LinkedIn’s decision to open its content publishing platform to every one of its 277 million members clearly hasn’t left CMI founder Joe Pulizzi sitting on the fence. This giant leap puts LinkedIn one small step closer to a dominant position in the content marketing space; whether or not you trust its motives, Joe sees the “LinkedIn halo-effect” giving huge exposure to individuals who grab the opportunity.

Since its inception in autumn 2012, LinkedIn’s accurately named Influencer program has developed a massive following: a typical Influencer post receives more than 31,000 views, an average of 250 “likes”, and about 80 comments, according to LinkedIn’s published data. While new publishers may not have the instant appeal of a Richard Branson or a Bill Gates, the opportunity for taking your exposure as a thought leader to a higher level is real — as Joe confirms in one of his recent PNR: This Old Marketing podcasts.

The Influencer posts you publish feature prominently in your LinkedIn “world.” Of course, new posts will show up in your regular home page news feed; but since these articles are also readily available to users beyond your network, the platform offers a tremendous opportunity to help you develop a following among the wider LinkedIn community. If you participate, whenever anyone visits your profile, they’ll see a summary of your latest work, positioned just under your headshot. More importantly, your posts show up in LinkedIn’s article search, making it increasingly likely that your audience will grow exponentially over time. What’s not to like about that?

Keeping up with activity is easy too. LinkedIn’s dashboard (accessed from your profile page) summarises the page views, “likes”, and shares your published content has received. You will also receive email updates on these and “other performance metrics.” Since LinkedIn may share your posts as part of its own aggregated content — both on its own site and beyond — you are likely to see sudden upsurges in activity from time to time, as your articles hit the LinkedIn sweet spot.

Barry Feldman, whose published content already resonates widely throughout the content marketing community, is one of LinkedIn’s publishing neophytes. What are his first impressions?

“After just a couple of weeks of publishing via LinkedIn, I’ve been thrilled with the response. LinkedIn shows you views, “likes”, and shares, and I love what I’ve seen. My articles have generated a lot of comments, and I’ve seen massive spikes in visits to my LinkedIn profile, new followers, more dialogue in the groups I’m in — really, everything you can measure on LinkedIn,” Barry told me.

It may not all be good news, though, and both Joe and Barry advise caution. In the absence of a clear-cut mechanism for policing contributions, Joe says, “There will be people using the platform in the wrong way.”

I believe Joe hit the nail squarely on the head — human nature being what it is, the temptation to exploit a shiny new promotional tool will be too great for some to resist.

Barry sees writing quality as a likely issue, as well. As he opined in one of his early LinkedIn posts, “There are a ton of reasons to get excited about it, but it’s tough to know how the feature plays out when it’s available to all 227 million members. That’s a lot of potential blogs (and noise).”

“It could get ugly,” he added when I probed him on the point.

Looking back, Ryan Roslansky, director of product management at LinkedIn, may wish that before opening up the platform, he’d read Doug Kessler’s now infamous rant: Crap. The Content Marketing Deluge. If the quality of discussion in many LinkedIn groups is an indication, the platform may soon have a cesspool of substandard stories on its hands. Unlike existing LinkedIn Influencers, new authors will not get editorial support, leaving the quality of the resulting content to find its own level.

How thought leaders can stay on top of the rising tide

So how do you avoid your jewel of an article disappearing in what Doug describes as the “deluge of dross”? It doesn’t take more than a little common sense to think this one through, yet reading LinkedIn’s publishing guidelines is a step that many will doubtless forego; with the benefit of hindsight, that may prove to be a costly oversight. What LinkedIn gives, it can surely take away, and the penalty for overindulgence could be banishment — maybe forever.

Keeping these few tips firmly in mind should help you avoid the worst excesses:

1. Share your professional expertise: Top of LinkedIn’s list of guidelines, this is what it wants above all; content that adds professional value. Beware: Creating articles that enthuse other LinkedIn members is, as one of the 25,000 beta-testers puts it, “a skill beyond blurting out your thought-stream”.

Looking at LinkedIn’s most-engaging Influencer posts of 2013, a clear pattern emerges. Authors with hard business advice to offer are the ones who are read most often and generate the most engagement, with posts on “spotting talent”, “acting ethically”, “leading with purpose”, and “building company culture” topping the popularity list. Thought leadership advice from those who’ve achieved real-world success is hugely popular, so if that’s you — don’t hold back.

2. Engage with your fellow LinkedIn members: According to the LinkedIn help centre, ”Writing posts that resonate with LinkedIn members is the best way to increase distribution.” Advice doesn’t get much clearer, and if you’re an expert in a niche topic, so much the better.

People come to LinkedIn to find business wisdom, so posting there has the potential to deliver way beyond anything your own blog can offer. Many LinkedIn searches are loaded with thinly-veiled buying intent, and appearing at the top of an article search often results directly in a new-business opportunity. Provided you can back it with experience, don’t underestimate the value of your published wisdom.

LinkedIn is also advising thought leaders to have a fully developed content persona before they start writing. It’s also the step that many of the less able authors will skip, giving life to Doug’s worst nightmare. If you don’t write for your audience (known or assumed), don’t expect people to read your work — any of it. In that respect, publishing on LinkedIn is no different from elsewhere, it just feels like it.

3. Remember your content may appear beyond LinkedIn: Your LinkedIn posts don’t have to be exclusives; you can publish content that you’ve previously published elsewhere, as long as it’s your own original content and you own the rights to it. That said, there’s nothing like a piece of fresh, juicy thought leadership content to capture readers’ attention. If you’re taking a longer-term view, you’re more likely to see your work published beyond LinkedIn if it hasn’t already seen the light of day elsewhere.

LinkedIn isn’t a closed shop. Like any content curation platform (yes, that is what it’s become), it reserves the right to distribute your work to all corners of the globe. So observe the same sensible publishing guidelines you’d follow anywhere else — or risk being ambushed, not only by LinkedIn, but also by any other party who might take offense to your words (including, potentially, your employer and clients). While your work remains yours, you’re responsible for the content of your posts — so think before you hit the Publish button.

4. Take the reader back to your place: LinkedIn publishing offers much more than increasing your exposure there; if you don’t invite your readers to enjoy more of your work on your own platform, you’re missing out. Barry is already convinced, and the results can be amazing — as he confirms:

“Above all, I’ve enjoyed a big jump in traffic to the Feldman Creative website from LinkedIn. At the end of each my posts, I’ve inserted a bio, with links, and offered relevant eBooks and presentations. It’s been gratifying to see readers take advantage of these offers.”

As a fully paid-up social-media platform, LinkedIn encourages engagement among its members. For some, it’s a job; for most, I hope it‘s an extension of the working persona. Let your published work reflect that too, and engage with those who respond to your ideas. For gifted creative writers, this is an opportunity to float your best work on LinkedIn’s millpond; seize it with both hands, but especially the one you write with.

Tell us all about it

What’s your experience of LinkedIn’s publishing platform? Are you a regular reader? Or one of the lucky beta testers? How do you see it impacting thought leadership content? Please comment and let us know.