Why Writing Good Content Is Worth The Effort

Because it yields results way out of proportion to the time and effort you put into it.

When you put the time and effort into your writing, it shows in the results.

When you think hard about what your prospective reader really wants to see, it shows in the results

When you take the time to think all around the subject you are writing about, it shows in the results.

When you write from the standpoint of thinking “What’s in it for them? And how do I give it to them?”, it shows in the results.

When you get input from your readers, and take that into account when you write, it shows in the results.

When I write, I have two things going for me: After writing hundreds and hundreds of LinkedIn posts, articles, blog posts and now newsletters, I have a pretty good idea what my readers want to know more about.

The second thing I have going for me is I am willing to take the time to write it out and explain my thinking. I take my first draft and put it away for a week and come back to it with fresh eyes. Then I usually take that draft and edit it again before it goes in a newsletter or on LinkedIn or my blog.

I write three newsletters a week, a blog post or two, and usually an article or post on LinkedIn. Writing, editing, and posting takes me around 12 hours a week. That is significant. And it is also untouchable. If I have work for my clients that is cramping me for time, then I write in the evening or on the weekend, but that writing is going to get done, and I am going to put the time into writing it that it deserves.

And it shows in the results. The average open rate for consulting and coaching newsletters is nine percent. The open rate for my three newsletters is just under forty percent (and by the way, thanks to all my subscribers for that).

Put the time and effort into your writing. It will show in your results.

LinkedIn now measures dwell time. They what? 

First some background: How does LinkedIn decide what we see in our homepage feed? 

The homepage algorithm figures out the following: 

  • The probability that you will “react” to this post, a reaction being a like, comment or share. This probability is based on your history with this poster. LinkedIn doesn’t mention it, but I assume they also look at your history with this post’s topic, or I assume, with a specific hashtag)
  • The probability that other people will react to your reaction – take action of their own. Are there people that typically are drawn to your comments or likes of a post? 
  • The value to the content creator of your reactions. Do your reactions give valuable feedback to the author? I am not sure how LinkedIn would measure this unless you were to “like” their comment or share. 

All the thousands of possible posts that could be presented to you are weighed, and the “best” ones according to the algos go into your stream. 

Limitations of this approach:

  • Some people read posts and appreciate them but are just not people who react. 
  • Someone may click “more” and open a post, but then realize that the post isn’t for them, and goes back to the feed. LinkedIn calls these click bounces. 

So now LinkedIn has added “dwell time” in it’s calculations as to the value they are assigning a post. 

There are two types of dwell time: the time a post is sitting in your feed, and the time the post is sitting in your feed once you click on it. 

Until now, LinkedIn had measured clicks, comments, reactions and shares to rate a post. Now dwell time will be factored in as well. 

If this is the case, less crappy posts will be presented to you and you will see more posts that actually have something to say that people read through end to end. 

Two observations in all this:

  1. One factor in all this that really should be emphasized is your “history” with posts from a given author. If you have a history of reading and / or reacting to a person – whether a connection or someone you follow – LinkedIn will remember and favor their content being put in front of you. Whenever you react to a post, you increase the likelihood that more of that person’s posts will appear in your feed. 
  2. Everything you do on LinkedIn, no matter how small, has consequences. Everything you do gets interpreted by LinkedIn (which is a little disquieting). 

Check your own homepage feed and see for yourself. Just don’t pull up a post from someone you don’t like and choose that moment to leave your device and have lunch. 

Can You Go Viral On LinkedIn?  

It is pretty unlikely. Here’s why.

Definition: for the purposes of this discussion, I consider a “viral” post or article to be one that gets an unexpectedly large number of views, particularly with respect to what that an author has been used to receiving. Viral for you or me might be a thousand views, or ten thousand views, while Bill Gates could probably post his grocery list and do better than that.

There are good practices that will improve readership and engagement. These include:

  • Posting on a regular basis
  • A topic people are interested in
  • A good headline that draws people in
  • A photo or illustration that is interesting or unique
  • Cross promotion with other authors (but beware of Pods. More on this topic another time)
  • Having a lot of connections
  • Building a regular following
  • Getting involved in the comments and discussion an article generates

There are more, but these are some of the things you can do that will have a positive effect on your posts. But none of them is going to make you go viral. 

So what does? Things you can’t control.

  • Your post (unexpectedly) strikes a chord with a lot of people

I call this the “Johnston Posting Uncertainty Principle.” The JPUP states that you will never know how a post will be received. I have posts I have written quickly, on topics that I thought were pretty vanilla, and they do well. And then a couple of weeks later I do some real research into the way LinkedIn works, ideas that will have an impact on the way people think about using LinkedIn, publish my findings, and….nothing.

It does help if the post in question is about something that has broad appeal. Leadership and management related posts on LinkedIn will always have broader appeal than a post on Befunge (which is an obscure programming language with a funny name). 

  • LinkedIn promoting your post.

You can prompt (ie: grovel with) LinkedIn to promote your post, but there are no guarantees they will. In four plus years of posting on LinkedIn, I have written around several hundred posts and several hundred articles and I think I have been picked up and actively promoted by LinkedIn twice. Two out of six hundred are crappy odds.

Note that even having these additional factors to your advantage still doesn’t guarantee viral-litude. Here’s a real life example from LinkedIn Influencer Jeff Haden. One week his post gets 512,000 views. His next post gets 546,000 views. His post the following week? 23,000 (kind of antiviral). What do you think Jeff’s expectations were for his post the third week? I don’t know, but I am guessing that it wasn’t a 95% lower view count.   

The bottom line is that even following good writing and posting practices on LinkedIn, and even with a popular post topic and being picked up by LinkedIn, luck seems to be the single biggest factor.

So if you see someone writing a post on how to go viral on LinkedIn, read it with a certain amount of healthy skepticism. Go look at that person’s recent activity page on their profile and look at their posts. There may be a legitimately viral post there that got 500,000 views. Of course if they have cracked the code, all their posts after that first viral one are also getting 500,000 views or more, right?

But I think the whole idea of going viral loses sight of the bigger picture. I would rather have a post with a low number of views and really good engagement than one with a lot of views and no comments. Engagement can lead to connecting, and connecting can lead to networking, and networking can lead to business opportunities. I am not sure what views lead to as there is no way to find out who my specific viewers were.

Enjoy your posts that do well in terms of views, everyone likes the ego boost. But views are like a company’s sales, and engagement is like a company’s profits. Would you rather have really good sales, or really good profits?