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How to Generate Insane Engagement on LinkedIn – Gaetano DiNardi
The Agents of Change

How to Generate Insane Engagement on LinkedIn - Gaetano DiNardi

Once upon a time LinkedIn was a very different place than it is now. It used to be that you kept your network small and tight knit, and it was treated more as a ‘connect & pitch’ platform. But Gaetano DiNardi is here to tell you that LinkedIn has transformed into more of a broadcasting platform these days, where you use it to amplify your content. 

To use LinkedIn strategically and successfully, your end goal should be to have a personal brand that is so big and respected that when you start promoting content or putting stuff out there, you’ll get the engagement and support that you need from your network that you’ve built. And that’s why it pays off to play the long game with LinkedIn.

Rich: My guest today is the Director of Demand Generation at Nextiva and has a track record of success working with brands like Major League Baseball, Pipe Drive, Sales Hacker and Outreach.io. Outside of marketing he is an accomplished music producer and songwriter. He’s worked with major artists like Fat Joe, Shaggy, and loves making music to stay turbocharged. Now maybe it’s his ability to work with hip musicians that allows them to create organic content on LinkedIn that goes viral. I don’t know. But we’re going to find out today when we talk to Gaetano DiNardi. Gaetano, welcome to the show.

Gaetano: Thank you. Thank you for having me. It’s awesome to be here. I’ve been a fan for a long time and it feels good to be joining you. So thanks so much for having me.

Rich: Okay, no problem. So you’re working as Director of Demand Generation at Nextiva. Can you just kind of give us a brief on how did you get there and what does Nextiva do?

Gaetano: Sure. So Nextiva is a cloud communication company and we have a flagship product, which is Voiceover IP business phone service software. And we couple that together with a bundle of other cloud communication tools that lets you run your business from anywhere. So that’s pretty cool.

And how I got there is a cool story as well. I kind of fell backwards into marketing. When I was running my own music blog, I started writing reviews about music companies and I taught myself SEO through this process. I got a job at a SEO agency in New York shortly after that, grinded my way through the ranks, and I worked at Sales Hacker after that and became the VP of marketing. And I was at some other software companies like Pipe Drive running SEO teams there. And yeah, fast forward to today, I run a team of eight growth marketers, demand generation marketers and its fun stuff, man. It’s growth every day and I love what I do, so it’s awesome to be able to do that.

Rich: That’s great to hear and I can definitely hear your enthusiasm, very cool. Now when we talked before we talked about a number of different topics, but we ended up settling on LinkedIn because I was really intrigued that you had a number of posts, you basically hacked LinkedIn’s organic feed. You had a couple of posts go viral. And I’m looking at a post right now that at the time of this recording has nearly 1,500 reactions, over 600 comments. It’s the one that includes a video about LinkedIn in real life. And I’m wondering if you can kind of break it down, explain what the post was all about and how it came to be.

Gaetano: Yeah. So you know sometimes you got to realize that the times have changed. And one way to get good reaction on LinkedIn now is this new category of content called “infotainment” where you’re teaching people stuff in a relatable way but with humor as kind of the driver point. And my idea with this was, I was kind of getting fed up with all the really low quality cold DMs and InMails that you get from LinkedIn that’s pretty much all spam. And it occurred to me that, imagine if this was real life, would anyone ever come up to you and say, “Hey, we have a lot of synergy.” That just sounds weird. But for some reason through these digital platforms, we feel like it’s okay to say weird stuff. Like, “Hey, I think you and I have a lot of synergy”, upon a first interaction.

So I was like, hmm, imagine if I went to the mall and started just pitching people in real life what they say to us through LinkedIn. And that’s what I did. I essentially got four or five, six different types of cold DMS that really were sent to myself and our CMO, and I walked up to random people all day long at the mall asking them if I could get 15 minutes on their calendar to discuss the synergies that may exist between us. And the reaction was pretty hilarious.

Rich: Yeah. You didn’t get a whole lot of takers on that one.

Gaetano: No, I struck out, I think I approached like 50 people and it was zero out of 50. The only one person that said ‘yes’ was Santa.

Rich: Oh, that is very sweet. You know, it’s funny because I had a post recently basically complaining about the same thing and like how quickly in the messenger on LinkedIn, people just try and twist things to sell you things. And you can see that coming a mile away. And to me it never works. I complained about it. I got pretty good engagement, but you took it to a whole other level by creating that video, which was definitely very funny.

So another post that got a lot of traction was one that focused on one of my least favorite requests, either online or off, when somebody asks, can I pick your brain? Oh it just makes my skin crawl because, and not that I haven’t said it. Ok I’m as imperfect as anybody else, but there’s just something zombie-esque about, “I want to pick your brain”.  So let’s talk about that post. What did you do in that post to get so many engagements? Because this one didn’t have any video by the way. This one was basically, you just had a text post that got great engagement.

Gaetano: Yeah, exactly. And the interesting thing that I see with text-based posts is that they do tend to go farther. There’s something about the LinkedIn algorithm that loves text only posts, no videos, no links, no images, nothing, just pure text. They love that. Even though video content can go really far in the feed, what I’ve noticed with video content is that engagement tends to be higher, but the reach tends to be fewer.

But anyway so going into this one, I get asked this all the time I’m sure you do as well, people want to know, “Hey, I’d love to pick your brain about demand generation”. Okay. So, you know the thing is I run a team of eight marketers remotely, I’m really busy. Every moment of my day counts for a lot of responsibilities. Pressure is high to perform, I need to drive leads every day. I have a daily lead quota and monthly lead quota for our sales team to hit for marketing. So essentially, every hour of my day or minute of my day that is not spent toward those goals is a detractor.

So when people ask to pick my brain over and over and over again, you know, if I were to take all those calls, I’d essentially have zero time left for myself and I wouldn’t get any work done. I would just be letting people pick my brain all day. So I figured, how could I turn this into something positive? And then I’ve noticed like what Gary V(aynerchuk) is doing and what a lot of others are doing and they’re using this to spin it as a positive. So essentially the post that I wrote was “Here’s the Formula”.

So the intro line is basically just stating the problem, “What to do when people ask, ‘Can I pick your brain’” And then the following line was, “Here’s how I will tackle this problem”. So I answered my own question by saying instead of jumping on a call, I will make a five minute video about all the things you want to pick my brain on. So I will save us the hour of just small talk and going through the whole thing and whatever. I will broadcast that content and add it to my concept library and then everybody will see it. And then the benefits of that are X, Y, Z. And one of the benefits was other people will be able to comment on that content and you’ll get perspective from all these different other people that you wouldn’t have gotten if you would have just jumped on that call.

So it becomes multidimensional, it gets bigger reach. And then the main benefit for you at the end is you get seen as an expert, as someone that gets looked up to. And that was the final call to action. It was, you know, don’t be upset when people ask you to pick your brain. Don’t feel like they’re trying to just get free consulting advice from you. Turn it into a positive by building your content reservoir and using it as a way to educate people and be seen as a thought leader. So that’s why I got so many views and engagements.

Rich: All right, so one last one and then one last example. You talk about how in another post, how gating never works. Now when I think of gating online, I always think about newspaper sites, but that’s not what you’re talking about. You’re talking about more as a sales technique, especially from a cold sales perspective. So tell me a little bit about gating and then tell me about this post that you had shared.

Gaetano: All right. Yeah. So you know how it goes. There’s a new research paper that came out with really exclusive data and you want to see what those are, but that company forces you to cough up your information and then what will happen after that. They’ll be spamming you, probably there’ll be emailing you and nurturing you and calling you and all this stuff. And you know, it just kind of sucks.

So with this, I get pitched a lot from salespeople and a sales person actually tried this gating technique on me as a buyer. And what they did was they hit me up and said, “Hey, you know, we are a PPC AdWords sort of optimization agency and we noticed a ton of huge problems with your AdWords account, like things that are definitely costing you money, things that are definitely costing you opportunities. And if you jump on a call with me, I’ll be happy to share what all those things are and I can tell you how to fix it.”

And so I wrote about this saying, you can’t force me to get on a call by gating what you want to actually explain. You would have actually gotten that sales meeting if you would have just said, what a couple of those things are, be upfront about it and then give me some value, and then I probably would have taken that meeting. But because you tried to be sneaky about it, you cost yourself the sales meeting. And this kind of exploded it got 60,000 views in a week and over 150 comments. So the bottom line with this was, give value without the expectation of getting something in return and you’ll win in the long run.

Rich: All right, so those are three examples of some posts you’ve done recently that have performed especially well. I’m sure everybody who’s listening to this is like, okay, but what can I do now that you’ve used up those three amazing ideas, what can I do to create incredible engagement on my organic LinkedIn post? And we’re talking specifically about LinkedIn here because the rules are different on LinkedIn than they are on some other platforms like Facebook. So what do you think, Gaetano, are some of the commonalities between these type of posts? What made them engage people so much?

Gaetano: Yeah, that’s a good question and good point to raise. So there are some commonalities between all of them and I think there are certain content types that are more likely to “go viral” or go deeper than others. And I’ll share what some of those are. And I think really what the bottom line is before I share those content types, is that LinkedIn now, you have to optimize for engagement, you have to optimize for comments. Which means you have to optimize for discussion, and you have to be a part of that discussion and you have to respond to all the comments and you have to really stir up some good forum-style discussion threads. And that’s the only way the posts are really going to go as far as you want them to.

So here are the types of content that I think lend preference toward getting a lot of comments and engagement. So one obviously is controversial videos. The example of where I cold pitch people at the mall, that’s automatically going to do it for sure.

Stories with an emotional hook are another one that I have seen do really well. There’s many, many examples of this. There’s one guy, his name is Olag Vishnepolsky, I think he’s the master of doing this. He’s like the CTO of some newspaper, some really well known newspaper in the UK. He’s the guy who masters that tactic.

So another content type is data-driven content and targeted research pieces. So a lot of companies, sometimes they’ll survey their customer base and they’ll survey the market. You know, Salesforce does this Next to You actually does this where we’re releasing the 20 state of business communication report soon, so we’d do that to get exclusive data points and we share that in LinkedIn content and it does really well because it’s new, it’s exclusive, it hasn’t been seen before and it’s thought provoking. So data always does well.

Question-based content, this is really, really big. This may be the grand slam of the viral concept, because if it’s something that is widely relatable and it’s something that kind of hasn’t been done before but are also has a lot of opinionated sides to it. And I’m not talking about cliché things like cold calling versus a cold email, that’s kind of been long played out and dead. But the gated content versus ungated content is an example of that. So question-based content always seems to do well.

And then finally I would say content that stirs the pot. Now you got to be careful with this. I may have crossed the line a few times with some of this. One example I can share with this is I wasn’t selected to speak at SaaStr. I applied to speak at SaaStr. I have a lot of friends who are connected into the SaaStr world that put in a recommendation for me and stuff. And it was pretty much from what I understood through the back channel of relationships that I have a pretty good shot that I would be selected. And then I got the Dear John, you know, while we were impressed we’re going to, you know, pass on you for this year. So what I did was I called out Jason Lambkin on my LinkedIn publicly.

I said something along the lines of, “Hey, @Jason Lambkin, you know it really sucks that you don’t give the up and comers a shot at speaking at SaaStr. You know, when I look at the roster of speakers it’s all CEOs and VCs and C level execs from all these big companies. And I’m sure that you’re not just choosing them because you really believe they’re going to deliver the best content experience for your audience, but I’m sure you’re doing it more so to stack logos on your registration page, et cetera, et cetera.” And that one was a fire hose and a half.  I have no fear when it comes to this stuff. I’m willing to accept the backlash that comes with some of that. But here’s what ends up happening. The people that really love you and respect you are going to love you even more. And the ones that think that’s tacky, they’re going to maybe feel a certain way about you, but you can’t be everything to everyone because then you’re really nothing.

Rich: I totally agree on a lot of those points. One is you definitely don’t want to be too bland. You don’t want to try and appease everybody cause you’re never going to make everybody happy. I have gone not on LinkedIn but I have in my past tried that controversial route where I basically said something and then used it as a way of getting two sides who didn’t like each other to basically fight in my comment section. It was incredibly successful and basically caused me to curl up in a ball for the rest of the week. So, I mean there’s a little bit of a tradeoff for me emotionally. I don’t think I’m quite as resilient as you are when it comes to perhaps online barbs. But for those listeners out there that do feel as strong as Gaetano, certainly something to take a look at.

If I could offer something, I will say the three examples we talked about today do share one more commonality, and probably many more than that, is that they’re all grievances that we have at LinkedIn. There’s a certain amount of, we’ve been here too long and there is points of frustration we have with the way that certain people treat the platform. So we’re talking about our frustrations of the platform, on the platform, and that also will stir people because they’ve had that experience. So maybe it’s tapping into some commonality and experience as well. Would you, would you agree with that?

Gaetano: Oh, for sure. You know, you made a great point there. I think one way that LinkedIn could potentially fix some of that is requiring a new connection request to leave a note, like they can’t just add you randomly. And then I think they need to ban the automated tools that are out there that are able to just send mass quantities of connection requests within a certain amount of time. I think they have started to crack down on that a little bit, but I don’t know if they’ve done a good enough job. But I think if they can find a way to eventually ban all those tools, those scraper and spam tools, then I think LinkedIn will be a much better place.

Rich: It’s really interesting because until about maybe a month ago, I wasn’t even aware that there were these automation tools on LinkedIn. But as soon as I heard about it, it explained the banality of so many of the invitations I had been getting up until that point. And unfortunately as soon as they ban bots, you’re just going to hire people or people will hire people from less expensive places in the world to log in as them and just send these out as human. So they’ll have to come up with something around there, like, you’re only allowed to send invitations from one country a month or something like that. I’m not sure how that might work, but they’ll have to come up with something.

Gaetano: Well one thing I do to kind of protect myself from these bots is – this is a really cool little trick – I put my middle name in my first name, it’s Gaetano Nino. And then when I see “Hi Gaetano Nino”, I know for sure it’s an automated tool because it grabs up to what the first name field is. That’s why I do that.

Rich: That makes a lot of sense. Yeah, absolutely. What are some other tactics that aren’t spammy when it comes to these posts? And I phrase it this way because the other day I saw a post and I don’t remember who posted it, it wasn’t somebody in my direct network on LinkedIn. But it was something like, “Hey, if you want to network with people and really make amazing connections, first step is you like this post. The second step is you comment on this post and the first few hundred people who comment will probably get the most invitations and make the most valuable connections.” And I saw this as just a bold faced absolute lie. And it was just basically there to game the algorithm. I couldn’t believe that there were like 600 people at this point who had bought into this. I don’t want a spammy solution, but what are some other ways that you can think of that we can get true organic engagement for the kind of people we’d want to connect with and be positioned as a thought leader?

Gaetano: Yeah, I know what you mean too. That deal trick of, “Hey, I have something exclusive, comment pizza”. And then 700 people comment if you want the free thing. I think that’s totally cheesy. And I wouldn’t recommend doing that.

But I mean here’s what it really comes down to. I think calling out the audience group that you want to connect with in your post is helpful and will help you kind of weed out some of the noise and connect with the groups that you’re looking to connect with. So sometimes in my post I’ll be like, “Hey, VPs of marketing, here’s something that’s been bothering me lately and I really want to share it with you all…” If I’m a VP of marketing and I’m browsing through my feed and I see that as the first line, you better believe I’m going to click more to see what the rest of that post is about because it’s about me and it’s intriguing. As long as that’s not like some stupid thing, it’s actually good, then you’re going to earn trust with that audience group and they’re going to keep checking you out.

So I think that’s one way to kind of weed out some of the noise. I think hashtags are quite powerful. Believe it or not, you don’t want too many of them. You want one or two at the bottom of every post. But what ends up happening a lot with my content is I will get a notification from LinkedIn saying, “Hey, your post is now trending in this”. And people go through hashtags quite a bit on LinkedIn and you’re able to increase your reach by doing that and be found for certain topics that you want. I think that’s a good way to go.

Some other things that’ll help you get better reach is not using images. Unfortunately people don’t know this, but every experiment I’ve done where I’ve used an image in the post, it’s done worse in terms of engagement and reach. There’s something about images that LinkedIn just doesn’t like.

Another thing, a lot of people don’t know this and some people now are starting to figure it out, is links in the post significantly detract from your reach potential. So that’s why you’re probably seeing some posts now where people are like, “Check out the first link in the comment below”, cause they’re trying to promote something but they don’t want to put the link in the post because they know that LinkedIn does not want to send traffic to external sources because they’re going to lose you. Their goal is to keep you hooked and engaged and stuck on that platform for as long as possible. They want to increase stickiness so that we can essentially have better advertising opportunities for those companies that are looking to spend money on ads. That’s really what it’s all about.

Rich:  Yeah. And that trick is the trick that everybody used on Facebook three or four years ago. I always feel like LinkedIn is basically just everything going on there is what Facebook has already figured out a few years ago, but everybody seems to be a little bit late to the game there.

I definitely like the fact that you’re hitting the high notes before somebody has to click on ‘read more’ before the ellipses. I think that’s very critical. You mentioned, because I’ve got the podcast, I always share this in LinkedIn among other platforms and of course that becomes a link externally, and no, we never get that level of engagement. Wondering how you feel, since we’ve talked about hashtags and links and photos and video, how do you feel about tagging somebody specifically in the post? Do you think it increases engagement or does it decrease engagement or have you seen nothing change when you tag someone in a post?

Gaetano: So from my experience, what I have experienced myself is that if you tag one specific person in the post, it does well. If you tag a bunch of people like 10 or 20 or 30, and say, “What do you guys think about this”, then you lose engagement. I think something about LinkedIn algorithm can detect when you’re trying to game it by tagging too many people.

And also I think that the people see it, the audience recognizes that you’re trying to game it and they’re just not going to engage. They’re like, all right, this person tagged 30 people in here, how, you know, how can I make sense of this? Why would I contribute? How can I untag myself? What you’ll end up doing is getting blocked probably. So what I would suggest is just tagging one, maybe try tagging them in the comments.

That’s one thing I haven’t experimented with enough is tagging them in the comments versus the post itself. Will it be more or less engagement? I’m not sure. But from what I’ve seen, generally if you tag one specific person you’ll be fine.

Rich: I think maybe also it might come down to the type of posts. So I was part of the Agorapulse Success Summit recently. And when they post something, they tag like all their speakers. It does get a certain amount of engagement cause there’s a lot of speakers who like, comment and share on that. So then it’s like this because these people are all connected on LinkedIn. It’s got some sort of momentum behind it. But I think when you ask a question and then tag multiple people in it, there’s actually the psychological thing that happens where they say, well, you know what, I’m really busy and it looks like there’s 27 other smart people who are tagged here. So I’m just going to let one of them handle that question.

Gaetano: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think you’re definitely right for that. For sure. I mean the other thing that I saw that really works well, like super well for like post structuring, is using numbered lists and bullets. Because what ends up happening is, let’s say top seven things that customer operations leaders need to do in 2020 to be successful. You know, what will end up happening is people really start calling out specific things. Like in the comments they’ll say like, “Oh, I love number four, that happens to me all the time.” Or, “Number three and six are the most important”, “Oh, I really love number two.” So it’s a quick way to identify certain things for audiences. They can pick out what they like and it works well for them.

Rich: Very cool. One last question before I let you go. So have you played around with articles at all? Like we talked about not linking off site, but if we were to take say this podcast and the transcription and the audio, and created a LinkedIn article out of it and link to that. Have you any idea on whether or not those might do better than linking offsite to LinkedIn?

Gaetano: Yeah, so from my experience articles do not do well. They used to, they used to do really well. Now they definitely don’t. So one thing I did recently just to kind of try it was I essentially repurposed an article that I did on Moz. I wrote a case study about my experience at Sales Hacker and what it took to run marketing there, and basically how we got acquired by Outreach. And I’m looking at the data now. It only got 1,200 views. It did get 180 likes and 66 comments. So I guess the engagement on it was deep, but the reach on it was really short, really small. So yeah, articles are not going to be your best bet if you want to go for big reach.

But if you want to like kind of do a deep level of expertise and pin it to your profile and just have that be the one thing people always click on when they visit your profile, I think it can work. But I wouldn’t invest a lot of time into doing a ton of articles because you’re just not going to get the value in return on your time investment that you want. But I do think once in a while if you want to just dive really deep into a subject and have it there on your profile to kind of flex your muscle in terms of a specific knowledge that you have, then I think then I think it’ll work.

Rich: So Gaetano, I know I said I was only going to ask one more, but I got this extra one. So a lot of people might be sitting at home wondering, well this is all well and good, but what’s the end game? Because a lot of people just want to sell, they just want to close, they just want to drive traffic to their website. That doesn’t seem to be the game you’re playing. So what is the goal, what are the objectives that you have when you’re doing this kind of organic content on LinkedIn.

Gaetano: Yeah, that’s such a good one. So once upon a time, LinkedIn was a ‘connect and pitch’ platform. Once upon a time it was a place where you only connected with people you knew and you left your network very small and tight knit. And every person you had in there was someone that you could potentially do business with or get business from. 

Now the reality is I connect with people who I never met, who I don’t know, who I’ll probably never buy from and who will probably never buy anything from me. But the point is that LinkedIn has definitely transformed into a broadcasting platform now. That’s what it’s become. It’s a content amplification engine and it’s a broadcasting platform.  And the goal, for me at least, is to have a personal brand that is so big and so respected that when the day comes where I do need to start promoting content or putting stuff out there, all I have to do is put it out once and I’ll get the engagement that I need from my network and the support I need from my network to do that.

So one thing I guess I’ll just say that puts all this in a bow, is that if you think about blogs, blogs used to be a place where people would comment on content. You read a great blog article and leave a comment there like, “That was a great article, I agree with this.” And then you have a blogroll full of just comments. But now, no blogs get comments anymore. Nobody is commenting on blogs anymore. All that discussion has shifted to LinkedIn. People don’t want to comment on some random company blog. They want to comment on LinkedIn, see who’s behind the comment, maybe you can connect with that person there and develop a relationship.

So the goal for me is to be top of mind, to be respected, to grow and amplify my network, and to amplify content and to be seen as a thought leader. So that when people eventually do need a phone system or do need a cloud communication tool, they’ll think of me first. Because that’s the way that I buy.

A final thing I’ll add to that is, I’ve never been successfully cold called. No one has ever cold called me and sold anything. No one has ever cold emailed me and sold anything, at least not from a brand that I’ve ever heard of before or a person I’ve ever heard of before. No one has ever successfully sent me anything in the mail and sold me anything. No one has ever successfully scanned my badge at a conference and sold me anything from there. The way that I buy is I think about the brands that I respect and that I can remember when the problem arises. That’s so painful and I need to solve the ASAP. I think about the companies that I know and I go to those company profiles on LinkedIn and then I see who do I know from that company who, who is a first degree connection already of mine, and then I hit up that person.

So if you’re a salesperson that has built up a good personal brand, good reputation, you’re sharing content, you’re raising awareness, you’re driving discussion, you’re being seen as a helpful kind of consultative person, not just an old school car salesman. You better bet that I’m going to see that I’m connected with you first and I’m going to hit you up when that time comes. So that is to kind of summarize it all, why I play the long game and I don’t just go for the old school method of connect and pitch.

Rich: Fantastic. Gaetano, this has been great. Where can people go if they want to check out some of your posts and want to learn a little bit more about you?

Gaetano: Yeah, pretty easy. You can of course hit me up on LinkedIn. That’s what this has all been about. So yeah, just search Gaetano DiNardi on LinkedIn, you’ll find me there. And then you can even hit me up on iTunes and Apple store and Spotify and all that stuff. I have a podcast called The Musicians in Tech Podcast, so you can just search that and check me out there as well.

Rich: Awesome. Thanks so much Gaetano for swinging by today.

Gaetano: Thanks, Rich. I appreciate it, man.

Show Notes:  

Gaetano DiNardi is a great resource for using LinkedIn the right way as part of your marketing plan. You can connect with him there, or check out his podcast.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing