LinkedIn is usually a bit of a cesspit, but this guy's content was different

As Louis Grenier said recently, our content feed is a bit of a cesspit right now.

On the rare occasion that LinkedIn serves up someone getting traction with tasteful, interesting insight, I take a closer look to obsessively dissect everything they’re doing.

Matt Lerner is one of those people.

Check out his numbers on LinkedIn:

Matt Lerner has a string of successful posts that are interesting and tassteful

His topics seem interesting and thoughtful. Not your usual junk that picks up algorithm steam.

In this article, I’m going to break down exactly what Matt Lerner is doing so well on LinkedIn (where the majority fail).

A word of warning though…

This is a dangerous game I’m playing

Attempting to reverse engineer content success without the context behind the content.

I’ve done this in the past.

Broken down other folks Twitter Threads, mapped them out to my own ideas, then republished.

It didn’t work.

I tried to replicate thread structures and failed to match the success

Where did I go wrong?

Well, I isolated one tiny portion of a person’s work and success. With zero context, I ripped the structure without understanding what was behind it and why it worked.

Before I narrowed my focus, I should have broadened it first.

I should have followed Austin Kleon’s lead:

“Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your hero, you want to steal like your heroes… if you just mimic the surface of somebody’s work without understanding where they are coming from, your work will never be anything more than a knockoff.” - Austin Kleon

In Matt Lerner’s case, that means acknowledging two things before we go deeper.

Firstly, he has a breadth of experience in his subject matter: product marketing.

Matt Lerner has a breadth of experience

Secondly, during this period of writing on LinkedIn, he simultaneously concentrates his focus for a sustained period to produce a best-selling book on the subject: Growth Levers and How to Find Them

Matt's making all sorts of interesting connections in the process of making long-form content

Look closer, as we will shortly, and you see the evidence in his LinkedIn content.

Sure, he’s condensed each point down to a 500-word story, but don’t confuse shortness of format with depth of thinking.

Matt Lerner, Dorie Clark, Blair Enns, Lucy Werner, Seth Godin…

They all became big names on the back of breakthrough insight developed in the process of producing a larger body of work. Typically a book, sometimes a newsletter or podcast as well.

It’s a vehicle owned by the author, where she has the freedom to express her ideas in their entirety.

A home base (This idea comes from ​Joe Pullizi​).

If that insight is useful, interesting, and different, word of mouth kicks in, and it spreads like an ​idea virus​.

But, to seed those ideas and attract people to their home base, those thought leaders had an outpost.

Some place to provide a sample of their thinking and entice people back to the home base.

Developing short-form content to share on social is a smart way to spread the word…

But the trap here is this idea of repurposing

Pixar makes both 1hr30 movies and five-minute shorts.

Pixar make long-form and short-form

The approach to making each is similar.

The fundamentals of what makes a good story don’t change. But, the different timeframes present different challenges, meaning the approach to crafting each is different.

They win awards for both formats.

Pixar is great at making both because they’re master storytellers and make each story with the format in mind from the beginning.

It’s not repurposing.

Even when Pixar create a short on the back of a movie storyline, they don’t repurpose content from the original movie. They borrow existing characters and narratives and use them to create a five-minute story.

It’s the same with thought leaders.

Experts don’t repurpose, they borrow

They develop deeper insight on their home base as well as a craft for producing longer-form content.

“Being in a lot of places is not nearly as important as being in A place, well.” I’m not on Facebook, I’m not on Twitter, it’s fine. You just pick something.” - Seth Godin

It could be speaking, podcast guesting, Slack Community engagement, Quora, Facebook Groups, etc.

Doesn’t matter, so long as you pick the one where your target customer is most likely to hang out and you’re likely to stick with.

Then what?

They then work on a second craft of sharing those ideas on one outpost.

"The most popular podcasts aren’t uniquely different, they’re just best in craft. They’re just doing the same thing that everyone else is doing but at a much higher level. I think that’s the same as newsletters. I think that’s the same thing as everything else…. you don’t need to be completely different, you just need to be good at what you’re doing. Do some research, see what perfection looks like in your field, and then aim for it.” - Phill Agnew, Host of Nudge Podcast
A thought leader is the overlap between expertise in doing and expertise in sharing

The Craft

Jack Butcher visually articulated philosophical quotes.

Harry Dry uncovered interesting examples of elite-level marketing.

Neither were the first at their respective subjects, not by a long shot. Others have shared wise words and advertising swipe files before.

What they did was master their craft, which is just as important as the insight itself.

How Jack and Harry became experts at their craft

Pick a channel and master delivery.

For the purpose of this article, let’s say we’re choosing LinkedIn as our outpost.

What next?

You obsessively study the craft of LinkedIn creation, but…

Don’t study success in isolation

We want to create good, but you can’t know what good is unless you see good.

Study what you like and make your own version of it.

That’s different to studying what works.

In the past, I’ve made carousels on LinkedIn because I knew the algorithm liked them, and I’ve done ok with them, but not consistently.

Retrospectively, I ask myself, why?

It's because I don’t like carousels, I don’t read them, so how can I make a good carousel consistently when I don’t know what good looks like?

Yes, you want to study the content that people seemingly like and share, but you also need to be honest with yourself and ask: Do I like this post, or do I just like the engagement figures?

Once you’ve found the sweet spot…

Devour everything

If it’s LinkedIn, I use ​PhantomBuster​ to export everything that person has created to a spreadsheet. Then add filters and start exploring the posts that gained traction (let’s say 500+ engagements).

I pull them over to a Figma file, line them up one by one, then look for patterns.

In Matt Lerner’s case, I find a handful of interesting post structures like this one:

A detailed breakdown on one of Matt's posts

I’ll package these up and add them to My ​Second Brain​ in Notion. That looks something like this:

I save everything I swipe and breakdown in my second brain

It’s a simple inline database displayed in gallery format with tags to identify different categories (hooks, structure, curiosity gaps, etc.), which makes it really easy to find sources of inspiration when I’m looking for ideas.

This is then a swipe file. When I work with clients, I reference this swipe file and look for interesting structures that would complement their ideas.

There’s something else I notice in Matt Lerner’s posts…


Salt and oil are cooking cheat codes - they make everything taste better.

In storytelling, contrast and tension are the same. When you learn how to master them, you learn how to hold and direct attention.

“Tension-resolution systems create movement, energy, and direction. Whatever your art form, you need to create and control the tensions within your piece… [and] tension is formed by contrasts. High/low, dark/light, loud/soft, close/wide, and so on.” - Robert Fritz, The Path of Least Resistance

Look closer at Matt Lerner’s best posts:

Look at the contrasting ideas in Matt Lerner's posts

Contrast. Not just in the opening sentence, but when you read through each post, Matt contrasts how things are with how they should be.

In fact, look at the content from other masterful thought leaders:

See how other thought leaders also create interesting ideas through contrast

And, go back to Jack Butcher and Harry Dry.

More examples of Harry Dry and Jack Butcher creating content through contrasts

You see it again, contrast.

We often call it contrarian thinking, but when you strip that concept down to its fundamentals, what it really means is identifying the contrast between the reader’s expectations and your reality.

And this isn’t just with thought leaders. You see it in movie and song titles:

See the contrast in song and movie titles

Regardless of format, you need to identify contrasts in expectations. Tell them something unexpected that clashes with everything they’ve heard before. It’s that contrast that implores the reader to move forward and resolve tension.

Also, notice that I’ve collected these posts from a range of thought leaders.

That’s critical, to quote Austin Kleon again:

“The writer Wilson Milner said if you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, but if you copy from many, it’s research.” - Austin Kleon

Follow the footnotes.

Find someone you like, consume everything, find their sources of inspiration, repeat.

A magic combination

​In a previous article, I wrote that Thought Leaders focus on making something useful​—something that helps themselves and, in the process, their audience carry out a Job To Be Done. It could be tactical, or it could be a known perspective with which to view the work.

They then share that useful insight with borrowed audiences.

Craft is that final piece of the puzzle. They pick one outpost, one home base, then obsessively strive to master delivery.

An unstoppable combination, right?

Want to become a thought leader?

Every 4 weeks, I publish deep dives into B2B thought leaders, breaking down the content strategy they used to go from unknown consultant to top tier personality.

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