LinkedIn top influencer J.T. O’Donnell on the future of influencer marketing

The old adage that “all PR is good PR,” including the bad, is not something J.T. believes in or recommends when it comes to influencer marketing.

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In 2012, J.T. O’Donnell was invited by LinkedIn to be a member of a “top secret” project. After signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and agreeing to contribute regularly to this new platform, she was told she would be dubbed a LinkedIn Top Influencer.

O’Donnell, who is the founder and CEO of Work It Daily, an online career coaching platform that garners over 1.5 million page views each month, is also a paid columnist for Inc. Magazine and a former contributing author to Fast Company. J.T. was one of 300 or so people to make the initial invite list to join LinkedIn as a Top Influencer. Others included the likes of Barack Obama, Richard Branson, and Arianna Huffington.


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What she didn’t realize then, but quickly learned after, is that she was part of the content engine that would take LinkedIn from a social network to a media publishing platform.

Since launching, LinkedIn has invited others to join the ranks of being a Top Influencer – but not by many.

In this LinkedIn Help response from 2017, LinkedIn describes the size and scope of the Influencer Program:

“LinkedIn Influencers are selected by invitation only and comprise a global collective of 500+ of the world’s foremost thinkers, leaders, and innovators. As leaders in their industries and geographies, they discuss newsy and trending topics such as the future of higher education, the workplace culture at Amazon, the plunge in oil prices, and the missteps of policymakers.”

According to LinkedIn, these Influencers are “the most engaged, prolific, and thoughtful contributors.”

But LinkedIn is no longer inviting anyone else to become an Influencer – ever. Those wanting the Influencer badge on their profiles can petition, said J.T., but the invites have stopped.

The initial list of Influencers will remain the same, plus now everyone can publish their own thought leadership content – with LinkedIn Articles.

But, writing an article doesn’t make you a LinkedIn Influencer, which is explained in this LinkedIn Help response on publishing:

“While publishing an article doesn’t mean you’re a LinkedIn Influencer, it does allow you to further establish your professional identity by expressing your opinions and sharing your experiences.”

It also just so happens to make LinkedIn a top spot for content marketing. According to Hootsuite, two million posts, articles, and videos are published on LinkedIn every day and 94% of B2B marketers on social media use LinkedIn to publish content.

For all intents and purposes, LinkedIn’s Top Influencer program did its job and it’s paying off for them in spades.

What’s Next for Influencer Marketing?

In this Forbes article on The Real Problem With Influencer Marketing, writer and marketer Mallory Walsh says, “As an industry, we’ve lost sight of the fact that social influencers are inherently inauthentic … the content they’re creating isn’t earned; it’s just a modern form of paid advertising and content creation.”

While popular, influencer marketing is being met with a fair amount of skepticism as consumer trust continues to decline. Sites like LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram are chock-full of celebrity-esque influencers being paid to deliver messages on behalf of big brands.

A 2018 report by Stackla revealed that only 23% of people believe content from celebrities and influencers is influential. Alternatively, 60% say content from friends or family influences their purchasing decisions.

Micro-influencers, on the other hand – that is, real “people like me”-type influencers – are viewed as much more trustworthy. Not surprisingly, the same Stackla study found that 60% of consumers say user-generated content is the most authentic and influential form of content.

2019 Influencer Tips From Top Influencer J.T. O’Donnell

To meet the rising consumer demand for more authenticity, J.T. recommends telling it how it is when it comes to creating content.

“If you really know your subject, you should be able to explain it – and write about it – in such a way that a five-year-old could understand it,” says J.T. “Your writing should make it feel like we’re in the room with you.”

J.T. also advises to “play the long-game” when it comes to influencer marketing.

“What’s the ‘ah-ha moment’ you’re trying to get someone to have? What’s the one thing that’s going to make someone go, ‘Oh! I hadn’t thought about that before,’ ” says J.T. “It’s the belief, the truth, the message you’re trying to drive – and that’s what makes influencers sticky.”

The old adage that “all PR is good PR,” including the bad, is not something J.T. believes in or recommends when it comes to influencer marketing.

“People mistake flash with success. They think they’ll become a fast influencer by being salacious and confrontational, but there’s a shelf life to that,” says J.T. “Those influencers have to continue to be more and more outrageous or they risk fizzling out. It’s a slower way to build a following, but people want you to tell it to them straight. It’s not always sexy, but it’s about being real and being thoughtful and that’s what people want.”

J.T. also recommends researching platforms before agreeing to publish content for free.

“Learn from my mistakes,” says J.T. “Anytime you’re putting your content somewhere other than on your own platform you need to calculate what the ROI is going to be of putting it there. How are they going to benefit? How are you going to benefit? Think about that and be comfortable with whatever that ROI is.”

She also encourages influencers to hold back – a little.

“Be careful about the information you’re putting out there. It’s good to put out a lot of content, but also hold back a little and figure out how you’re going to monetize your message,” says J.T.

For additional influencer platforms, specifically for coaching like what J.T. provides at Work It Daily, she recommends:

  • CommonGenius – an expert marketplace that enables professionals to schedule on-demand, 1-on-1 video meetings with the world’s leading consultants, coaches and executives.
  • Forbes Coaches Council – a community for successful business and career coaches.
  • Medium – which aims to “tap into the brains of the world’s most insightful writers, thinkers, and storytellers to bring the smartest takes on topics that matter.”

Brittney Kowalski is the founder and lead consultant at BMUR Branding Group, LLC. She helps companies tell their story through a combination of brand conceptualization, creation, and management, content writing and strategy, marketing and public relations. Prior to founding BMUR, Brittney worked for Randstad and Robert Half, two of the largest staffing and recruiting companies in the world. To keep in touch with Brittney, connect with her on LinkedIn, follow her on Twitter or email.


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