I wish I’d known I could be myself on LinkedIn

Written by Laura McDonagh

When I first went freelance three years ago, I knew from somewhere deep in my DNA that I’d need to be more present on LinkedIn. After all, that’s what all the business guides I’d read were telling me. “Spend time on your marketing!” they bellowed. “No one else is going to promote you but you!” 

So I took a deep breath, opened my laptop, and logged back into everyone’s least favourite social media platform. 

What I found was… pretty depressing, actually. There was a lot of talk of “crushing it”. Of monthly profits hitting five figures. There was plenty of glorification of Mrs Thatcher-style sleep patterns and the key to success being something vague and mystical-sounding called ‘mindset’. There were status updates that sounded like sarcastic humblebrags but were revealed on closer inspection to be just, well, brags. 

And so I did what any self-respecting LinkedIn novice would do: I cracked my knuckles and started to copy them. “I specialise in producing thoughtful, eloquent written content for education, charity and the arts…” I wrote. “I have 12 years’ professional experience in teaching, marketing and community work…” 

And so on (and so yawn). No personality. No authenticity. And therefore very, very little interaction. 

But as the pandemic loomed back in March, I took a fresh look at LinkedIn. After all, I’d heard stories of people getting the gigs they’d always dreamed of through it. Plus, I’d come across  appealing rumours of algorithms that were generally comprehensible and predictable rather than temperamental and attention-seeking (*cough* Instagram *cough*).

I thought about the company page I’d been managing for a client – we managed to have a bit of fun with their LinkedIn, didn’t we? Why couldn’t I do the same? Surely I could apply the golden rules I stuck to for all other social media platforms to LinkedIn. To show up, stay true to myself and my content pillars; to connect, connect, connect to find my people and, finally, to curate my feed.

I mean, what did LinkedIn think it was – special or something?

My breakthrough was partly due to connecting with more creative types on LinkedIn. Rather than playing it cool and waiting for a request, I became proactive about building up my contacts from fewer than 200 to a far more respectable – and fruitful – 400+. 

People I knew from past jobs, from Twitter and Instagram, people I’d met once at a random event and chatted to. I’d message people who popped up on my feed via other connections who sounded relevant. A simple “Hiya. You sound interesting – can we connect?” was usually (and still is) enough to secure a connection.

One such person was Rowan Martin, a freelance copywriter based in Leeds. With over 5000 people following her on LinkedIn, it seems her 2020 strategy of posting “musings and rantings” on lockdown life (with two small kids and a new puppy in tow) has paid off. Through this kind of amusing and light-hearted content, Martin has built her visibility and notoriety as a talented – and slightly sweary – content writer.  

“When I stopped trying to force something on LinkedIn and just wrote what came naturally – a lot of reflections on being self-employed and the pitfalls of freelancing – I found people could relate to me and I started building a bit of a community,” Martin says. “There are people out there who always tag me in posts where someone’s looking for a writer, and it’s that kind of loyalty that makes LinkedIn worthwhile.” 

Her ultimate LinkedIn advice: don’t mimic the hustler stereotype and don’t succumb to pressure to craft your content. “Being authentic is key – sharing with followers that sometimes you’re desperate for work and can’t pay the gas bill and at other times you make £10k in a month is far more relatable.”

John Espirian – a technical B2B copywriter and self-confessed LinkedIn nerd who posts tips for the platform alongside more personal content – agrees: “There’s no point being suit and tie if you’re really jeans and T-shirt,” he says. “That’s as true on LinkedIn as it is in any other business networking setting. People buy into you only when they see something of the real person.”

Which brings me to my business resolution for 2021: to be even more me on LinkedIn. What does that look like? Well, you’ll have to connect with me to find out.  

Laura McDonagh is a freelance copywriter based in York, UK. You can check out her website at www.heylauramc.com or find her on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn