The rise of the LinkedIn influencer (and what it means for the creator economy)
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“My content was viewed over 75 million times this year.” If we asked you to guess who said that, who would come to mind? A TV star? An artist talking about their 2022 Spotify downloads? A Kardashian?
It was, in fact, Tobi Oluwole. And rather than knowing him from Spotify or your favorite Netflix series, you might have seen him doling out advice to underpaid and unfulfilled employees on LinkedIn.
Most people might not group LinkedIn with mega-creator platforms like YouTube and TikTok. TikTok is the exciting new kid on the block, rocket-blasting from $82 million in revenue in the third quarter of 2019 to $1,567 billion three years later. YouTube has been around longer, but its status as the world’s top video-sharing network makes it a titanic platform for any influencer.
In contrast, LinkedIn has been around for a while. It’s probably not where you browse Top 40 playlists or scroll for new recipes. Even so, it’s now approaching its 20th year of forging professional networking connections. And having risen to nearly one billion members, it may be one of the most underutilized creator platforms in the world.
LinkedIn agrees. They’ve updated their platform to include creator-friendly policies like LinkedIn Newsletters (build subscribers with a notification to your followers) or competitor analytics. And even though it’s not trying to be the next Twitter, YouTube, or TikTok, these changes promise a more creator-friendly experience. This experience has led to creators like Tobi Oluwole connecting with entirely new audiences.
It’s not often we see a platform with nearly 1 billion users turn the lights on for creators. That’s why it’s leading to the rise of a new kind of influencer—and a completely new sector in the creator economy. World, meet the LinkedIn influencer.
Admit it: you like LinkedIn
“Facebook for professionals.” That’s been the reputation of LinkedIn for years, as some old Quora searches show. The traditional view of LinkedIn isn’t that you’ll use the platform to great cooking hacks or a social media upstart’s hot takes. Instead, you’ll log on and see what ribbon-cutting ceremony an ex-colleague might have attended that day.
But if you haven’t been paying attention, LinkedIn isn’t quite like that. LinkedIn’s policy updates include:
- Newsletter subscription features, including publishing recurring articles in advance, listing your newsletter in LinkedIn search results, and blasting out one-time newsletter notifications to your followers
- New ways to showcase your products, such as LinkedIn product pages that can feature everything from product videos to call-to-action buttons
- Upgraded competitor analytics, which let you track the follower growth and engagement of your competitors to see where you’re coming out ahead
Then there’s the culture of LinkedIn. People view LinkedIn as the new resume. This generally keeps people on their best behavior. You won’t find as many anonymous users and spambots as you might on other platforms, where grayed-out icons and pictures of eggs sometimes encourage people to do things they might not do if they knew future employers might be watching.
LinkedIn is, in fact, such a positive place that it struggles on the other end of the spectrum: toxic positivity. As Oluwole notes, the stakes are higher when every user has a name, photo, and employer tagged on every post. Everyone seems to be on a policy of best-foot-forward.
But the real reason LinkedIn is becoming a popular creator platform may have little to do with the above. It may simply be that LinkedIn can sometimes feel like a refreshing change from the other platforms.
“Creators are tired of changing algorithms, shadow banning, and their livelihood being at the mercy of social media platforms,” says Maximilian Wühr, CGO and co-founder of FINN. “We’ve already seen creators moving to alternative communities, and in 2023 we’ll see many more moving away from mass platforms to build their own.”
But why build your own when a platform the size of LinkedIn is happy to host?
LinkedIn’s new tools are making it easier to build your own audience. Both newsletters and analytics tools are functioning like a mini-economy that looks more like platforms like Google and Twitter than even long-time LinkedIn users might be used to.
The result is an old platform that feels new.
LinkedIn is where new influencers are migrating
There is a time in every platform’s life when it becomes the next big thing. TikTok was that way in 2021—shortly before it became the big thing. Nowadays, YouTube shorts and Instagram stories are scrambling to put a dent in TikTok’s short-video dominance. TikTok and short videos are no longer an up-and-coming trend. It’s just a trend.
But after 20 years, LinkedIn may be ready for its moment in the sun. In a recent episode of My First Million, Sahil Bloom addressed his thoughts on LinkedIn, calling it the next big platform for business owners, entrepreneurs, and investors.
Bloom, of course, is a prominent Twitter creator with nearly one million followers on the platform. If creators like him are shifting focus to LinkedIn, who else might start investing in the platform?
As Wühr noted, shifting trends and platform risks should always give creators some pause. There’s even talk of banning TikTok in the U.S., for example. This has the potential to leave TikTok-focused creators scrambling for a new audience overnight.
And that’s one key to benefit to LinkedIn: there’s still room for growth.
After all, says Isabella Bedoya, founder of Fame Hackers, there’s plenty of “blue ocean” on LinkedIn through which creators can sail.
“It's been reported that around 1-2% of all users are actually creating and posting content,” said Bedoya. “This is a massive blue ocean for creators, especially if you don't like to appear on video. LinkedIn is like the old era of Facebook, when organic reach was actually a thing.”
The result? LinkedIn is a rare combination of three factors:
- Plenty of real estate, given its near one-billion users. If another platform feels oversaturated and played out, chances are it will feel fresh again if you start posting about it on LinkedIn.
- Sensible promotion from LinkedIn’s algorithms and moderation (which explicitly state they’re happy to help creators make money—after all, it’s a work platform).
- A proven platform that’s been around for multiple decades. That means an extensive history of content moderation and proof-of-concept you can’t find from an upstart platform, if one were to emerge like TikTok.
Outside of a new, unexpected version of TikTok suddenly springing up out of the ground, it may be some time before creators see this kind of opportunity again.
Bedoya, for example, has been happy with her results since beginning to invest more heavily on LinkedIn.
“I've grown to 3k followers on LinkedIn,” says Bedoya. That’s led to 160,000 combined impressions, and $205,000 in cash-collected revenue over 12 months. It’s worked so well that Bedoya is starting to share her LinkedIn growth experience with others who want to replicate those results.
But not all LinkedIn success stories are about building a LinkedIn audience. Some influencers have leveraged LinkedIn’s networking platform to build their own platforms. And these platforms go beyond daily LinkedIn carousel posts and whimsical professional updates.
Sallie Krawcheck, CEO and Co-Founder of Ellevest, is a prime example of someone who used LinkedIn to build a platform beyond LinkedIn’s network. Ellevest is “the first financial company built by women, specifically for women to reach $1 billion in client investments,” she reports.
Krawcheck had initially worked on Wall Street. But as she built Ellevest, she documented the story of blazing a trail on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn opened avenues beyond her typical Wall Street audience and helped her garner a more diverse following. Krawcheck believes it’s LinkedIn’s networks that have helped drive the success of Ellevest.
“I began to think about diversity as being a driver to break the groupthink [you typically see on Wall Street],” said Krawcheck.
How prescient was her instinct to build on LinkedIn? That quote comes from 2014. But Krawcheck’s recent update—reaching $1 billion in investments—came within the last year. It’s a billion-dollar story, and one that’s all been told on LinkedIn.
It doesn’t quite fit in one tweet.
LinkedIn and the new creator economy
It doesn’t have to be all billion-dollar companies. Popular LinkedIn creator Justin Welsh knows how powerful a solopreneur can grow on LinkedIn. According to Welsh, he’s spun his LinkedIn presence into a $2 million+ per year solo business.
Welsh’s story might sound familiar to many. He had been working a traditional job in an office, but his ambitions didn’t end there. When he turned to LinkedIn for its networking prowess, his first instinct was to offer software advice.
And it worked. Worked so well, in fact, that Welsh’s online brand started growing. Soon, people weren’t just asking him about software. They started asking him how he was doing so well on LinkedIn.
That led to a unique presence: Welsh soon became the person growing on LinkedIn by teaching people how to grow on LinkedIn.
Welsh is the prototypical creator in this new creator economy. LinkedIn had once been a platform for uploading resumes and networking with colleagues. And it still is that. But years of being “influencer-free” have given it a reputation as a place to seek out high-value information and genuine connections.
After all, on LinkedIn, people show their faces. They tell you where they live and work. Their bios highlight what they do. And that lack of anonymity fosters an environment that makes the LinkedIn experience akin to a “giant workplace.” Future employers, we figure, may be watching.
But that approach has also left LinkedIn as an underserved resource for creators for too long.
LinkedIn has caught on, introducing its creator incubator program. Slowly but surely, LinkedIn has added more capabilities for people who want to post helpful content outside of networking, including:
- Newsletters. You can start a newsletter on LinkedIn and start building a following that feels less like social media and more like your personal list. LinkedIn enhances your engagement by sending in-app and email notifications to your audience when you’ve posted a newsletter. Check out Melissa Kirby’s LinkedIn newsletter to see how this looks in action.
- LinkedIn Live. Live on YouTube, live on TikTok, live on Instagram—it was only a matter of time until LinkedIn became its own channel for broadcast success. LinkedIn’s scheduling and live broadcast features make it moot to use third-party webinar software.
- Creator Mode. Turning on Creator Mode lets you access analytics, breaking down the performance of the content you’ve posted to the platform. You can also use this mode to make “Follow” the default button on your profile, making LinkedIn function more like a professional version of Instagram.
In short: LinkedIn is acting more like its creator-friendly counterparts in social media. But it also hasn’t broken its connection to what got it here.
Specifically, LinkedIn has always been especially adept at the B2B creator economy. It’s been a place where C-level executives don’t feel strange about openly communicating and networking with each other. That’s not always the case on Facebook or TikTok.
In fact, LinkedIn’s reputation among B2B buyers is strong enough that many will use it to support their research when looking up businesses, products, and industrial orders.
“It’s been reported that about 84% of C-suite and vice president executives use LinkedIn to support their buying decisions,” said Bedoya. “If you have a skill or expertise and want to start a B2B business venture or want to simply strengthen your personal brand then LinkedIn is the best platform to leverage in 2023.”
Something old and something new in the creator economy
The creator economy stands on a few key platforms—TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. But increasingly, LinkedIn looks like a great opportunity. LinkedIn might look similar to how it did 15 years ago. But LinkedIn keeps adding new features (product pages, LinkedIn newsletters, Creator Mode) that make the platform that much more enticing for anyone trying to build their first audience on the platform.
In a world where you can find Mr. Beast, the company, on LinkedIn, maybe we should have anticipated that. Those who have already have a head start.