As the most followed CFA holder on LinkedIn, Eric Sim, CFA, has expertly leveraged social media to connect with other professionals, build your personal brand and advance your career. In the How to Master Social Media series, adapted from his recent book Small actions: lead your career to great successSim shares some critical lessons on how to make social media work for you.
When I was 14, I failed an important English literature exam at my high school. I only managed a 28 out of 100, a result that really affected my confidence in my writing skills. Years later, even after I had done well in college, I still thought of myself as a poor writer. Despite this lack of confidence, I had always wanted to write a blog, but I didn’t know how to start. I asked a food blogger friend for some advice, but instead of offering encouraging advice, he told me “you use WordPress” and implied that I was unlikely to make it as a writer.
I could see why he thought that. Although I am a foodie, if I had tried to write a food blog it might have been too restrictive because I don’t eat animal organs, caviar and a lot of raw food. If I blogged about fashion, my readers would quickly tire of hearing about my white shirts and blue suits. A few friends suggested that I focus on my core expertise (finance and investments), but that might have conflicted with my banking job at the time. Anyway, I still had no idea what WordPress was and put my blogging ambitions on hold for a while.
Fortunately, my interest in publishing my ideas online never completely disappeared. In 2015, I had some time on my hands during the Chinese New Year holidays in Hong Kong, so I convinced myself to publish my first LinkedIn article. It took me three days to think about what to write because I kept asking myself, “What is there to share that isn’t already on social media?”
After I finally wrote the article, doubts about my own English skills made me edit it again and again. When I mustered up the courage to click the “post” button on LinkedIn, I worried about how my connections, about 300 of them at the time, would view me. Would they laugh at me?
My LinkedIn post was titled “I failed my math exam.” Yes, I failed math the year before I failed English. I got about 100 views and seven likes for my first article on social media. I was very happy because when I was in school, my essays usually only had two views: one from my teacher and the other from me. Neither of us liked what we read!
In the last few years, as my articles got more hits and likes, things started to change. My American friend, Diana Wu David, who worked for many years in a position above the Financial Times, recently complimented me on my excellent writing. Despite receiving this kind of praise from time to time, the 14-year-old boy who failed his literature exam still haunts me today, but also motivates me to keep improving the way I communicate with my followers on LinkedIn .
After writing on the platform for over six years, I’ve realized that social media readers care about your content more than your language skills, so if English isn’t your thing strong or your first language, don’t let that stand in your way.
If you want to try your hand at writing, you can contribute articles to trade publications in your industry, but posting on social media is easier and can help you reach a wider audience. You can start on LinkedIn or choose any other channel that suits your needs. Regardless of the platform, if you become your own publisher, you can decide what and when to publish.
Here are my top five tips for producing interesting content on social media, based on my successes and failures on LinkedIn since I started.
1. Tell a personal story with universal application
Our brains are wired to be drawn to narratives, so you should tell stories in your social media posts. Whether it’s Cinderella-style fables or Mission Impossible movies, all stories have these three basic elements: (1) setting, (2) conflict, and (3) resolution.
But the stories don’t have to be long. The shortest, generally attributed to American author Ernest Hemingway, has just six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Personal stories that are relevant to the lives of your connections tend to perform well on social media. It’s your story, so no one can say if it’s right or wrong.
2. Always add value to readers
Getting upgraded to business class or first class on a flight might make you feel elated, but writing a post about it doesn’t do much for your followers.
To build your brand, you should always add value and not just post about the basic facts of an event. If you want to write about the great food you just had, go behind the scenes. Talk to the chef and take pictures of the kitchen. If you want to post about your trip abroad, mention a local friend you met during your stay and tell people what you chatted about.
3. Start your social posts off strong
According to a Microsoft study, the average attention span of adults was 12 seconds before the age of social media, but by 2015 it had dropped to just eight seconds, shorter than that of a goldfish. You should grab the readers attention with your first sentence.
I once wrote two LinkedIn articles about a Singaporean street food vendor who won a Michelin star and posted them a day apart with similar content except for the first sentence. Which introduction do you prefer?
“Congratulations to Mr. Chan Hon Meng, who received a Michelin star for his chicken noodles . . .” or “For 30 years, he has worked 100 hours a week; in the past eight years, he has been selling chicken noodles for less than US$2 a plate.”
The first post gathered about 700 likes, which is a lot by LinkedIn standards. But the second drew more than 90,000. This just goes to show the power of starting your post with a bang.
4. Use dialogue
Try to use conversations within stories to bring events to life and draw the reader into your world. The dialogues I include in my stories are usually about everyday situations. Several of my LinkedIn readers have told me that these conversations help them visualize the settings or scenarios I’m describing.
In the following example from LinkedIn, I used dialogue to illustrate how impressed I was with the service at the Grand Hyatt in Hong Kong. As I entered the large hotel club lounge and before taking my seat, the attendant asked:
“Yes,” I replied, pleasantly surprised.
“Wow! You remember my order from yesterday!”
I then described the cheerfulness and willingness to go the extra mile of Warren, who had recently come to Hong Kong from Mauritius to work in the hospitality industry. But my readers could already see that for themselves because they had been drawn into our conversation.
5. Do interesting things offline
It’s hard to post original and compelling stories and images if you’re not doing anything compelling in your offline life. Only by constantly trying new things can you have new experiences and perspectives to share with your social media audience.
In recent years, I’ve talked to small shop owners for their stories, attended videography classes, and tried out audio chat apps when they were still in beta. You should choose your own new adventures and build your content around them. Producing content for social media still isn’t always easy for me, but I’ve learned a lot of lessons.
In the latest installment of the How to Master Social Media series, I’ll explain how to build your following on LinkedIn.
For more tips on social media and professional development, see Small Actions: Leading Your Career to great success, by Eric Sim, CFA, and his co-author Simon Mortlock.
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All posts are the opinion of the author. Therefore, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the views expressed necessarily reflect the views of the CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
Image courtesy of Eric Sim, CFA
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