A Sophisticated Marketer’s Perspective: Ann Handley on Finding Your Voice

August 6, 2019

MarketingProfs Chief Content Officer Ann Handley

One of the most common challenges for B2B content marketers is striking the right tone. When writing about certain topics, it can be tricky not to get caught up in buzzwords, banality, and business speak. But at the same time, we know how important it is to hit those genuine conversational notes when creating copy for a human audience. 

Anyone who relates to this struggle would do well to learn from Ann Handley. The Chief Content Officer for MarketingProfs and bestselling author of Everybody Writes combines the gift of gab with a sharp wit, a knack for storytelling, and a keen knowledge of the marketing landscape. 

She recognizes the weight of words in this digital world. As she explains in her book, “Our writing can make us look smart or it can make us look stupid. It can make us seem fun, or warm, or competent, or trustworthy. But it can also make us seem humdrum or discombobulated or flat-out boring.”

No one could ever accuse Ann of giving the latter impression, which is why it’s such a joy to collaborate with her on any project. We were thrilled to have her as a contributor in our five-year anniversary edition of Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn, and recently we had the opportunity to dig deeper with an extended interview. 

Her insights are especially helpful when it comes to carving out a compelling presence on LinkedIn, where creativity and candor can help brands and individuals stand out from the pack. Read on to find her thoughts on overlooked opportunities, prevalent missteps, infectious content, metrics worth measuring, and more. (You’ll also learn how to steer clear of the “Constellation of Nope.”)

Ann Handley on the Dark Horse of Social Media

1. What’s something interesting about you that’s not on your LinkedIn profile?

I hate to drive but I am very talented at parallel parking. 

I love technology but I write longhand every morning before I do anything else. 

I hate cold weather but I live in New England. 

None of these things are interesting on their own, but together they convey a truth: We are all more complex and paradoxical in real life than on any social platform, aren’t we? 

2. What opportunities do you see for better and more engaging storytelling on LinkedIn?

I’m tempted to go straight for the story jugular and say a compelling writing voice or video. 

But for many, the key to more engaging storytelling is to take one giant step back and look at your LinkedIn profile holistically: Are you telling a consistent, compelling, audience-centric story about who you are? When I come to your profile, do I immediately understand WiiFM? (What’s in it For Me?)

Does the header image speak to what makes you unique, or is it the LinkedIn default image that looks vaguely like the Milky Way on a bland blue background – what I call the “Constellation of Nope”? 

Does your description broadly frame what you do in terms of the customer/prospect/audience? 

Does each job listing or description frame your accomplishments not as a giant high-five to yourself… but in terms of what you did for others? 

Sweat the small stuff. It adds up to be big stuff. 

“Look at your LinkedIn profile holistically: Are you telling a consistent, compelling, audience-centric story about who you are?” — Ann Handley

3. How are marketers getting it wrong with LinkedIn?

Not highlighting or celebrating fellow employees. They are your best influencers. 

Also: Not customizing messaging to the individual, and relying too much on automation. 

Automation is awesome. Except when it’s not.

Said another way: The litter in my inbox of the default LinkedIn message… “I’d like to add you…” is knee-deep. It’s trash. Don’t do it.

This ^^ isn’t really unique to marketers. But we should know better.

4. What are some of the simplest steps that brands can take to personalize their messaging?

Define and document your brand voice. And write in a human, accessible tone. Don’t message “marketing that feels like marketing,” as Tom Fishburne says.

5. What do you see as some of the unique opportunities for engagement and relationship-building on LinkedIn?

InMail is super useful, if you use it in a non-spammy way. 

I also like the international aspect of LinkedIn, which I don’t see replicated anywhere else. 

6. What are your favorite types of posts to come across on your LinkedIn feed?

The responses to my Asking for a Friend column I write for LinkedIn’s print magazine (“Marketing and Career Advice, with the Occasional Pun”). You can see an online version of it here.

I like the answers not just because it gives me fodder for my column, but also because it’s great insight into the problems/opportunities in marketing in 2019 at the individual – not the organizational – level. 

7. Which engagement metrics should content marketers be paying most attention to?

How many people hit reply and respond directly to your email newsletters? You don’t know that? Well… 

8. Where do you see LinkedIn in five years?

I’ve been saying for nine years (Nine! YEARS!) that LinkedIn is the dark horse of social media — or, at least, it’s the workhorse of the bunch. (I said it again four years ago, when LinkedIn acquired Lynda.)

(If Twitter is where we go to talk to people you don’t know and Facebook is where we go to talk with people you already know, then LinkedIn is where all of us can meet up to get stuff done together.) 

So I imagine that in five years hence, LinkedIn is deeper into training and education, and also adds more robust referral tools and platforms, as well as beefing up the functionality of its private groups. It’s crazy to me that so many private professional groups are on Facebook. If I were on the Leadership Team at LinkedIn that would stick in my craw. 

Also five years from now: LinkedIn has restored SlideShare to its former glory. (A gal can dream.)  ☺

“If Twitter is where we go to talk to people you don’t know and Facebook is where we go to talk with people you already know, then LinkedIn is where all of us can meet up to get stuff done together.” — Ann Handley

Sweat the Small Stuff

Ann recognizes that the little things matter. The way you start an InMail message, or your choice of image for a profile header, may seem like trivial details. But in the big picture, they’re the types of small gestures that contribute to making the right impression. 

You can find plenty more tips, from Ms. Handley and an assortment of other brilliant marketing minds, to help you master all the small stuff with the Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to LinkedIn.