Listen to pizza, not a pod | Sally A Illingworth
When I started using LinkedIn proactively, it wasn’t to generate deal flow or procure a new employment opportunity. I had started to notice the volume of attention being invested in content assets on platforms like Facebook and Instagram and became obsessively curious about the what, when, where, why and how for the attention market with content.
At the time, the bulk of my marketing and public relations experience related to hyper localised initiatives for QSR outlets. For several years I had been a keen advocate for executing on elegantly blatant local marketing initiatives that would see hundreds of people huddle around pizza outlets.
My hyper localised approach to marketing and public relations stunts involved doing stand-out things that sparked curiosity, enticed interest and invited the right audience to engage with the business. So as I started to immerse myself in a fascination of social media content marketing, with the intent of wanting to understand how to maximise content asset performance, I decided to apply my marketing experience in the digital space and test some tactics.
As I was planning how to test my proven offline tactics in the online space I decided I needed a personality guinea pig, so I chose myself! I then started to think about which social media platform I would own as my testing ground and chose LinkedIn on the basis that it felt safe because my family weren’t active on the platform and therefore were not able to seamlessly make fun of me.
Within a very short period of time after committing to be the guinea pig for my own curiosity project on LinkedIn, I started to record videos on my iOS device. Looking back now, the videos are quite comical - in many of them I was so nervous I struggled to maintain eye contact with the camera! My voice sounded shy and my energy was passive.
As my content marketing experiment progressed I started to incidentally create demand for my consultation to other people and companies. With a commitment to honesty, I decided to tell most of the people inquiring that I actually could not support them to the extent they needed because I was still trying to understand how I was achieving my results! As the demand for my support intensified I made the commitment to ambitiously reverse engineer everything I was doing. I started to mentally immerse myself in the entire dynamic of LinkedIn, using both memory and processes to document what I was learning about algorithm functionality, emotional triggering and everything in between!
As time progressed, I realised how much I was learning. Within months I was being invited to present on the topic of LinkedIn with a focus on content marketing to share my insights with other professionals. Being the adaptive individual I am, I took every opportunity to enhance my capabilities with content marketing and the LinkedIn platform specifically. As I started to become recognised as a go-to personality for strategic and effective guidance on optimal use of LinkedIn I developed a sense of responsibility within myself to ensure I was doing my absolute best to support those who were seeking guidance. My focus was predominantly on real results and substance metrics (I.e. not followers in isolation) and as I started to preach about my approach to sincere and sustainable LinkedIn growth strategy many people started to suggest I was overcomplicating the process. Safe to say, many of those people now acknowledge the value in this approach and are working to adopt something similar for themselves!
What’s been most interesting in recent months is the heavy engagement with coordinated inauthentic behaviour as a cheap, accelerated growth tactic on LinkedIn. It’s quite a sensitive topic in the sense that most highly active users of coordinated inauthentic behaviour don’t like to talk about it much and when they do they tend to have a good story as to why it’s the best one-size-fits-all approach.
Coordinated inauthentic behaviour for content marketing is in effect any activity that artificially manipulates the performance, and subsequent perception, of a content asset. If you’re uncertain as to how this can be done, an easy point of reference is the scenario in which someone may request, or at least highly encourage, their contacts to engage with a content asset immediately upon publishing to artificially enhance the initial engagement with the hope that meaningful engagement will follow.
The greatest macro challenge for coordinated inauthentic behaviour is the proximity it has to false and misleading communication. In advertising, for example, it is illegal and punishable by law to deploy false and misleading marketing communications. Understandably there is a distinct difference between a content asset hosted organically and a content asset that has advertising spend behind it, but nonetheless the principle of false and misleading communication remains an important factor - particularly within the context of wanting to build trust with an audience.
A common way of using coordinated inauthentic behaviour on LinkedIn is via engagement pods - characterised as private chat groups of professionals who support the coordinated inauthentic behavioural efforts of one another in a kind of team effort to leverage the platform algorithm and mislead consumers.
When frequently asked what my thoughts are on coordinated inauthentic behaviour in the way of engagement pods, I’m always inclined to suggest that they’re generally not a wise move. They’re generally not a wise tactic for many reasons, one of the most important being that the use of coordinated inauthentic behaviour is not a sustainably saleable service hence I frown upon marketing firms that use these to artificially inflate their performance to secure deal flow by seeming impressive. Ethically, I’d argue it’s not a nice thing to do. Interestingly I’ve been contacted on several occasions by disgruntled business owners who have previously been ‘sold a dream’ by a marketing personality on LinkedIn who did nothing but funnel the (ex)clients content assets into an irrelevant engagement pod to deceive the client of the performance of the “strategy”.
That's not a fair game of cricket and it's insulting to the client.
So we’ve gone from a conversation about public relations for pizza outlets to coordinated inauthentic behaviour on LinkedIn. Before you feel confused, let me provide some context as to why these two topics are important to one another.
Note that in the context of effective marketing and public relations tactics for a pizza outlet, it is not nearly as practical to lean on coordinated inauthentic behavior to demonstrate great performance. Of course, you can rent a crowd (for example) albeit it wouldn’t take long for customers to catch on and further it wouldn’t take long for you to realise it’s not a sustainable investment strategy for your marketing efforts given the ROI would be near non-existent in the long term. Despite the reality that it is more practical to use coordinated inauthentic behaviour with your digital marketing efforts, what’s important is that you understand the ROI dynamics for your investment decisions. Simply put, if you’re investing in artificial activities that don’t serve the business’s fundamental objectives then it can’t be expected that a proportionate ROI will at any point be achieved sustainably.
Deception has become one of the most scaled threats to trust within digitally-enabled relationship building exercises.
Although a hyper localised approach to LinkedIn marketing may not be appropriate for your business, what we can learn from hyper localisation is the value of ‘targeting’ and focusing on high intent opportunities to maximise our ROI.
I’d suggest that the moral of the story is to listen to what pizza may be able to teach us and don’t listen to a pod if you’re striving to make decisions that are considerate to real business performance.
If you ever want to leverage what pizza taught me, send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sally A Illingworth