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On the Brink with Andi Simon

Jun 19, 2023

Are you on LinkedIn? These days it seems everybody is. Even if they’re not using it correctly, they’re on it, so much so that it’s now become a platform of constant self-promotion. But that’s not how it started in 2003 when it was launched as a networking platform for professionals. So how can we use LinkedIn more correctly, and productively, and not fall into the trap of just using it to sell ourselves? My guest today, JD Gershbein, a true LinkedIn expert and thought leader (although he objects to that term), will tell us. And, he’s an anthropologist, like myself! Do listen in.

Watch and listen to our conversation here

Key takeaways from our conversation today:

  • JD helps people anticipate and prepare for change, increase their change competency with LinkedIn, and keep an eye toward the future.
  • “Content” could be the most overused word on LinkedIn right now.
  • We’re at a point now where so much of what we do on LinkedIn is geared towards selling. People are being sold. They’re pre-conditioned for a pitch. And that’s not the way to do LinkedIn.
  • You’ll sell more products and services on LinkedIn by not selling products and services on LinkedIn.
  • The real value of LinkedIn is that it gives you an opportunity to individuate, to put yourself out there as an authority figure, to build a brand. 
  • If you’re going to build a brand, it takes a lot of hard work and you have to stick to it.
  • There is no playbook with LinkedIn. Do what feels right to you. That’s how you start to meander into meaningful conversations and people get interested in you.

To connect with JD, you can find him on LinkedInTwitter, his website and by email

For a deeper dive into LinkedIn and personal branding, check out these 3 podcasts:

Additional resources for you

Andi Simon: Welcome to On the Brink With Andi Simon. Hi, I’m Andi Simon. I’m your host and your guide. We’ve been doing this for four years now, and I get such pleasure from bringing you people who can help you see, feel, and think in new ways so you can get off the brink. I don’t really want you on the brink and you don’t want to stick there either, but sometimes we have to learn new things and how do we better share that than bringing wonderful, wise people to help you do that.

Now JD Gershbein is our guest today, and if you look back in my repertoire, we had JD on three years ago, and it was great fun. He redid my LinkedIn profile, which is just beautiful, and I often show people what JD can do for them. But the question for today is, what is JD doing now and what does he see happening?  How can that help you?

And most of all, we are all into LinkedIn. I have 12,000 friends. Some people have a hundred thousand friends. They’re not exactly my dearest friends, but I’d love to know them better. And JD is going to help us do two things. He’s going to talk to us about the next frontier and about LinkedIn style. So what are we going to talk about? Let me tell you about JD first.

My first thing is that JD brings a keen sense of observation and distinctive voice to the global stage. That’s not inconsequential. He draws upon his background in neuroscience, psychology, and humanities, being, like me, an anthropologist. I so enjoy his interdisciplinarity to offer our listeners depth and breadth of understanding of social media. And that’s very important.

Having received unanimous acclaim as a LinkedIn strategist, this is a guy who really now bills himself as a professional entertainer. And he’s forging new inroads as the architect and impresario of a professional development platform that encompasses a stage show, a review, an original web-based video series, a theatrical podcast, and his own live highly interactive educational events. That’s JD with his razor sharp wit, which you’ll hear today. And an engaging stage presence. He consistently leaves his audiences wanting more, and you’re going to want more. That’s why I brought him back. JD, thank you so much for coming today. I am so excited to share you. 

JD Gershbein: Thank you. Am I really doing all that stuff? When do I have time to do other stuff? 

Andi Simon: You have to remember a little self-care and life is a joy, and I have such joy doing the work we do and you do. But this is important. So JD, you don’t have to do your whole journey, but give the listeners a little bit about your, let’s say, your LinkedIn journey, and it’ll open the stage for what you see happening. I think what’s really important is that you share your wisdom and that’s why it’s so important to hear from you today. Who is JD?

JD Gershbein: Well, thank you Andi. And it’s good to be back on On the Brink. I’m not sure if I’m on it or off it, but I know I’m somewhere around the brink. And thank you for having me back. Boy, a lot has changed. I mean, the world is moving light years per minute now, isn’t it? Keeping up is a challenge, especially for professionals who, since the onset of the pandemic, have been taught by the global world. And what have we learned? What have we learned in three plus years since we were imposed into this exile in the virtual world?

I’ve just been in a period of deep study. Fortunately I was in a position to help a lot of people who postponed or neglected LinkedIn for so many years. And then when the pandemic hit, and I look at the pandemic as one of the great inflection points in human history, certainly in recent years, and with the advent of technology and with new things that are going on in technology all the time, we had to learn this thing. We had to survive, if not thrive in this world.

So I was there to pick up a lot of the slack, and the game kind of came to me. And I’ve learned so much. I learned through my clients. I’ve learned principles of community building and community management and tribal affiliation through all I’ve done. And you, of course, being an anthropologist, can attest to the strength of people and how they aggregate and form tightly knit communities. And that’s been one of the great observations that I’ve brought. And it has kind of helped me rewire my platform.

So I speak of LinkedIn in entirely different terms these days, Andi. I’m more of a pioneer, and I bring a frontier mentality to it as I always have, because we’re never going to settle this thing. It’s changing too fast, too dramatically. And just when we think we’ve got this frontier pegged, there’s always another one creeping up behind it.

So the gift that I’m bringing now in my study and in my client work is to help people anticipate, prepare for change, increase their change competency with LinkedIn, and keep an eye toward the future.

Andi Simon: You know, JD, I have several leadership academies. I’ve been doing actually one for five years, another for four years. They’ve all gone virtual and I think that the concept of, how do we adapt in fast changing times is quite relevant for today because people hate change and they fight it. And they weren’t quite sure what LinkedIn was at the beginning. But it’s changing. They’re changing this power of community.

How do I share and create a culture that is common? And then what’s the new frontier? The topic you said you most like to talk about is LinkedIn…is it the next frontier? Maybe merging historical present day and futuristic perspectives. People have said that I have the best futurist podcast among the top 10. And then, the topic is really appropriate. Let’s go back to a little history, a little present, and where you see it’s going. It’s a perfect way to help our listeners understand LinkedIn. Not for what they thought it was a place to have an identity, but a community.

JD Gershbein: Exactly. And the frontier mentality is that we’ve come across LinkedIn at certain times in our lives. Some people are just getting to it now. I got to it in 2006 when it was really a barren wasteland. There was nothing there. It was echoes in the canyon. And there were a few people in the world who made the move to LinkedIn: specialists, myself included. We all knew who each other was in the world, and nobody was outsourcing us for the work we do today.

So we had to kind of settle this thing a little bit. We had to kind of navigate the divide and figure out, like, okay, what is this platform? We were given no instructions. I had nobody like me to show me what to do. I learned this thing on my own, and I did it through rigorous research and observation and extrapolation. So the pioneer mindset is what’s behind this.

How are we moving people forward? How are we as professionals reconciling the value we bring into the marketplace? And I was meandering around in business at the time I saw this. And what LinkedIn did for me is it gave me an identity in the professional universe. I was doing SEO, which is search engine optimization. I was writing copy for websites at a time when the primary website was more important than social media presence. And it kind of evolved. And I had to wait for the rest of the world to catch up. And, that was the beautiful thing about it. And when the world did catch up, I was the guy coming up in search.

So the past of LinkedIn is, and sometimes it’s difficult to shake those roots, but it was intentionally a job seeker site at the start. It was in there with the careerbuilder.coms and the monster.coms at a time when the Great Recession was starting back in 2006 when I came to it. And then it moved into business development and people started to use it to sell products and services. And then they started to use it as mentoring platforms and community building platforms.

And the LinkedIn groups had taken on dimension and magnitude. They’ve since become cesspools. Somewhere along the line, people began to overtly and shamelessly self-promote on LinkedIn. And we’re at a point now where so much of what we do on LinkedIn is geared towards selling. We’re selling people at every turn. People are being sold. They’re pre-conditioned for a pitch. And that’s not the way to do LinkedIn.

I’m on record as saying that you’ll sell more products and services on LinkedIn by not selling products and services on LinkedIn. And to build something organically and have your reach, your marketing reach, be organic through your own experience and observation. And that’s where we are today. We are seeing a lot of this overt predatory sales behavior. It’s offensive, it’s intrusive, and it’s annoying, and I don’t teach LinkedIn that way.

And what does the future hold for this? The future holds promise for people that market…well, show up with intention. We have a content war going on right now. Content is everything. People are saying content left and right. It could be the most overused word on LinkedIn right now. Content, content, content. I mean, what is content? If it’s not content, it’s just musings.

And we started to see this at the onset of the pandemic when LinkedIn absorbed a lot of that initial shock, where people who were hungry for connection and to stay top of mind with clients and prospects and colleagues, had to hit LinkedIn, had to hit the Zoom. And that’s where they really discovered technology and refashioned it themselves as professionals.

Everybody that was coming to me, Andi, was in some level of a rebrand, or they were making a full-on pivot. And I had augmented my service offerings to handle that because it wasn’t so much about, “JD, write me a profile” or “JD, teach me how to do LinkedIn.” I felt that they needed to go through an immersive process of self-assessment and introspection to put themselves out there in a way that they would be taken realistically and at face value. And that’s been the essence of the work.

Andi Simon: You know, as you’re talking, I’m jotting down some notes because the direction of LinkedIn is something that we are directing. Is LinkedIn directing it itself? I don’t advertise on it, and I’m not quite sure how to optimize it for the books that I have or the forthcoming book or the products that I offer or my consulting services. But I’m bombarded all the time with people who want to have a 30 minute call with me to discuss whatever it is, not knowing whether I need it or I don’t need it.

And so I too have edged away from seeing it as a good place to support with information, marketing content, the stuff that I love on my website that people come and download, my desire to help the community that Peter Winick formed when the pandemic started to share with them. But I’ve given up trying to figure out what LinkedIn is doing and what I’m doing, and whether they’re aligned or not. Can you help?

JD Gershbein: Well, we have seen the arrival of a war, a content war, on LinkedIn. And on one end of that war, you’ve got the content, or I’m sorry, the creator economy. And on the other side, you’ve got the attention economy, and it seems like the two shall meet, but creators create. And you’ve got this incessant drive from so many people, which is really only a small swath of LinkedIn, I should mention, Andi. You’ve got people creating them, they’re writing books. They’re writing white papers. They’re out there on LinkedIn every day, like correspondents, talking about their professional lives, their honors, their achievements.

And on the other side, you’ve got the attention economy. It’s the regular folk who are just laying eyes on LinkedIn to just make sense of it and try to get one good thing to happen. You know, they need a client, they need a break, they need a door opened. And you’ve got these content creators who kind of espouse a certain way of doing things on LinkedIn. And I’m in that camp. 

I do believe that if you’re going to go out there and parse your value out on LinkedIn, that you do it in a way that’s palatable. That it’s not just musings, but it really is in content that will help people build insight. And then you’ve got people that are just scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. It takes a lot to get them to stop. 

We’re all self-absorbed. We’re all into our own thing. We’re all trying to carve out our own livelihoods. So when your content or your work intersects with people, that’s a win. And if they’re able to engage on it, if they’re able to help you build awareness through their commentary and introduce you into their community, we’re seeing a lot of cross pollination of micro communities now and aggregated folks. And that’s what gives you spread on the platform. And the zeitgeist of LinkedIn right now is that there are people who feel that the LinkedIn platform works for a select few, when in fact it’s a level playing field.

Andi Simon: When I asked you the question, ‘How much of this is ours to create,’ whether you’re a creator or you’re looking for attention, or for a LinkedIn giving us guidance or structure or directing in some fashion, demanding. And I haven’t figured that out because I’m never really sure how much LinkedIn is doing or not. And how should people use it for whatever their benefit is. I mean, I am a person who has a product to sell, I get it. But others are thought leaders who want to express their ideas and insights to help others grow. Or you just throw a big rethink conference in. I want to make sure people can see the panels that we had if they couldn’t attend. Do you want to share? I’m a sharer. 

JD Gershbein: What we make it is what we make it. And there is no playbook, we have to write our own playbooks at this point, Andi. And it’s how we superimpose ourself on the platform that works. That’s how we settle the frontier and our manner of expression, the mode in which we do it.

This has become interesting to me. I call it LinkedIn Style because everybody can learn the best practices. We know we should be polite to people and respectful and courteous. And there’s a formality and convention to approaching people. And LinkedIn provides that framework. It basically says, Here’s a place for you to put information about yourself. A profile here is the housing, the structure, the physical space or the intangible space for you to go out there and communicate, direct message people, approach them.

And how you combine the two has to merge with your own system of doing things. How much risk you want to absorb, how much of yourself you want to put out there. And what I try to do in my teaching and in my work is move people closer to some understanding of LinkedIn that works for them. It’s not about what I say or any other person who’s in my trade. I, for the record, I’ve never self-declared as an expert or a thought leader. In fact, I’ve lost a little fondness for the term “thought leadership” because it’s overused in first person narrative. I think it’s a been jargon and it’s an official buzzword.

But the real value of LinkedIn, and I find myself defending this value, is that it gives you an opportunity to individuate, put yourself out there as an authority figure. Build a brand if all goes well. Because a brand is not guaranteed to anyone. If you’re going to build a brand, it takes a lot of hard work and stick to it. So that’s where I think, to answer your question, where LinkedIn as a platform separates from the individuals who are using it.

It’s got to be our own take. There’s plenty of YouTube tutorials out there about how to use LinkedIn. I’m not concerned with the technology. Humans are good cognitive maps. They can learn the site, but the question is, how do they express themselves? How do they reveal or proclaim themselves to the world? That’s the style. And I borrow from the popular notion of style to talk about that.

Andi Simon: Well talk a little bit more because that is a really important element of all of this. I don’t care what social media you are expressing yourself on, what website you create, it becomes something else. I’ve had people download my papers off my website, yellow mark them before I go and meet prospective clients. And they said, Oh yes, we know you, we’ve watched your videos before you’ve even appeared so we pre-selected you.

I just picked up another client who found me on the internet. Now, the piece that you just said is very important because each of the social media platforms offer people a way to be expressive of what they do, how they help and so forth. But LinkedIn has its own particular gestalt. It’s a way that you are presenting yourself in a particular fashion. That style is not to be underestimated.

Do you have some dos and don’ts, because there are a lot of don’ts that I wish people would not do. And then I find someone who does something good and I go, Oh, how did they do that? What is it we should do? Some thoughts on the dos and the don’ts on that style question. That is a big question.

JD Gershbein: Well, you have to know the rules of style. And once you know the rules, in the words of Pablo Picasso, you can break them like an artist. And not that we should go out there and break rules on LinkedIn, because again, this is a business platform. It’s around professional conversation, and there’s a certain political correctness you have to observe and laws of etiquette to which we must adhere.

But for me, I borrow extensively from the men’s wear industry. I believe that style is closely associated with fashion. I’ve been kind of an insider there, and I’ve watched how people put themselves out there in the world. And I fancy a concept called enclothed cognition. It is kind of like when you look good, you feel good. And if you’re going to go out there and present yourself well and create this interest and arousal around you, you’ll feel better. 

It’s along the lines of, when a man puts on a suit, when a woman puts on her best, go out there and they can feel their best. And as speakers, I know you speak, I speak. When you’re in front of an audience, you have to respect your audience and look as good as possible. And that gives you confidence, a surging sense of confidence from within. Same is true for LinkedIn. When you look good, when you present and represent well on the platform and know that you’re going to be researched well, it gives you this kind of added impulse.

I can’t explain it, but it just makes you feel better. It self propels. And that’s all I’ve done since the first time I’ve discovered LinkedIn. That first incarnation of my profile was designed to set me up when I wasn’t there to set myself up. And now that I know that I look good, I can go out there and reveal myself to the world in a manner that makes sense to me. I’m highly improvisational. I don’t teach people to be improvisational because there are more regimented people than I who feel that they need direction and structure and a checklist to do things on LinkedIn.

But I’m here to say that that’s a rule that you can break. There is no playbook. You go out there and you do what feels right to you on this site. And that’s how you start to meander into meaningful conversations and you start to gain interest in people. You see what they’re doing. You incorporate what they’re doing, a little bit of selective emulation, and you discard what’s not going to work. And we kind of cobble our own identities on LinkedIn. And that’s what people want.

I don’t like to use the ‘A’ word, Andi. You know what the ‘A’ word is, right? Authenticity. It’s just an overused word. But I’m the genuine article and that’s how I’ve become a leader by example in the field. I show people what’s possible on the site, but I don’t necessarily tell them how to get there. They have to discover that on their own. I just leave the horses to work.

Andi Simon: But you know, being who I am and who you are, you understand the power of symbols. Humans are symbol creators and meaning makers. The packaging you’re talking about is extremely important for people to make their persona meaningful. And the packaging isn’t inconsequential, but neither, you can’t be on stage at LinkedIn, but you are on stage in LinkedIn, and everything you do has to be either brand consistent or you got to be careful that you’re not shotgunning too much in too many ways so that nobody knows who you are and why they should turn to you.

And I don’t think that is as true, as well understood. Because the voice you use, even when you were writing my profile, I watched you use the skill you bring to say who I was better than I said, who I was and then turn it into a persona that I had to live. And I remember talking to you about it, that now gives me a platform to come alive. I was doing it without the framework or the package to be authentic, which is not a bad word.

But it is a very interesting opportunity to be seen and heard. And every time they say, You can post this also in this group, I say, Go ahead. Who knows where the group goes. But I enjoy the work I do on LinkedIn for sharing. I’m a sharer and I don’t need to own, and I don’t need to sell. I need to help. And if you need, I can enable or facilitate or help. And so that’s who I am, and what it is.

But as you’re looking, I’m thinking about what’s coming next. Is LinkedIn going to change again as Chat GBT comes along? Are we going to see it impacted by AI? Because I’m using chat with great joy. I love it. What are you seeing perhaps that LinkedIn might or might not be doing?

JD Gershbein: Interestingly, I’ve been selected to contribute to a few what they’re calling collaborative articles on LinkedIn. And it’s all AI-generated. And I’m starting to formulate some hypotheses around AI. It’s a little too early to tell as we sit here and have our conversation but it’s a good marker.

So we could make some projections and see if they come true or not, because we both are futurists. But you know, AI machine-generated content, it’s the antithesis of authenticity. And I believe we are approaching a time where people may question the provenance of a certain piece of content or writing.

I have not used Chat GPT. I’ve not looked at it. In fact, I have a disclaimer on my articles that says, “This piece is 100% JD, no Chat GPT,” because I don’t want to create the illusion that I’m getting my inspiration from a machine or a bot. I really work very hard to bring my intellectual property to the fore. And I don’t shortcut it. And we’re a shortcut happy society. Hey, if you can get out of doing the work, you will opt for that.

And granted, I didn’t read Moby Dick the first time around and I used the Cliff Notes to do my term paper. But it’s a little different now because if you’re going to go out there and front a platform architect, and speak in terms of original exemplary work, that better be original and exemplary and not conceived by a bot. And, bots leave off at human emotion.

I’m guessing that we’re going to find ways for bots to convey emotion, but for the here and now, if there’s any semblance that this looks too technical and two out there and too good to be from someone, it may very well be and it may be questioned. So I’m actually rooting for the people who are coming up with ways to check writing, to check for the authenticity of the piece. 

Andi Simon: And my suggestion to you and to our audience is, I’m going to explore because the words you’re saying are without experiencing it. I’m using Google less and less and asking the questions for chat and coming back with fascinating answers that have a bit of humanity in it.

Before you delete it, explore it, because I don’t think it’s going away. And I also think that Google wasn’t perfect when it started. It’s gotten better. But Google is no different than chat. It just takes you to stuff and then you need to go work through this stuff, and then you got to figure out this stuff.

Chat says, Now here’s what I think. And literally I’m viewing it as another thought. Here’s what I think. It’s just thought, the same way Google is just thought, or you and I or just thinking, but it adds a dimension that’s well worth exploring. And being an explorer, I can tell you that you never know where it’s going to take you, any more than LinkedIn knows where it’s taking you. 

JD Gershbein: I have every reason to believe that generative AI could help me in my trade, as people get more and more away from trying to plumb the depths of their psyche to bring something out of them and just go to the source. So I’m willing to look at it. I just haven’t done it because the work I do is process oriented. So I take my clients through an immersive process that is far from automated. It’s highly introspective. 

Andi Simon: I enjoy looking at your clock, which says 1:20 and stays there. We can help our audience. First, tell them why the clock has not moved. And then secondly, tell them what JD does because you and I can discuss AI at another time after you’ve gone exploring with me. But I do think we’re about ready to wrap. So I have a couple things I don’t want our audience to forget, but before that, you need to tell them what that clock on the wall is, if you’ve been watching us.

JD Gershbein: Well, for the listeners, I have a clock that’s set to 1:20. I follow the Chicago Cubs, and that’s the clock from Wrigley Field. It’s at 1:20 because that’s game time during the day. Indeed. That it’s game time is my secret message to Cub lovers.

Andi Simon: Oh, well, when JD said that, I said, Well, it’s game time JD. What do you do to help people, give them some idea of the scoop of your work? And while I avoid advertorials, I do think that in today’s world, you could be of great value to many people. Please.

JD Gershbein: Well, thank you Andi. And thank you for the opportunity to come back and be a repeat guest for you. The core services are LinkedIn branding and LinkedIn advisory services. What the heck is that? Typically, business owners, executives, physicians, advisors, and high impact corporate contributors, retain me to write their profiles on LinkedIn to set them up for success and give them the deepest dive possible on the site through a highly immersive, highly iterative process and gain traction, if not mastery, on LinkedIn, although I think we’re never going to really master the thing.

Andi Simon: Well, how’d you know what I was thinking? Mastery. What a great word. There you go. Humans really do want to master things. They want autonomy. I love mastery, but I’m not sure about LinkedIn. I don’t think you can master an identity on LinkedIn that doesn’t just push you to new places. And I love the journey part.

JD Gershbein: Hence the pioneer frontier mindset. We get to one place and there’s always another place to explore right behind it. And that paces with each change that LinkedIn is gonna make. And sure as the day is long, there will be change.

Andi Simon: I’ve had with me today for my listeners JD Gershbein who tells you that since 2006, he’s been deeply involved in LinkedIn and would love to help you get deeply involved in LinkedIn. But I warn you, it is an experience, not an automated machine learning one, but a real personal one. JD, it has been lovely. Let me thank my listeners and thank you for my listeners and viewers who come. I can’t tell you how exciting it is.

I’m in the top 5% of global podcasts and I keep thinking that it’s a podcast, but it’s not. It’s a way for you to see, feel, and think in new ways so you can get off the brink and soar. So thank you for coming. Don’t forget both my books, which you can see behind me, both award-winning books and they are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. But my new book comes out in September. You can pre-order it now. It’s called Women Mean Business. And it’s 500 insights from thought-leading women who are changing the world. And you will love this book. Every time you turn a page, you’re going to change your life. And even JD is going to find it awesome. So if you have a moment, pre-order. Amazon loves pre-orders and it’s there waiting for you. You’re going to find it a book with lots of good advice from people who you might have wanted to meet. JD, thank you again for coming today. 

JD Gershbein: My pleasure. Thank you, Andi.

Andi Simon: Bye-bye now. Bye everybody. Have a good day.