LinkedIn Guide for Startup Talent: How To Grow Your Personal Brand

LinkedIn has become an increasingly useful tool for employees or startups leaders to build their brand in the startup ecosystem. Here is what you need to know if you want to use LinkedIn strategically to further your goals and reach your intended audience in an authentic way. 

 min read
December 12, 2022
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Note: If you’re an early-stage founder anywhere from pre-idea through pre-seed, consider applying to On Deck Founders

Note: This article is adapted from a live discussion for the On Deck community featuring On Deck alums Ming Lu and Vik Duggal. If you’re an early-stage founder, angel investor, or exec interested in joining our community, consider applying to one of our programs - you’ll be in great company.

Note: If you’re an early-stage founder anywhere from pre-idea through pre-seed, consider applying to On Deck Founders.

Note: This article is adapted from a live discussion for the On Deck community featuring Josefin Graebe. If you’re an early-stage founder, scaling founder, or senior exec interested in joining our community, consider applying to one of our programs.

This article is the first in our annual series Year in Preview.  In the 4 years since we launched the On Deck Founders program, we’ve seen +1000 companies get started and raise over $2B in funding.

For startup job seekers and tenured executive talent alike, LinkedIn is a powerful and often underleveraged tool to meet your goals.

LinkedIn isn’t usually the first place that employees or startups leaders turn to build their brand in the startup ecosystem, but it has become an increasingly useful tool to network and build credibility. Here is what you need to know if you want to use LinkedIn strategically to further your goals and reach your intended audience in an authentic way.


Reverse-Engineer Your Profile

Invest the time up front in your personal profile to ensure it will have the right effect on the right people. Begin by determining who those “right people” are. Do you want to appeal to recruiters? Conduct general networking so you can position yourself as a connector in your community? Are you looking to get to know other practitioners in your field so you can share best practices? 

Your target audience will determine how you position yourself with your profile and with the kind of content that you post. But before anything else, make sure you have the basics in place. 

Below are the best practices of an optimized profile that create more traction on the platform.

  • Background photo. Choose a high-resolution background photo that says something about you. It can be custom with a text-based tagline or call to action, or an engaging visual that showcases your industry or your place within it. 
  • Headline. Your headline is a 220-character space at the top of your profile that showcases what you do, how you do it, and why you do it. This is a high-value SEO slot: the more you can do to represent yourself here, the more you’ll attract the right audience. Include keywords that best represent your expertise and experience — but not too many. A high amount of buzzwords can lead the search algorithm to filter your profile out as spam. Don’t be afraid to name-drop the brands that you’ve worked with, your successful exits or big wins, or an exciting project you’re working on. Share a few topics or industries that interest you to further customize this space. 
  • About. The “About” section of your profile is where you really have the space to get creative. Avoid the urge to list off your accomplishments, and instead try to turn this section into a story: bring your job experience, background, and current role to life by bringing it back to the personal. Why does what you do matter to you, and why should it matter to others? (Communications expert Lulu Cheng Meservey offers a tactical guide to intentionally defining your narrative here.)

Tiffany Yu on LinkedIn

“I was named a LinkedIn Top Voice in Disability Advocacy in July during Disability Pride Month...  You don’t have to have a ton of followers to add value. I’ve seen folks named to Top Voices that have 2,000 followers. We all started at the same place with creating an account here and adding a few connections.” - Tiffany Yu, CEO of Diversability.

What not to do: Don’t lock down your profile. As a business platform engineered towards networking, you may have to go against your gut and open the floodgates: make your contact list open to connections, keep your activity feed visible to everyone, add interesting people you may not personally know, and ensure your name and profile aren’t set to private. 

Generate Powerful Content

There is a lot of content on LinkedIn to compete with, but the majority of people aren’t happy with it: 71% of top talent said that half or less than half of the thought leadership content they read gives them any sort of valuable insights. 

While it may be counterintuitive for the business-forward platform, what you write in the content feed should be human in tone to cut through the noise. The best content is simply the content that you are genuinely interested in writing about, written in a manner that expresses your personality and shares personal experiences. What is your unique point of view? What subject matter expertise do you have that others don’t? What experiences have you had that may help guide the way for others? A slightly different, but equally compelling approach is to learn in public and grow alongside your audience. 

“You don’t need to be a world expert on a topic to post about it on LinkedIn. In fact, some of the best content on the platform is people sharing what they’re learning as they learn it. If you want to make a career pivot (for example, from big tech to a role at a climate startup), try posting about what you’re learning about climate innovation as you’re exploring. It’s a great way to demonstrate your interest, build your network in a new area, and gain credibility.” - Laura Thompson, Program Director, Execs On Deck

Regardless of the format, people like to engage with content that is helpful, happy, and human. “It’s effective to write how-to’s and share insights from your career, but remember that it doesn’t always have to be that — a selfie celebrating a milestone is also great ‘content’,” says startup marketing advisor David Fallarme.

David Fallarme on LinkedIn

It makes sense to feel hesitant about daily posting at the beginning. "You don’t go from a cold start to posting every day — that’s not realistic," David points out, and suggests a more manageable approach: "Break it up into steps instead. Start by following people, then comment and engage with their content. Focus on publishing thoughtful comments and connecting with other commenters. Every comment is a potential LinkedIn post you can expand on down the line.”  

If you’re planning to create a lot of content, consider if LinkedIn’s creator mode will work for you. Creator mode is a profile setting that gives you access to additional tools and features so you can grow the reach of your content as well as your audience base. Here are the core changes that come with creator mode:

  • The “Connect” button on your profile is replaced with a “Follow” button 
  • You become eligible to be featured as a suggested creator by LinkedIn 
  • You gain access to creator tools like LinkedIn Live, newsletters, and creator analytics

However, creator mode turns your relationships into default one-way relationships since 'followers' have different access settings than 'connections', and it is not as easy to message back and forth. This less straightforward way of connecting on the platform may be antithetical to your goals. 

What not to do: 

Don’t play it by the book — 81% of LinkedIn users want provocative insights that challenge their assumptions rather than validate their existing thinking. Also, try not to sound too “salesy”. Focus on humanizing yourself and building personal relationships through your content; readers can tell if someone isn’t being sincere, and overly-salesy content is a foolproof way to keep folks away from the “follow” button” - Heather Yurovsky, Executive Coach. 

Understand the Algorithm

LinkedIn’s algorithm processes billions of posts a day in order to create a unique, individualized feed for every user and weed out spam. Here’s how the algorithm works at a basic level, at the time of publishing this guide:

  • Categorizes content as low-quality, which it defines as not-spam but not engaging either. Posts in the feed that contain outbound links (like a URL of your website or most recent blog post) are marked as low-quality and not promoted by the algorithm
  • Categorizes content as high-quality if it is native content, features strong keywords, and encourages responses
  • Finds content in your network with high engagement (likes, comments, and shares) and pushes that to your feed

With the above in mind, a few tips for taking advantage of the algorithm:

  • Wherever possible generate content that does not feature external links (webpages, blog posts, podcasts) since these types of posts are not promoted by the algorithm. 
  • Consider posting polls, videos, and/or carousels to boost engagement, or use a long-form text post to dive deeper and tell a story. Giving viewers the ability to engage with your content directly builds subconscious trust and affiliation with your profile.
  • Carousels are one of the most effective yet under-used features of LinkedIn. They are multi-page PDF documents users create and upload, that are then experienced by viewers as a clickable slideshow. Through this format, viewers can easily and quickly digest high-impact takeaways from your post, and are more likely to share it.
  • Carousel posts, like videos and polls, drive engagement through interactivity — meaning that you are giving viewers something to click on, therefore increasing the chances that the content will be viewable to their followers. 

Example of a carousel post from On Deck 

  • Use highly-searched hashtags, but not too many of them. Three or fewer is the sweet spot. 
  • Respond to comments to increase engagement, and engage with others’ content in a thoughtful manner
  • Engage with posts instead of simply reposting them — add your own thoughts, questions, and comments to the original post in order to open up the conversation with your followers.
  • Prioritize consistency as changes in your posting cadence can negatively impact your algorithm ranking. Avoid posting more than once per day, too. The optimal posting frequency is 2-5x per week

What not to do: Exclusively linking out to content you’ve written elsewhere is a surefire way to get ignored by the algorithm. LinkedIn gives preference to native content, so consider how you can chop up outside links, podcasts, or articles into bite-sized pieces repurposed for LinkedIn. One common way people share links is in the comment section for viewers to reference. 

Be Focused

LinkedIn has 875 million members across 200 countries and territories worldwide — you can’t and shouldn’t try to appeal to all of them. Instead, use the tips in this guide to understand your individual goals on LinkedIn — who are you trying to appeal to, and what outcomes do you want to see? Then, set up a strong, generative LinkedIn strategy informed by your understanding of the algorithm so that you can break through to the audience you most want to reach.

Note: If you’re an experienced professional looking to gain clarity on your next move, check out Execs On Deck

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