Opinion

How to be a Thunk Leader on LinkedIn

Wish to burn your personal brand into people’s brains? Nick Snelling reveals every tip and trick, laid out in quintessential listicle form.

Ever catch yourself thumbing through LinkedIn, only to stop and mutter, “Whoa, who are all these tossers with their vapid, double-spaced posts? And why am I even on here again?”

Rest assured, you’re not alone.

First up, let’s look at why you’re looking at LinkedIn

I blame muscle memory. Once you log onto LinkedIn, you’re so conditioned to flicking through Facebook (the soft blue interface is superficially similar), you just keep on a-scrollin’ ad infinitum in the vague expectation that something (anything!) you might actually want to read must surely pop up soon…  

Except, of course, on LinkedIn it rarely (never) does.

Curiously, Snelling’s profile garners quite a few views, complaints and subsequent hate mail on LinkedIn

Spooling through all that dreck on ‘leadership’, ‘what my agency does better than your stupid agency’ and ‘here’s my off-the-cuff screed on the future of marketing’, it takes a bit before you finally twig, “D’oh, that’s right… I’m on LinkedIn!”

Hell, I once caught myself halfway through the barely literate travelogue of a twenty-something sales manager with the galvanising headline of How I Survived Bali Belly To Become A Better Listener, before I snapped-to with a queasy shudder.

And yet, for all LinkedIn’s interminable banality you still check in from time to time. So why is that?

Admittedly, sometimes it’s to update your profile. Sometimes it’s to empty your mailbox from the clumsy overtures of recruiters or fend off people pitching you their proprietary SEO-whispering system.

But if you’re honest, mainly it’s to see who’s been Link-stalking you. Are they attractive? Are they someone you could get business out of? Are they going to offer you a job with more money/status/power? Or are they simply admiring your most-awesome CV? Regardless, once you’re there it’s kinda second-nature to keep flicking ever downwards.

Do you meme well?

Admittedly, the displays of rampant narcissism are a little less overt on LinkedIn than on Facebook or Instagram. Users don’t proliferate as many pouting self-portraits, ill-judged political rants or pictures of their pets/spoiled brats.

They don’t share cute .gifs of cats or hilarious videos of skateboarders faceplanting into pavement, and they don’t curate every single culinary outtake of their weekend.

Rather, on LinkedIn, the self-aggrandisement and virtue-signalling is much better disguised. It’s more about the ‘humble-brag’ – couching a professional win or career milestone as an ‘opinion piece’ in order to build one’s personal brand.

Snelling adheres to the maxim it’s much more important for Thunk Leaders™ to look the part, than walk the talk (Click to enlarge)

So, how do I leverage LinkedIn to become a Thunk Leader™?

Here’s a painful truth…

Unlike the Insta-famous subset, people on LinkedIn simply aren’t that photogenic. A quick scan reveals profile photos comprise mainly of slightly side-on business shots; the ladeez fearsome in their warpaint and frosted helmet-dos, and the dudes slick in their too-tight suits and rictus grins.

Alas, no social media-user worth their salt is ever going to want to click on their food photos or artfully-filtered selfies, let alone ‘heart’ over how cleverly they’ve framed brand, product and accompanying #hashtag into an ‘authentically shareable’ post…

[suppress gag reflex]

… which then becomes somewhat problematic for all us career-minded but aesthetically less-gifted individuals who are just as externally focused. Because let’s face it, in the bloodsport of business (of which LinkedIn serves as a kind of a proxy arena), having one’s posts constantly liked, shared and commented upon ultimately defines one’s sense of self, right? 

Luckily, there is some consolation.

If you can persuade enough LinkedIn-ers to read what you thunked about stuff, it will mean extra plumage for your professional cap. 

Persevere and soon every peer or peep lower in the food chain than you (particularly if they covet your job/pay cheque/social status) will feel compelled to follow your posts on LinkedIn.

You’ll come to be seen as a disruptor. An innovator. A nimble, agile ninja of your network. Keep it up, and voila… you might even become a bona fide Thunk Leader™. Just like me!

Snelling’s ex-TED talk Sun Tzu Ain’t Got Shit On Me, Suckers! has been viewed approximately 19.3 trillion times on YouTube. And SnapChat. And Periscope. And MySpace. And Brietbart News.

First up, a quick disclaimer: don’t fret if you’re not a writer per se. Not only is it an overrated ability, most execs at your level will concur there’s no need for you to be capable of penning a proper sentence.

After all, that’s what unpaid interns are for (and besides, some start-up in San Fran will invent an app for that shit soon enough anyway). For now, all you need to do is come up with a snappy title, rattle off a few bullet points, and then get one of your eager flunkies to wordsmith it up.

I repeat: the writing part is easy-peasy because you won’t be the one doing it. Where it becomes tricky is in identifying what to write.

Snelling remains adamant that one’s ability to write one’s own blogs isn’t important as a Thunk Leader™

With that in mind, I’ve assembled this quintessential listicle on all the different types of Thunk Leadership™ articles you can spitball on LinkedIn. We’re talking the kind of blogs that will burn your personal brand into people’s brains forever.

Essentially Thunk Leadership™ 101, your simple mantra should be thus: if you don’t possess any original ideas of your own, borrow someone else’s.

Say you’ve skimmed through some smarmy TED-x talk or Mumbrella360 presentation by a more established Thunk Leader™ – probably someone you don’t so much as admire but envy for enjoying more professional celebrity than you do. Perhaps their ideas now conveniently align with your own newly adopted philosophies, and you cannot wait to share your own thunks on what he/she said… and the very best way to do that, of course, is simply repeat exactly what he/she said.

A blog such as this could have a headline like Three Game-Changing Things I Learned From [insert the conference title or keynote speaker’s name here].

That said, there’s no hard or fast rule that says you need to cite the person whose opinions you’ve so seamlessly assimilated. Not when you can just as easily dress them up as your own personal epiphanies and take all the credit.

Remember, it isn’t plagiarism – it’s inspirationism!

That way, anyone on your LinkedIn network can now read your blog and comment, “Great thinking, Damien. Really on-point and a refreshing perspective. Thanks so much for sharing!”

In next to no time, you’ll be preening over all the kudos unspooling below your post and counting your profile views in the hundreds.

I think we can all agree reading is for chumps. Especially now that there are apps that summarise the entire gist of virtually any best-selling business book you care to name into a few snackable soundbytes, thereby rendering them ready-made for your appropriation.

All you need to do now is take one (yes, one!) of the author’s most salient quotes and construct an entire blog about it!

It could be inspiring. It could be illuminating. Or it could just be on-trend with whatever lame opinion piece you’ve trawled through in trade press recently. What’s important is that it seems like you’re the first to point out its inherent profundity. Make sense?

Here’s how you do it…

  1. Take the one-liner you like most (or more importantly, the one you think other people will like the most – personally, I’ve always found a wisdom plucked directly from Ted Kaczynski’s influential treatise Industrial Society and Its Future goes down a treat).
  2. Get your ghost-writing indentured servant to deconstruct it, analyse it and apply it to the state of your industry. If they’re clever, have them extrapolate its meaning a little.
  3. Booyah, baby! You’ve got yourself one more incisive piece of personally branded-bloggage that’s ripe for posting!

What’s great about the Quotable-Quote Post is people will assume you’re perpetually reading lots of obscure tomes and academic articles by other Thunk Leaders™, and they’ll believe you’re much smarter than you actually are.

Which is exactly what you want.

As someone who has risen through the ranks of your field, there’s a high probability you possess many psychopathic traits. And if so, high-fives, because we all know they’re a winning combo for any career.

That said, one annoying compromise about being a ruthless bastard utterly bereft of all basic human compassion is that you will need to learn how to at least feign empathy from time to time. And the savviest way to do that is by sharing some heart-warming or supposedly formative story about yourself or a family member.

For example, take this post by Brian Murphy of Houston, Texas. With a single paragraph, the middle-aged account manager garnered a gobsmacking 165,897 likes and 8,473 comments on LinkedIn by relating the tear-jerking tale of his daughter’s epic journey from high-school intern to post-college employee at Kentucky’s iconic Creation Museum.

Brian’s message is simple but powerful: no need to believe in evolution, so long as you believe in yourself! And after perusing the comments, you can see exactly why his daughter’s inspirational yarn resonated with so many people (and palaeontologists) around the world.

TIP: Unlike Brian, your anecdote can be entirely made-up. But if it does involve a family member, I’d advise it’s best if they’re already dead. That way, they can’t refute any of the details and expose you as the total imposter you are.

This type of blog is tricky to master. On the surface, it might appear simple enough – choose any industry ‘hot-button’ topic and adopt a seemingly counterintuitive slant on it. However, the real skill is in coming across like you’re ‘bravely at odds’ with a prevailing wisdom or standard practice (even if you aren’t really), and how you made a “ballsy decision based on instinct” that saw your business reap unexpected dividends.

Get it right, and people will see you in a new light. You’ll become the ‘free-thinking, left-of-centre, outside-the-box creative’ – even if in reality you abhor risk unless you’re certain you can:

a) blame adverse results on either an underling or peer, or;

b) take all the credit if and when things do pan out.

It’s important you play yourself up as a maverick, someone who’s always bucked trends, gone against the grain and taken the road less travelled*.

*Feel free to liberally repurpose any of the aforementioned clichés into your blog.

Schadenfreude – pronounced ‘shart and fraud’ – is a highfalutin German term named after the infamous shrink Sigmund Freud, arguably best-known for his Oedipus complex and coke habit (two attributes you probably share).

In a nutshell, schadenfreude means to take immense satisfaction in the failure of others. Which is something we can all relate to. But even more so if, like Freud might speculate, you’re a total motherfucker.  

Whenever you witness a major PR fail, social media campaign become a total shitshow or branded video go bad, consider it perfect fodder for your latest Thunk Leadership™ piece.

I repeat: someone else’s screw-up is your immediate cue to blog… and when I say blog, I mean really stick the Smugboot in. Deconstruct in delicious detail all the ways in which they got it so woefully wrong.

And in doing so, wherever possible try to highlight how your brand/agency/company could never ever make such a rookie mistake because of the clever system of checks and balances you so wisely installed.

This is an easy one. Here, you simply title your blog with a question.

It should be the sort of question that doesn’t just pique curiosity in the reader but generate fear. Fear that if they don’t know the answer to it, then they won’t appear as good at their job as they should. It doesn’t matter that no one in the real world gives a rat’s arse what the answer to your question is, so long as they do. Make sense.

Some classic examples might include: “Have we reached peak content yet?”, or “Are marketers missing the point?”, or “Is your digital strategy already dead in the water?” or “What can business leaders learn from totalitarian regimes?”

Of course, you should never actually answer the question yourself. It’s enough to simply posit it, thereby triggering an appropriate level of uneasiness and consternation in the reader that they’re behind the eight-ball in some way.

By now, you’ve got the whole ‘humble-brag’ thing down-pat. But there will come a time where you must put your success and smarts front ’n’ centre.

Maybe it’s a big client win. Or a successful sale. Or the finalisation of a large project. Or better yet, how you humiliated a colleague, crushed a rival and made the work-experience kid wet himself.

Whatever it may be, it goes without saying you’ll probably have to begrudgingly acknowledge “your amazing team and their efforts”. To do so, there’s any number of beige platitudes you can call upon, but you should also ensure to make generous use of the word ‘we’. (Even when you really mean ‘I’.)

Just so long as you drop in enough subtle hints to make it clear to anyone reading there’s no way the incompetent troglodytes beneath you could have ever pulled off a single thing without you steering the ship. Capiche?

So, there you have it: my dummies’ guide to Thunk Leadership™ blogging.

I suspect it’s destined to become source material for anyone wishing to make their personal brand omnipresent across LinkedIn, so share this sucker far and wide. Lemme see those views clock up, people!

As with every blog I have my stupid intern scrabble together, I like to close with a famous quote. Not because it’s apt or anything, but because it’s exactly the sort of hackneyed gimmick my readership really respond to.

In this case, I’ve chosen to conclude with a famous saying by the Frog philosopher René Descartes:

“Cognito ergo sum.”

Or in case you don’t speak Latino… “I thunk, therefore I is.”

Thunk on that a while, won’t you.

Nick Snelling is now a freelance Thunk Leader™ , slightly off-keynote speaker and self-identifying creative wunderkind. You can follow his weekly podcast Workplace Psychopaths Have Feelings Too (Well, They Don’t Actually, But That’s Beside The Point)Alternatively, buy his best-selling opus Sun Tzu Ain’t Got Shit On Me, Suckers! – Leadership for Losers.

Illustrations: Chris Acuña

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