This is a super fun and special episode for me because we’ve hit the big 50. Yes, that’s 5 – O and I just gotta say, hosting the Campfire Circle podcast is one of the most fun and rewarding things I get to do as a business owner so thank you for being here and sitting by the fire with me. We’ve got some juicy questions here crowdsourced from our community on all things LinkedIn, storytelling, and standing out and we stand up for our mission. So, let’s get into it, friends.
1. Ashley Shuler, Digital Project Management Consultant – Happy 50th episode! As a digital project management consultant, I often grapple with my own content in the best ways that I can create great stories for lessons on all things relating to managing, leading, and executing projects. And to many people, the everyday work might seem boring, but I actually think there are a lot of really great adventures. And so I want some advice on how I can do really great storytelling on lessons learned and things I’ve experienced. I’d love to know how can I better think of or design a really good way to do storytelling within the project management space?
Hey Ashley! Thank you so much my friend. And from knowing you personally and the huge personality and positive energy you bring to everything you do, you are already doing a lot of these things I’m about to suggest but it’s a really great question.
There are some things that in terms of the day-to-day work, are just a little boring. Project management might be one, grantwriting might be another, data analytics may be another. They’re all necessary inside social impact work but yeah, people don’t always want to hear about the day-to-day. I think sharing our related stories on LinkedIn is less about telling the stories of the minutia or day-to-day, but instead the deeper why behind your work and the end outcome of how things can change for your community as a result of the work.
When we are working in the trenches of a transformation, again whether it’s project management or grants or data, we’re at like a PHD level of it. We speak in jargon to our peers at conferences. We get very specific and detailed. I think one of the challenges in telling stories about seemingly boring or maybe complex work, is that we feel like we have to sound super smart. But the way to make an impact in your storytelling is to actually speak about it in terms people can understand and are attracted to.
So, how can you paint a picture of the end outcome? If you were in air travel sales, instead of highlighting how many degrees your airplane chair reclines or the nutritional value of the meal you’re going to get, talk about the tropical destination you’re taking your clients to. Right?
So some storytelling avenues for a seemingly boring field could be – case studies where you’re showcasing the human element and the story being going from disorganized and fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants with all our projects to how you specifically intervened – in audience-friendly language – and then what life is like now for them? What’s different, better, transformed, and exciting for them because of your project management?
The converse of this is to focus on stories of what can happen if you don’t invest in good project management, which I feel like you do with your key brand messaging around the Cost of Disorganization. But in these stories, be as specific as possible so that the people currently paying the cost – or feeling the cost of disorganization – really hear themselves and their current situation reflected in the story and begin to listen, because they know this is for them. Right? So instead of a story that vaguely touches upon, oh not having good project management can feel like a car crash – why is that? What does it feel like, who starts to get involved at that point, what is at risk? What specifically do you mean by that? This is applicable to boring fields and non-boring fields by the way – that specificity is what makes stories so … resonant.
Another idea would be to take a timely event in our social consciousness and share your expertise behind it. So there’s this PR person that I follow and anytime a celeb is doing some PR crisis management, she’ll do her hot take on what she would have done instead and why. I think that’s so damn smart. So what are some of the big societal happenings right now? As I record this, it’s a year til the big election day and it’s heavy on people’s minds. How would you come in and project management a presidential campaign? The holidays are coming up – how would you project manage hosting a huge Thanksgiving? It gives people a look behind your thinking and approach, and if they resonate with it, they will keep you in mind the next time a complex or complicated project with a lot of moving parts – especially if you do your hot take response when these big things happen.
OK, how does that land with you?
2. Tracy Keys, Donor Retention Strategist for Animal Protection Nonprofits – My question is: in your LinkedIn Content Sprint, you provide a wonderful framework for keeping posts focused, and share consistent messaging about our work in the world. So, when is it okay to post outside of that framework? Meaning, posts about something that feels like a good and valuable share that may have nothing to do with Tracy Keys Consulting. Thank you.
Hey Tracy! YES, indeed, so for the folks who aren’t familiar with my LinkedIn Content Sprint, I share a strategic sequence of re-purposable content to bring your audience along a journey that builds trust. Generally speaking, it moves from talking about why you care and your founder’s story, to stories that showcase why THEY should care, to sharing stories about what life can look like after this transformation, and finally sharing how you specifically work with people – these last posts tend to be more about conversion. Right?
But all that being said, and the reason we start with your why – other than that’s what Simon Sinek says – is that’s what creates that connection and resonance with your ideal audience. When you’re showing up with your vision, values and perspective, the right people show up.
People want to buy from people who have aligned opinions and ways of seeing the world. Even if they’re silly things sometimes. Like, I just had a wonderful sales call with a large foundation, they’re an organization grant hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and I get on the Zoom call with them to talk about doing a LinkedIn VIP Day and the first thing their ED says to me is “Hey, I just wanted you to know that I’m a Gryffindor.” I almost fell out of my chair giggling but the reality is, sharing things that have nothing to do with our work can create moments of shared humanity and connection points that will actually draw in the people you want to serve.
To answer your specific question, it’s always OK to post outside the framework I teach because a framework is just a suggestion and you get to make it yours. So, I know you are hugely passionate about animal rights. So, when something happens in that world in terms of news, or trends, share about it! When you foster a new puppy, share about it! When you have a delicious vegan meal during your travels – as I know you often do – that’s something you can share about but the KEY is to tie it back to your larger vision for the world. I know you are so passionate about animal rights and you support them as a consultant with your expertise of donor retention and engagement but not everything can or should be about donor retention – the more you can bring people back to your WHY – which happens to be your love for animals, which is an aligned passion to your clients who work in this space – the better! That can lead to some magical conversations and relationships, so yes! Do it!
Even if you think at face value it has nothing to do with your consulting firm, I bet it does because you are an integrated human being and your company is an extension of your deeper why.
3. Dulari Gandhi, Social Impact Communications – The question that I have for you is what do you see as the difference between sales, marketing, branding and thought leadership? How can folks stand out in each of these lanes but make sure that everything works together in a cohesive way.
What’s up Dulari! I appreciate this question a lot because sometimes we use these words almost interchangeably and they are interconnected for sure, but let’s go through the thought exercise of seeing how they’re different and maybe when they’re needed or even the order we can think about these.
So, let’s start with branding because I think this more than anything is the foundation. I think of branding as the work of intentionally shaping the reputation and perception and vibes of your company. Or yourself – if you are a personal brand like a coach, consultant, speaker, solopreneur, etc. Yes, part of branding is your logo and brand colors and fonts but more than anything it’s your values and the why behind your work. It’s getting clarity on your vision, passion, and the lived experiences you had that make you a guide in the work you do, and the things that make you credible in your sector. I’ve got a Thought Leadership Clarity Course where I focus on these things because it’s important to have some thought process around this before starting to get visible.
I think next comes marketing. Which are intentional activities meant to get you in front of your target audience to create interest and attract people in. It’s a broad term right? Having a booth at a conference is marketing, creating an ad or sending a mailer is marketing, doing an email newsletter is marketing. Again, all of your marketing will be more successful if you have a strong and clear brand foundation.
Thought leadership is maybe under marketing but it’s more than that – it’s also a form of well, leadership. It’s consistently showing up rooted in your values, and as a go-to voice or practiced guide in your niche, which might appear self-promotion-y until you realize that sales is not the only outcome but also changing hearts and minds, furthering a cause, and helping people that maybe you’ll never even know you helped just because you’re consistently showing up with valuable information.
Finally, sales is a process – and sometimes it’s a conversation you have like a sales call, and sometimes it’s a conversation done through a sequence of emails or good thought leadership at scale – but it’s a process to convey your value even beyond what marketing does to answer your potential client’s questions, address your leads’ needs, and is actually what generates revenue. With my LinkedIn Content Sprint, I aim to serve about 15-20 people in a cohort, and I don’t do sales calls – it’s all via sales-emails. With my VIP days, I usually have 1 sales call. With my custom, larger B2B contracts, I usually have multiple sales calls with multiple different people.
As far as your question on how does everything work together in a cohesive way, if you’re thinking about all of these things in your business’s ecosystem, you’re in good shape. Thoughtful branding makes your marketing more clear and resonant, which makes your sales easier because you’re bringing in the right potential clients. And if you’re actively showing up as a thought leader it also makes your sales easier because that trust is built, even before you hop on a call together.
4. Lex Roman, Growth Marketing Experimentation Facilitator for Service-Based Businesses – I empower creatives to make smarter marketing bets. And one of the things I struggle with, and I also see my clients struggle with, is the idea of hooks in content. So whether we’re writing on LinkedIn or somewhere else, like a webinar title, boiling down what is usually a complex backstory or expertise is challenging. I’m curious how you think about hooks and getting people’s attention right off the bat.
Hey Lex! Yes, this is a great question that plays off the next one I’m going to answer too – so let’s talk about hooks.
I do understand the perspective some people have, that if you tailor your content to the super busy, all-over-the-place, or low-attention span reader – that’s who you’re going to attract as customers, and is that what you want? But, I’m a realist.
I advocate for LinkedIn because that is where decision-makers hang out. And think about your own behavior as a CEO or business owner, you’re skimming, right? You’re scrolling, you’re moving. You’re multitasking.
So, I am an advocate for starting your post with a hook, something that will pique your reader’s attention, get them to stop their scroll, and click “see more.” The job of every line in your LinkedIn post, email, or copy is meant to get the reader to keep going to the next line. And the job of the hook is to get the reader to read it at all.
It could be a personal or client win that boosts your credibility. Like, if you’re a fundraising consultant who just helped a client raise a million-dollar gift – start the story with that! There’s a lot of power to this – as I copy coaching content inside my Sprint container, oftentimes people are wanting to begin a post with something like, “I’m going to tell you a story about a great fundraising win.” and then go into the story. Instead, start with something like, My client had never held a million-dollar check … until yesterday. You know what I mean?
It could be a surprising statistic, a nugget of inspiration, or I-can’t-believe-they-did-that kinda fact that makes them want to read more.
It could be a provocative question or cliffhanger kind of statement, which opens a loop we want to keep reading about in the post, so we can close that loop.
It could be a spicy hot take, when you take a common idea in your sector and turn it on its head inside that post.
And finally, I recommend writing this sentence last, even though it’s the first sentence. I want to think, OK how would I encapsulate this post and intro it in the most interesting way without it being click-bait? Right – it might take some practice but you can find that balance.
5. Christina Edwards, Marketing and Business Coach for Nonprofits and Social Impact Entrepreneurs – I see a lot of people do this sort of bait and switch thing on LinkedIn where they are saying something in the first sentence that seems controversial or a hot take, but then ends up not really being one; they’re just trying to boost engagement. Is there a better way to get your stuff read and shared and engaged upon? Second thing is, I see a lot of engagement circles where thought leaders are tagging coaches, consultants, friends in the post just to get more eyeballs and traction. Do we have to do this? Is there another way to improve engagement on LinkedIn?
Hey Christina, your question is such a perfect way to continue the last question from Lex. So again I do believe in hooks and think we should use them. But, it goes back to our intentionality – we want people to read our content because we truly are showing up with value and helpful information. We should never mislead people or try to get people to read just for the sake of having a higher engagement number.
Yes maybe the first time you do it, a few more people will read the post than if you had done something different. But really, this does you more harm than good because people will lose trust. And the whole POINT of thought leadership is building top-of-mind trust. That’s the outcome. If you do this bait-and-switch thing, the next time your name or content comes up in their feed, or in their inbox or heck maybe even IRL, there’ll be a bad taste in their mouth if you keep sharing clickbait or honestly just – this is bad content.
But let’s talk about engagement circles. When I think of engagement circles, there’s this sort of thing people call engagement pods too, where a group of people commit to liking or commenting on each other’s posts, within the pod with the goal of boosting each other’s engagement and be seen in front of more people.
There’s a lot of mixed feelings about this. Here’s what I think about it. When people are first getting started with posting on LinkedIn, it can be scary AF. All the systematically limited beliefs of “What are people going to think?” / “What if nobody likes my post?” / “What if people think I’m full of myself?” all those voices and fears from our inner chaperone begin to emerge. So at this point in our thought leadership journey, I do think that something like a pod can be helpful but I’ve actually called this a campfire circle. A group of peers who are committed to supporting each other not for the intention of vanity metrics but for the intention of holding each other through the scary action of getting visible.
But over the long term, engagement pods aren’t something anyone should really rely on because well, 1) people who are even somewhat familiar with LinkedIn can tell when you’re in a pod. I certainly can, and it’s like … mmkay. I know what you’re doing here. And more importantly 2) you want your content to be shared and commented on because it is GOOD and not just because someone is required to leave you a comment. Right? The best way to improve engagement on LinkedIn is to write resonant content that truly helps or lands with people, content that they actually WANT to engage with. (For more on this, check out Podcast Episode 40: Measure the Magic: Tracking Resonance Instead of Reach)
Similarly, it goes back to intention when I think about people tagging a whole bunch of people in their post to get more eyeballs or traction. I’ll share my own perspective. If I get tagged in a post because it makes sense, that’s great. I just got back from the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference, and there were a BUNCH of posts from peers and consultants, and also fundraisers who attended tagging me. Well, I was a speaker there! So that felt good! Like yay, they attended my session and talked about what they got out of it! That’s awesome, and I’m going to always engage in that post with gratitude – which of course, brings that post to more people’s feeds.
But if I get tagged in something that I have NO business being tagged in, it has nothing to do with me, and I don’t even know that person? Like we’ve never had a conversation? That doesn’t feel great because I know I’m in there for the sole purpose of growing their numbers. And here’s the thing – if I untag myself, it’s actually going to hurt that post. So, as with everything else, I think it’s about intention and showing up in the world in ways that feel good and right.
6. Jennice Chewlin, Equitable Health and Wellness Training Facilitator for Workplaces – We help organizations who give a damn about the health and well-being of their workforce through strategic consulting and engaging trainings to help manage stress, prevent burnout and return to joy. My question for you, is how can I shift the way I think about LinkedIn from a chore or a have to do into a more joyful task where I am not only willing to make time, but have the experience be something that I enjoy?
What a super lovely question and also a way to round out this AMA episode Jennice. Thank you for this! So, as we practice publishing our perspective and opinions and what we’re passionate about, we show up in ways that are aligned to our values and our vision. And because how we do one thing is how we do everything, I think showing up on LinkedIn is not just about that. As you stretch yourself and get 1% vulnerable or deeper with the stories you share on LinkedIn, the effects we have in our own life and our leadership and our relationships over time, can be amazing. Yes, showing up on LinkedIn can move the needle in your business but it also supports our own process of self-actualization because so often, our businesses are based in the problems we faced ourselves and we are committed to helping others so they don’t have to struggle through figuring it out themselves, like some of us had to. Also, not in every case but in many cases, our clients are the people we once were or still are – so reflecting and sharing about things that are important to both our clients and to us can be healing.
I’m thinking of two prior podcast interviews where my guests really went into sharing what this was like for them and one is Joy Malek, a coach for INFJ’s and she is an INFJ herself. And she says, a lot of the time with content creation, it was her sitting myself down and saying “What do I need to hear this morning?” Because her ideal client was HER at different ages of her life, her content is about thinking around, ok what kind of validation did I need then? What did I need people to reflect back to me then? What did I need to hear then? And that can be very healing. So often, the people we want to serve are the people we once were or still are or in any case, are people we care about. So when we approach LinkedIn in terms of ,how can I be helpful? How can I be a resource and chip away at this problem I care about .. I think that can make it joyful.
I also interviewed Kel Haney who is an Outbound Fundraising coach and consultant for theater and arts organizations, and she talks about how thought leadership on LinkedIn for her is helping her be honest with herself, reflect on the things she’s learning, and then have people actually responding to it with things like, “OMG I’m so glad you said this” “I didn’t know anybody else felt like that” or “You’re making me feel like I can actually do this.”
I’ll link both of those podcast episodes in the show notes but yes, I think LinkedIn can go from a chore into a more joyful task because content creation gives us the ability to self-actualize and also build a joyful, like-minded community! And that’s what it’s all about!
OK folks, thank you so much for listening not just to this but for hanging out with me for some portion of 50 whole episodes of the Campfire Circle. What a dream. Here’s to 50 more!
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LinkedIn: Tania Bhattacharyya