MAKING A CONNECTION – A guide to growing your following on LinkedIn

In this day and age, having a digital presence means more than just showing up on social media and posting pictures of the fancy meal you had at the new restaurant in town. When used correctly, social media (and in particular, LinkedIn) can lead to closing more business, generating more revenue, raising awareness about certain campaigns, and connecting with the right executives in your industry. For many people, LinkedIn is simply a place for their resume to live when in fact, it can be the lifeline to helping you flourish in business.

Back in December 2017, I co-founded a startup in the sports tech space after spending years in the front office in minor pro hockey as a sales and marketing director. Shortly after, I was reintroduced to LinkedIn where I had created an account years earlier. At the time, I only had a few hundred connections and didn’t understand the power of the platform and its features that could benefit my new venture.

I quickly learned that it was the place to be for business professionals looking to grow their network, connect with prospects, share their work, and or provide their expert insights into a variety of subjects. As a first-time founder, I had a limited professional network and if I was going to help our company grow, I would need to cast a wider net to reach more people within my industry. Almost immediately, spending more time on the platform scrolling through my feed started to pay dividends. I started connecting with team executives to whom I was looking to introduce our platform, I began coming across podcasts to which I could potentially be a guest.  I even came across industry events like pitch competitions where I could apply to pitch our company to established professionals and industry leaders. 

I slowly began to build relationships with these new connections by engaging with their content, I started getting invited to share my perspective as a founder on podcasts and was successfully chosen again and again to pitch our company at a variety of pitch competitions that led to other benefits. From that point forward, I was hooked.

The LinkedIn platform boasts one billion members in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide, so the power of this platform is no secret. But like anything, you get out what you put in and for me, I was determined to grow my network as an up-and-coming startup founder and expert in sports sponsorship. The growth in my following began when I started posting content. 

Over time I built a community of people who were interested in what I had to say and that gave me confidence to keep going and even ramp up my posting. One thing I think that helped was documenting my journey as a startup founder. The wins, the losses, the ups the downs, and the lessons learned along the way. I tried to be transparent and authentic with my content which I believe resonated with my followers. 

As our company grew and we began to gain traction, the events we attended got bigger, the clients we worked with got bigger and the stages and platforms we were invited to speak on got bigger which lent even more credibility to the content I was sharing. Back then and especially today I often hear from people I speak to tell me that they’ve been following our journey and feel like they’ve had a back seat to our experience as founders. 

Now that I was posting consistently and getting good feedback, the next step in growing my network was to increase the number of people who were seeing my content, so I went on the offense and started actively sending connection requests to people within the sports world and startup ecosystem that I wanted to consume what I had to say. This included executives from teams, leagues, agencies, industry events, etc., and in the startup ecosystem, it was other founders, accelerators, podcast hosts, investors, colleges and university professors, and executives from industry events. Day after day, week after week I was maxing out the number of connection requests LinkedIn would let me send and before I knew it, I had amassed thousands of followers. I was happy to see my network growing and the number of people who could potentially be consuming my content, but I knew I needed to take it a step further to build genuine and meaningful relationships, so I started my engagement strategy.

After I had amassed thousands of connections on LinkedIn, I began engaging with their posts as they came across my feed consistently. Sometimes my comments were congratulatory and other times I shared my two cents on the topic. Other times I tagged people in the comments I thought could help either the poster or the person I tagged and other times I simply left a “like”. In any event, I always made an effort to ensure that my engagement was meaningful and intentional. 

Over time I saw these same connections starting to engage more and more with my content and as I began to travel more for business, I would often run into these people I had only met on LinkedIn but had already established a least a basic relationship with through my or their engagement. While we were meeting in person for the first time, by this point we knew a little bit about each other from our content, and the conversations we had were less introductory and more meaningful. I also deployed this engagement strategy with our company’s LinkedIn page which helped give our brand more visibility and recognition and as the co-founder, those roads led back to me.

The more events I attended, both virtually and in person, the more people I met which meant the more connection requests I was sending. Often, after attending an event I would go through the attendee list and cherry-pick the people I wanted to connect with. Sometimes it would only be a handful of people and other times it would be dozens. I also began joining groups on LinkedIn that related to my or our business’s interests and I would also share my content with those groups who in some instances had thousands or tens of thousands of members. I saw a noticeable bump in my following as I continued to deploy this strategy alongside the others I’ve mentioned in this column.

Recently, I reached a personal milestone of 10,000 followers on LinkedIn and as I look back to those early days, I realize that no one silver bullet helped me achieve this. It was a combination of strategies with the common theme of consistency. In six short years, I found my voice as a thought leader in the sports and startup world, and through my consistent approach to content creation and engagement, I amassed a large following on the LinkedIn platform that has helped me win new customers, amplify the reach of our company’s content, earn PR opportunities, and attract top talent to work for our company.

These are just some of the ways I was able to grow my following on LinkedIn and the benefits that came along with it. If you’re reading this today and haven’t unlocked the true potential of the LinkedIn platform, I’m here to tell you to start. Just start. Start posting content about something you are passionate about or know a thing or two about. Start sending connection requests regularly and start building meaningful connections by engaging with other people’s content. It won’t happen overnight, but I promise you it will be worth it.

For more content like this, you can follow me on… wait for it, LinkedIn.

by Kris McCarthy