How to expand your reach on LinkedIn—for free

The social network geared to professionals can offer many engagement opportunities, and you don’t have to break the bank to be successful. Follow these tips.

Before you can even attempt to become a power user on LinkedIn, you must understand who spends the most time on the site.

If your content is going to catch fire, you must know who most of your second-degree connections are, as they are the gatekeepers to the rest of the LinkedIn network.

Most of LinkedIn’s power users fall into these four buckets:

  • Sales
  • HR
  • Job hunters
  • Company page admins

That, essentially, is why your timeline is boring:

  • Most salespeople just share whatever content their company publishes, and they “like” posts asserting that cold calling is not dead.
  • HR uses it to share jobs and interesting applications.
  • Job hunters use it to broadcast they’re looking for opportunities and to “like” a vast number of posts.
  • Company page admins barely put any thought into LinkedIn and use it as just another syndication platform.

So how do you cut through the crap?

First, LinkedIn is not simply a social media platform, it’s a community, and its members want to relate to and identify with others like them.

I found a study by The New York Times Customer Insight Group on the top five motives for people to share content:

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content to others. Forty-nine percent say sharing allows them to inform others of products they care about and potentially change opinions or encourage action.
  • To define ourselves to others. Sixty-eight percent share to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about.
  • To grow and nourish our relationships. Seventy-eight percent share information online because it lets them stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with.
  • Self-fulfillment. Sixty-nine percent share information because it allows them to feel more involved in the world.
  • To get the word out about causes or brands. Eighty-four percent share because it is a way to support causes or issues they care about.

What’s tricky about dissecting those motives is that there’s a lot of overlap.

I published more than 100 posts in 2016 to test the five-motive theory. Here’s what worked for each:

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content to others. These posts tended to do worst. Most people already have the hang of this on LinkedIn, so your content doesn’t have a fighting chance to stick out.
  • To define ourselves to others. These posts proved to be the most powerful way to get engagements and start conversations on LinkedIn. Whenever I mentioned I was struggling with something or felt a certain way about a topic, the post took off. Discussions about a fear or my opinion on a topic saw an average of 5,000 impressions. Very few people say what they feel about a topic, because they’re afraid of being judged. This is your opportunity to steal the spotlight.
  • To grow and nourish our relationships. This should always be a primary motive. Nourishing relationships is the reason we’re on LinkedIn.
  • Self-fulfillment. Self-fulfilling posts are rare but incredibly powerful. These posts focus on your accomplishing or celebrating something you’ve been working on. If you include lessons, you’re off to the races. Second-degree connections easily relate to specific milestones or takeaways.
  • To get the word out about causes or brands. Product- or service-related posts don’t get much engagement, so offer them only if you’ve had a truly amazing experience. If someone follows your recommendation and has an exceptional experience, that person will trust your opinion in the future.

If you focus on sharing your opinion and views on particular topics, you’ll see engagement spike.

Wes Bush is a co-founder of Traffic Is Currency. A version of this article originally appeared on Spin Sucks.

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