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Once upon a time, it was only possible to post articles on LinkedIn by invitation. Back in June 2013, I was one of just four Japanese people (including the Prime Minister) asked to contribute to the site.

I recently had my readership stats analyzed based on a sample of the last 10 articles I’d posted. Some of the findings were surprising—in a nice way.

One of my articles got over 472,000 readers. That put my average reader number ahead of Bill Gates.

On average, two out of three of my followers read my articles. This gave me a reader-to-follower ratio of 1:1.5 which compares very favorably indeed with Richard Branson at 1:227 or Bill Gates at 1:232

Of course, there’s one obvious reason why my reader-to-follower ratio was so much better than Branson’s or Gates’s: I have way fewer followers. Just 80,000 versus around 12 million for Gates and Branson. Paradoxically, that makes it easier for me to get a good percentage of them as readers!

What do follower numbers mean?

The number of followers that LinkedIn contributors have is determined more by how famous they are than by what they write. People follow world-famous businesspeople like Richard Branson and Bill Gates because of who they are. If you want followers, global celebrity is probably the best place to start!

If you’re less well known (like me), then even when your articles go viral, the conversion rate for turning one-time readers into full-time followers is very low. Building up followers is a slow and arduous process.

How to Get More Shares

If you want your articles to get read by lots of people, you’ve got to get them shared.

What prompted nearly half a million people to read that recent article of mine? It seemed to be partly to do with the photo (a rather ugly baby whose face set off jokes in the comment thread), partly to do with the title (about the role that positivity plays in leadership), and partly to do with the content itself.

In any case, 12,000 people shared it with their friends, creating a nice flywheel effect.

Aside from using pictures of ugly babies, I have a few tried-and-trusted techniques that I believe boost my number of shares. Here are the four rules I follow.

1. Solicit Engagement

Always end the article with a question that invites feedback. This triggers a virtuous circle of engagement, when the commenters start debating with one another and the comment thread takes on a life of its own.

2. Be Straightforward

Try to discuss things in a frank and personal way that your audience will recognize as sincere and unique to you. Super famous people like Bill Gates or Richard Branson have all sorts of reasons for being careful about what they say. They don’t want to cause a political storm or give away too much information about their private lives for security reasons. Relatively unknown people like me, who are free from such worries, can be more fearlessly honest. People will share posts that they think are authentic and heartfelt.

3. Be Persistent, but Humble

If you want to get the occasional share-driven breakout hit, you’ve got to be patient. Even though you may not get high reader numbers, just keep on posting. At some point, you’ll produce a hit article which will take off and get lots of shares. When one of your articles does finally find a large audience, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve found the magic formula. In my experience, online success is hard to replicate and has a large element of randomness. A proportion of your articles will hit the sweet spot and attract readers, but you will probably not be able to predict which ones or why.

4. Enjoy the Experience

Remember, for an individual to be able to communicate directly with a global audience is still something quite new and extraordinary. It’s important to enjoy the process, from thinking up topics to addressing reader feedback. The biggest proportion of my readers comes from the United States. They have never heard of me, or of GLOBIS, my Japan-based business school. It’s fun for me to connect with a wholly new audience.

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