I recently published my 200th article on LinkedIn.
It's a milestone I thought worth sharing --not to humble-brag about that fact that I managed to squeeze out enough words from my brain to fill nearly three books over the past four and a half years -- but as an excuse to pause for a moment and reflect on what I've learned during this intense journey of personal self-reflection, study, and conversations with more than 50 incredible people from around the world who shared their insights and experiences with me.
In September 2016, I went through a similar exercise when I reached my 100th article and wrote about the "10 lessons I learned from publishing 100 articles on LinkedIn." Looking over that list today, I would say each of them is as true today as they were two years ago, or even four and a half years ago, when I was at the earliest phase of my journey. "Write about what you know best": Check. "Become an idea machine": Check. "Write consistently": Check. And seven other lessons that I turned into tips for aspiring writers on LinkedIn.
But what if I were to flip each of those lessons on its head and make the opposite claim? Would the original lesson still hold true? Or, would I contradict myself and declare that what I learned two years ago no longer holds today, in a world where I've got 200 posts under my belt and on a platform that has swelled to well over half a billion users and which has undergone numerous changes along the way?
Let me give it a try! Here are 8 more surprising lessons I learned from publishing 200 articles on LinkedIn:
1. Write about topics you know nothing or very little about.
This one obviously runs completely counter to my advice to "write about topics you know best." I still write about topics I know best, and therefore feel most comfortable and confident writing about. Writing and communicating with impact is a niche I've carved for myself since my earliest days of writing on LinkedIn. I enjoy writing about this topic, and I'm able to produce words I feel good about more quickly and easily.
But I also like to explore topics that I'm not an expert in, like artificial intelligence, or starting and scaling new companies. Topics that make me ask a lot of questions, that require me to schedule Skype interviews with startup founders and CEOs, that force me to do a lot of reading and note-taking.
I could easily persuade myself to steer clear of these and other topics that are not "in my wheelhouse," as one editor gently hinted to me once. It would certainly make this hobby of mine a lot easier and less time-consuming. But I thrive on challenges, and so writing about topics that I may not have a lot of direct experience in doesn't scare me away from asking a lot of questions, compiling facts, and then assembling it all into short stories that deliver a message or set of lessons that help shed light on a less well understood topic for a broader audience of lay people like myself.
2. Write about topics that your readers are passionate about.
Two years ago, I suggested writing about topics that you're most passionate about. It certainly has helped me to tap into a powerful current of ideas and energy. This one still holds true for me. But I would couple this lesson with another equally important lesson that turns the focus outward toward the reader. What is my imaginary reader passionate about? What do they care about the most? And what can I say about that topic that will touch a nerve for them and let them know I've heard them -- even though, of course, I've never even communicated with them.
It's not a new question I ask myself whenever I sit down to write. It's something I've tried to address with nearly every article I've published so far. But by putting this question at the top of my imaginary short list of questions I ask myself while I'm writing, it helps me focus my efforts on producing a piece that resonates with the people I hope are reading.
3. Write about obscure, off-the-wall topics that have nothing to do with what's trending.
This one punches my original suggestion to "write about trending topics" right on the nose. While I still like to write about trending topics, I often enjoy going off-trend and writing about the Jolabokaflod, Icelands incredible Christmas custom of gifting books and then reading them together with a warm winter beverage in hand. Or I'll write about the incredible power that saying "thank you" has on your ability to forge more meaningful relationships with others. While I value the network-building and professional brand-building power of writing on LinkedIn, it is at the end of the day also a personal hobby for me. I feel, therefore, that I have the license to write about a greater variety of topics that interest me.
4. Focus on one or two topics and dive deep into them.
My original suggestion of "becoming an idea machine" is still useful for building a pipeline of topics you can write about. I still rely on this method to help me fend off "topic block," which continues to strike me when I least want it to. But I've also found that by focusing intensively on just one, maybe two, topics at a time, and doing extra reading and thinking about them, I can focus my limited stores of energy and time toward producing a more fully-fleshed article that goes a layer deeper than my usual columns, and which I can feel proud of having written.
5. Write to learn new things that will help you in your career and your life.
My original advice to "provide information and insight that helps your readers" still holds, of course. But if I'm totally honest, I'd say one of the biggest benefits -- and greatest pleasures -- I derive from publishing on LinkedIn is what I learn through the process of studying and writing about topics that give me insight and guidance into issues that help me think through and deal with topics I'm grappling with.
6. Don't over-share.
Like I suggested two years ago, I still believe writers on LinkedIn should share something about themselves in their articles. The writers that don't reveal anything about themselves may inform and educate, but I'm not sure they are likely to inspire. But I also believe you need to carve out a space for what you write about on LinkedIn and keep that space separate from the personal and professional details that would be too irrelevant, mundane, or simply too private to share with the wider world.
7. Write content that delivers on the promise of your headline.
Good headlines that draw in the reader and compels her to click your article over the hundreds of other options she has are essential, I argued. Following the "50 percent rule" of spending half your time just honing your headline, however, will backfire if you don't deliver on the promise you're making to your reader. Sure, it's easy to embellish and exaggerate in your headline, but it's really difficult to win back the trust of a reader that feels like they've been the victim of "click bait."
Invest the time and energy to write content that you are confident will provide the value you promised to your reader in your headline.
8. Emphasize quality over consistency.
Writing about one article per week for the past four and a half years has been instrumental in my ability to grow my following to more than 120,000 people. It has also helped me exercise my writing muscle and develop a productive habit that I never had before.
But if consistency still eludes you, or if you really haven't gotten off to a solid start at all, just focus on writing the best content that you can. Don't pressure yourself to produce articles weekly, biweekly, or even monthly, unless you feel confident you can produce something that you are proud of sharing with the rest of the world. Invest time in thinking through your topic, researching it, getting expert advice on it, and then writing and rewriting your draft until you feel ready to share it with the world.
This might slow your process and reduce your intended output, but the impact on your reputation of one or two really well-crafted articles will be far higher than pumping out a series of posts for the sake of hitting a publishing goal.