show the power of LinkedIn for B2B business owners and executives. Of course, this approach is not totally scalable for larger businesses. Still, getting your executives to use LinkedIn for thought leadership should be part of your marketing strategy.

But are executives willing to participate? 

Are executives using LinkedIn for thought leadership?

My own informal LinkedIn poll tells me that about a third of executives are giving it a go. The other two-thirds are not posting regularly or are only using the platform to share company blog posts, press releases, etc.

Screenshot of a LinkedIn poll that asks whether executives regularly publish on LinkedIn for thought leadership.

This number of management-level participants is low, suggesting a significant opportunity for executives that are willing to extend a bit of [admittedly limited] brainspace to the task.

Most marketers recognize the opportunity.

Colin Steele, Director of Marketing at venture capital company York IE says:

“...especially in the early days, your execs probably have a bigger following than your company page does. Take advantage of that built-in audience!”

These built-in audiences can make a measurable difference, as Kat Fergerson, Head of Marketing at Mathison, explains: 

“Having employees/execs who are active on LinkedIn has helped us tap into wider audiences. We had an AE join our team with an engaged, six digit follower community and when they started posting about our ICP's challenges, we saw a big (~30%) uptick in metrics across the board. From more inbound demand to more site traffic, it helped us reach people our existing employee networks and company profile were missing.”

And yet, many marketers face resistance when they suggest LinkedIn for thought leadership to their executive team. Marketing Director Molly Gardner has had her share of failed attempts, explaining, “If I had a nickel for every time I try to drive this home and no one wants to hear it…”

Trevor Grimes, Director of Content at Building Church, says, “I tried to start an exec LinkedIn program at one of my previous jobs for this exact reason.” Unfortunately, Trevor’s executives seemed to be averse to adding LinkedIn to their marketing strategy.

Screenshot of a LinkedIn conversation. One participant explains that they have tried to get their executives to use LinkedIn for thought leadership, but the executives had a variety of excuses for not moving forward.

So, what gives? What’s the disconnect between marketing and the executive team—where so much of the thought leadership lives?

What executives DON’T like about LinkedIn

True thought leadership does not just mean sharing the latest company content. It means publishing your own insights, experience, and POVs directly on the platform. This may take the form of text posts (my personal favorite), video, memes, whatever feels authentic. 

But one thing good LinkedIn content definitely takes is time. Even working with a LinkedIn ghostwriter requires some level of commitment from the execs to meet with the writer occasionally and share some thoughts. 

It was therefore my assumption that time would be the sticking point for those that don’t share thought leadership to LinkedIn. 

When I asked around, however, a different picture emerged. Molly told me several of her executives don’t participate in LinkedIn because they don’t want to be “that guy.” 

Who is “that guy”? 🤔

Apparently, he (or she) is the one always posting about himself or his company without adding anything valuable or authentic, as summed up well by Ryan David Johnson, VP Sales Solutions Engineering at Kantar:

Screenshot of a LinkedIn comment explaining bad form on LinkedIn, such as speaking only in jargon, being overly self-promotional, relying on AI and ghostwriting without a personal touch, etc.

The better way to use LinkedIn

With all of this in mind, there’s a better way to use LinkedIn for thought leadership. 

1. Share helpful content 

This feels obvious, but apparently it still needs to be spelled out. LinkedIn posts should not be sales pitches. Is there a spot for promoting your company or product? Sure, but keep those posts few and far between (maybe 1 in 20 posts). 

While overly promotional content turns off many LinkedIn users, most people welcome helpful content from experts in their fields. Erik Peterson, Creative Director at Buxton, explains: 

“I think some of the skeptics think that it's an infomercial selling products when the reality is it's all about being a teacher, being of service, and sharing your knowledge that people find informative, entertaining or funny."

Marcus Schaller, Marketing Strategist, agrees “that guy” probably isn’t referring to the helpful people.

Screenshot of a LinkedIn comment in which the author shared "I'd be surprised if they were picturing 'posts really useful, helpful insights' guy."

Instead of pushing your brand or product, consider:

  • What can you teach someone else in your shoes?

  • What are you struggling with (professionally or personally) that others could relate to? How are you addressing it

  • How have you tackled a challenge in the past?

  • What’s your informed take on the latest industry news?

  • What are you working on that would be interesting to your network?

All of these prompts can inform thought leadership content for LinkedIn (but certainly don’t feel limited to these!).

2. Push past the imposter syndrome

Worried that you don’t have anything informative, entertaining, or funny to share? You’re not alone. Imposter syndrome is very real, especially when putting your expertise on public display. 

Jake Gregory, COO at The Association Partner, says:

“I think the main hesitation for most is not wanting to make it seem like they have all the answers when they don’t. But if we’re being honest, that’s all of us.”

It helps to remember that if your post flops, the worst that happens is only a few people see it before it disappears into social media oblivion. Jake dug up one of his posts from a year ago to explain:

Next time you’re doubting yourself or whether your expertise is valuable, push past the imposter syndrome—and just push “post”.

3. Be yourself

Authenticity is a kind of currency on social media platforms, and Greg Shugar, Owner of Beau Ties of Vermont, explains that it’s often lacking on LinkedIn.

Screenshot of a LinkedIn conversation in which one person says people are afraid to be themselves on LinkedIn. Another person agrees that people play it safe, which makes everything bland.

Clay Ostrom, Founder and Brand Strategist at Map & Fire, agrees:

"I would so much rather read 1-2 thoughtful / insightful posts a week from someone than a constant churn of AI-assisted, generic stuff. Give us your authentic, unique, personal, weird, messy pov. That's the stuff that's interesting."

When everyone plays it safe, everyone starts sounding the same. Instead of keeping everything buttoned up, show a bit of personality in your LinkedIn posts. Share about who you are. Write like you talk. After all, your personal brand should be different from that of your counterpart at Competitor A. 

For example, Bobby Pinero, CEO at Equals, has seen great success on LinkedIn by showing his personality and opening up about who he is outside of work. 

Screenshot of Equals CEO Bobby Pinero using LinkedIn for thought leadership. His post starts with, "FFS, finance people, you need to learn SQL."

“FFS” might not be your authentic opener, but it worked for Bobby. Find what’s unique to you—and use it to stand out from all the blah.

4. Curate your feed

If you’re getting overwhelmed by “that guy” showing up in your feed, it’s time to make some cuts to your connections. Laura McLeman, Founder and Director of The Clever Firm, explains:

"There is so much junk on Linkedin that if you are new and start scrolling you can very quickly decide that it is GARBAGE and full of "that guy" or "that girl". Having a relevant feed = following the right people." 

But the benefit of a well-curated LinkedIn network goes beyond freedom from annoyance. Carefully curating your audience based on your ICP will also help to ensure you’re building relationships with people that you’re looking to reach. 

LinkedIn works by first showing your posts to a small subset of your connections. If these people engage with your content, the platform puts it in more people’s feeds. But if those initial impressions are wasted on your Aunt Marie or neighbor Frank, your content is less likely to reach the people it’s intended for.

Instead, focus on building connections with people that fit your ideal customer profile, as well as other thought leaders in your industry that this ICP engages with. 

Still not convinced?

If your executives still aren’t convinced that it’s a valuable platform that can impact the bottom line, it might be the end of the road for your LinkedIn thought leadership initiative. 

As Dave Gerhardt, Founder of Exit Five, explains in this post from the archives, there’s no way to hold an executive accountable for creating LinkedIn content if they’re not fundamentally bought in.

Screenshot of a Facebook discussion in which one user asks how to make founders accountable for creating thought leadership content for LinkedIn. Dave Gerhardt responds that there is no way to make them accountable. They must buy in on their own.

But if the issue really does come down to time and bandwidth, there’s an easy fix for that—LinkedIn ghostwriting.

My LinkedIn ghostwriting process starts with an onboarding workbook and an executive interview, then we meet at least monthly and flesh out five posts per week. I do the heavy lifting, and you benefit from more and better relationships with your audience.

Drop me a line to learn more—or connect with me on LinkedIn.


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