In our latest episode, on Napier’s Marketing B2B Technology Podcast, Mike, Managing Director of Napier, interviews Ash Jones from Great Influence, who shares how he has helped leading CEOs increase their influence on LinkedIn.

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Transcript: Interview with Ash Jones Great Influence

Speakers: Mike Maynard, Ash Jones

Mike: Thanks for listening to marketing B2B tech, the podcast from Napier, where you can find out what really works in b2b marketing today. Welcome to marketing b2b technology, the podcast from Napier. Today, I’ve got ash Jones of great influence on the podcast. He’s an expert in LinkedIn, and he’s helping some of the UK his biggest CEOs and founders to build their influence on social media. And welcome to the podcast Ash.

Ash: My pleasure. Happy to be here.

Mike: Great. Okay. Um, so tell us a bit about your background. How did you get into social media marketing?

Ash: Um, how I got into social media marketing was actually way back. Now, I’ve never answered this question before, no spoke about this actually. I’m a Manchester City fan, and I follow the club’s social media accounts. And I always thought what they were doing was really cool. And I saw a video one day that gave like a behind the scenes of that social media team. And I thought that’d be a great job. So I decided to study at university. And I was a little bit older than the rest of the people in my class, I think most of them like 18, 19, I was 25. And I thought, when I finish, I’m going to be 28. And everyone else is going to be 21. And they’re, they’re definitely, I’m definitely lazier than them at that time. So I need something that’s going to give me an edge because they, they’re younger, and they’ve got more energy. So I was looking for something to do alongside University and I met someone called Steven Bartlett. And he was starting a startup. They’re called wall Park, which was a notice board for students, but online. And he just dropped out of university, he was 18. So I decided to help him with that for a while for this was like 2012. I did that for a couple of years with him. It was a bit on and off between university, but it gave me something to do. And then around that time came the idea from that project for an agency that not be an agency at the time, but for something called social chain. And in 2014, late 2014, Steve managed to with his business partner at the time, Don, they managed to get investment, the idea of social chain and start building it out. And the idea behind it was that they owned quite a few pages on social media channels. So like Facebook pages, Instagram pages, Twitter accounts, that were all focused around niche communities, such as like football and fashion and fitness and things that would appeal to young people. And they leverage those channels that sometimes had millions of followers to promote brands. And that was the idea. So social chain would have a football page with 5 million followers on Instagram. And I don’t know a football related brand said nyck would come to social chain and say, hey, we’ve got this campaign, we want to reach more people, we want to reach young people, your account is ideal. Let’s do something that was the very basic idea of social chain. So Steven Dom got investment for that idea. And they they asked me if I wanted to be part of it at that point. So as part of the founding team at social chain, and that was late 2014. And fast forward to today. And they went from like five of us back then. And there’s over 700 people in the social chain group.

Now social chain is part of a wider group as well. They IPO went public last year, with some of the biggest brands in the world, apple, Spotify, universal, Coca Cola, you name it. Yes, it’s a bit of an agency success story over the past four or five years. And my role within that was to help Steve to build his personal brand online. So he had a Facebook page, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn. And it was my job to grow those channels for him and push the content that he was creating onto those channels and that went incredibly well. He’s got over 1.5 million followers across social platforms now and I think it’s fair to say he’s, if not the UK, his biggest marketing influencer online right now is definitely one of the top few. So yeah, that is whole experience of social changes. Steven Barlow for me was a huge learning experience and I decided to sell my own business doing something similar that I’ve done with Steven in helping a CEO to use social media to build more awareness for that business. I started offering that as a service and create my own business around it to help other CEOs and founders. And that’s what I’ve been doing for. It’s my two-year anniversary on Monday. I’ve worked with a few reputable people along the way, who Mark Amani have pretty a lot of things, and they’re the UK is number one fast fashion brand part of the boohoo group. And Julian Hearn, who’s the founder of hue to the UK, his fastest growing company right now in terms of revenue, I think. I’m working with Oliver Cookson, who’s the founder of myprotein, myprotein, you know, industry leaders in their, their field and e commerce. So yeah, a few other reputable people that I’ve worked with along the way since working with Steve and not going really well. And yeah, that’s a bit of a whistlestop tour.

Mike: Brilliant, I mean, I find it very interesting, because you’ve really built a specialisation around promoting people, and particularly promoting, you know, CEOs and executives, rather than promoting companies on social media. Why have you done that? Why does that interest you?

Ash: Um, because I think that by nature, that the term social media is about people. And there’s a reason why brands tend to struggle on social media, because their social networks there for people to connect with other people up at heart. So, especially when you’re talking about B2B, a lot of the time we all know that. How do I put this? Like no, everyone can see through the, the BS in VTV. They know when something is genuine and when it’s not. And a lot of the time, they’re so used to seeing corporate messaging, and working on corporate messaging and working on market and messaging and seeing marketing communications, they are way more heightened to be immune to it than general consumers would be like us as marketers, we’re way more immune to marketing messages, just because we’re exposed to so much of it being in the bubble. So the challenge then in b2b becomes, how do you make a message resonate, and feel authentic, and capture attention to an audience who it’s really, really, really, really difficult to get them to take notice to a market and communication. And I think that’s where the power of it comes in of leveraging a CEO rather than leveraging the brand. And somebody said it to me the other day, they said, the power with it, is that you’re able to get a message that would usually be hidden from a brand seen from a CEO, because people just take notice of the more people buy from people, people take notice of people. And then you get the elevated status of a CEO, where everyone kind of places more importance on that role. And naturally, they Garner more attention than others. So it’s really just about being smart in terms of the environment and thinking what’s the best way to get a message out there right now. And I’m not saying it’s the best way, it’s not the best way at all. But it’s definitely something within the mix of b2b marketing that I think is heavily underutilised and underleveraged. And it’s not strategized. And when it is strategized and leverage, well, it really performs in terms of helping resonate and capture attention. And it’s just a thing of timing as well, like LinkedIn now is on a huge rise as a as a social network in the way that Instagram is already solidified. And Facebook has already solidified as a social network. LinkedIn is coming into that now. It’s moving out of being perceived as a job platform and a recruitment platform. And people are treating it more like a social network. So I think that’s the reason why.

Mike: And is most of your focus around LinkedIn then.

Ash: Yeah, yeah, I’d say so. And the reason for that is simply because it’s the biggest opportunity. I was watching a video that Steve Bala from social chain that I used to work with did yesterday. And he was saying that right now, when you comment, like if from your personal profile, you comment on something or you like something, the chances are that LinkedIn will show that to a high percentage of your connections that you choose. Engage with someone else. And that compounding network effect means that people are getting more reach than anywhere else. And that if you look at every other social platform, it always happened. But it always stopped at a point. So, early years of Facebook, it’s something we saw with social chain, social chain was able to get people to like, do able to grow pages of like 250,000 people in their day in 2013. And that’s just not it’s impossible in 2020, you’d have to pay a lot of money to do that now. So we know that the history of social media platforms tells us that they start off giving organic reach out in spades. And then over time, they take that away. So the fact that LinkedIn is still doing it heavily means it’s in its goldmine moment. And the history of other social platforms tells us that’s not going to last forever. So that’s kind of why I focus on LinkedIn more than other platforms. Right now. It’s just down to the opportunity at present and that the time sensitivity of it.

Mike: I love I love that goldmine moment. And, and just digging a bit deeper into LinkedIn. I mean, we talk to a lot of clients who have problems getting good reach for some of their company posts. So do you think LinkedIn is particularly strong for individuals posting or a company page posts also effective?

Ash: Yeah, I think it just plays back to that aspect of, we’re in a b2b space. And personally, it’s almost like I see the logo of, say, an agency on LinkedIn. And my mind just goes, That’s not interesting. So you just go straight past it. Because I’m so used to seeing, I think it comes down to door content as well. So what will happen typically, with an agency, they’ll hire someone internally to handle marketing, and it’s that person’s job to sit there five days a week and come up with content. And it’s just not, it’s not realistic to have interesting things to say, five days a week from an agency. But the onus is there on that they have to do something with the time. So that means that they’re putting out a lot of door content. And because I’m personally exposed to door content 7080 90% of the time from agencies, when I see the the profile picture of an agency, and I know it’s the agency, my brain just automatically makes the decision that that’s not useful, not a good use of my time, and I keep scrolling past it. So the problem with LinkedIn and other social platforms, you’ve probably got about between half a second and two seconds to capture someone’s attention. And every time that you negatively do that, so when they scroll past, the first time they ever follow you, they’ll look at what you’re posted. If their experience is negative, it’s going to stick with them. And if you repeat that negative impact 20 times the next 20 pieces of content they see from you are all things that they couldn’t care less about, than the 21st time, they’re just going to skip pass, you’ve lost them. So I think that’s the problem with company pages is a lot of the time, there’s a lot of content going out that 90% of it is really not not interesting, or it’s not valuable to the reader. And that results in after certain amount of time you lose the attention and lose the engagement. Whereas with individuals, we’re willing to give them a lot more Slack, because we know them as people. And I think it just comes down to that.

Mike: So that’s really interesting. And so it is all about being personal. I mean, what would you say to CEOs of some of the more conservative B2B companies that perhaps feel that it’s either not appropriate to promote themselves personally, or they tend to take a very corporate and as you say, rather dull approach to the content they post.

Ash: Um, I don’t think it has to be about personal. I’ve got clients that I work with where none of it is about them. And it’s always about weight. So there’s, there’s, I think there’s an in a way scale when it comes to personal branding, or of that term. And you can be at either end of it, and you’ve got people who are really, I, it’s all about them. It’s all about their journey. And you’ve got people that way. And it’s all about what we as a business are doing and how we’re building. And for some people that I might sue and actually might make sense, because they’re that good and that attractive as people and there’s they’re charismatic, they’re really interesting and captivating. Whereas for some people who might be concerned with the ego side of it or the self-serving side of it, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to use LinkedIn, for example. Just because you don’t want it to be about you doesn’t mean you’d have to use it. You just use it in a different tone. In a voice, and it becomes your, almost like the messenger for the business story, and what the business is doing and shining more of a light on that it doesn’t have to be about the individual.

Mike: That’s, that’s really interesting. So you can actually take almost a personal account to make it much more about the company rather than about the individual, which is a, perhaps a different approach to what you’d see on other social media platforms.

Ash: Yeah, and it doesn’t have to be personalised though people think that they something I hear a lot is, Oh, do you have to open up and start get like their emotional and do you have to start document in the struggles and all this kind of thing. And I don’t think you have to do any of that at all. It’s a personal decision. Like I, Me, personally, I use LinkedIn. And it drives a lot of good business. For me, it drives opportunities, it drives new conversations, it closes leads. And I never talk about, I don’t actually talk about my business, that at all, really, I don’t talk about the clients I work with, I don’t talk about the things that I’m going through from a business point of view, I don’t talk about my own personal feelings towards anything last stay away from it, because it’s just not me. It’s not authentic to who I am. For me, my channel is about thought leadership. And it’s just about giving people good advice on a thing that I do. That’s how I use it. And that, to me, is the most authentic way for me to use it. It doesn’t make me feel like I’m an imposter when I’m posting things. And I think that’s really important to remember, for people, what you’re doing has to be really authentic to who you are. And it has to make you feel comfortable with doing it as well. Because people will think that you need to be more personal. And they’ll open up and they won’t be comfortable with doing it. But they’ll do it because they think that they have to. And that just puts them off ever using the platform again, when it’s just the butterflies in the stomach, it doesn’t sit well and it puts them off going back next time. So yes, it doesn’t have to be the case. It can be more strategical, shining a light on the business and talking about the business rather than the individual.

Mike: This, that’s a really interesting take, actually, so make sure you do something you feel comfortable with, because that’s going to encourage you to use the platform. I think that’s great advice.

Ash: Yeah, I think also that it has too much. For me, it’s all about creating an online version of the offline person. So what I mean by that is that you can make a decision when it comes to content of you can storyteller around the business and the growth of it. Or you can talk about the tactics that the business does and client work and stuff like that. So, for example, if a social media agency and the CEO of a social media agency starts talking about updates to the platforms, and how to increase engagement and all the tactics side of things that they do services, but then offline, all he does is talk about the vision and leadership and growth of the company and doesn’t talk any of the tactics offline. And there’s a mismatch there. And people so if they do a panel, offline, or a talk, and it’s all about storytelling, and the business and the growth there, and the vision and the culture and things like that, and then online, they’re talking just about the tactics and the service, and how to optimise and all these things, then you’re getting a different version of person, offline and online. And that can be quite jarring. So it’s about a lot is for me, it’s just aligning, who is the person offline in real life and trying to create a curated online version of that person?

Mike: As that’s brilliant advice. Really, really interesting. And, you know, I’m intrigued when you start working with a company, I mean, what is it you do? How do you work with a CEO to help them, you know, be themselves online, but also be effective online.

Ash: It’s 50/50, it has to be a relatively collaborative process. So the content that I make tends to boil down to one or two things, it’s either business storytelling content, so it’s things that happening in and around the business, how’s the development of it going? What’s the direction? Is there any milestones that have happened, client wins, recruitment things, stuff like that. And case studies, or is thought leadership, which is external, it’s talking about the industry and their own opinion on the things that that they’re doing and, and where the industry is going, which is internal looking around their business for content or external looking around their industry for content. And I’m almost like the second step of that. So take for leadership. What I’ll do with a client is I’ll get them to feed me what they’ve been thinking essentially. So within a week, there’s a lot of conversations that we’ll personally have in our in our roles. conversations, meetings, and developments, and progress and challenges and opportunities. And all these things can make interesting thoughts. And they already are making interesting thoughts in that CEOs head. But the difficulty is that they’re not taking the time to sit down and try to extract what those interesting thoughts are. They’re not observing or reflecting on it. They’re just in autonomous mode. And they’re thinking and thinking and thinking. So all this stuff is just stuck in their heads, which is really, really interesting 90% of the time. So it’s my job to try to tap into that. And I have to create a process that works with them to get that out. Whether that’s, they might, they might be fine on video, and they’ll do a podcast or audio or written blogs, or I have clients send me WhatsApp or voice notes at the end of a week on a Friday afternoon. And they’ll say, hey, Ash, so I’m just going to go through the week, this conversation is me in I this phone call this is happening within the business. And my thoughts on that have been this. And any other interesting things that they’ve been thinking throughout the week, it’s almost like a brain dump for them at the end of the week. And then it’s my job then to look at all that and go right, what in here is going to work on social for this person in relation to what they’re trying to achieve, who they’re trying to talk to, what’s the audience that they’re trying to reach? How do they want to position themselves, what things that they feel they want to be talking on and be a thought leader on? So I’ll look at the information that they give me this brain dump of sorts, and I’ll start to pick out the interesting things. And then it’s my job to turn those interesting little nuggets and ideas and thoughts into something that you’d see on LinkedIn, that would be a very engaging piece of content.

Mike: And how do you measure your success? I mean, what are you looking to achieve as it reaches engagement? Is it just producing the content?

Ash: It’s three things in reaching engagement. So just social metrics? Are they going in the right direction? Are they increasing over time? It’s, is this driving? What that ultimate like KPI metric is, which might be leads, new business conversations, Meteor opportunities? Is it driving those things? And also, is it helping to achieve what they want their ultimate position into being? So I get them to decide at the start? Like what? How do you want to be perceived? Ultimately, what is the position that you want to take off in the minds of the audience that you’re trying to reach? What’s the big goal in terms of your position and in relation to your business and the business itself? And over time, is the content pulling back to achieve in that position in? Is it always every piece of content, we do take it one step further to solidifying that position in a perception in the minds of the audience, because you can influence people’s perception through content over time. If it’s strategic control out, so those are the kind of three things that I focus on when, when trying to decipher whether what we’re doing is working.

Mike: That’s, that’s brilliant. I mean, it’s a looking at the approach in in multiple ways. I mean, when you say, you know, CEOs have to decide how they want to be perceived. I mean, could you give us some examples of, you know, what people are trying to achieve on LinkedIn as CEOs?

Ash: Um, yeah, again, it depends. So a lot with some clients I work with, it’s, it’s just, I want us to be positioned as the, one of the leading agencies in our sector, which is this sector, and I also want us to be positioned as one of the best places to work in our industry, that will be the position, you know, that’s one of my clients wants to achieve. None of that is about him. It’s just, it’s just about he’s, so his content becomes helping achieve those things, is helping position the business as a leader in its sector, which is thought leadership and showing that the business does that, and the culture side of things. So it’s is it’s about positioning the company somewhere that’s great to work there takes care of their people. And none of that is about the eye. Whereas some people will be like, I want to be one of the most influential people within my industry, which is a very different tone and approach to to the previous one. So yes, it just depends on on what they’re trying to achieve, really. And there’s, there’s, there’s nothing it’s gonna sound awful to say, but there’s nothing that I can’t do. for them. It just whatever they want. To achieve, I can help them achieve it, I feel, they just have to really be self aware and understand what it is they’re trying to achieve. And that’s the thing that I focus on one first working with clients is because a lot of the time they don’t know what they’re trying to achieve, they just think doing it is a good idea. So it’s almost like trying to focus on the bigger picture at start and really nail what that bigger picture looks like in a framework. And then yeah, moving forward from there, and ensuring that it all pulls back into trying to achieve those things at the start.

Mike: That’s, that’s really good advice. So you know, the first step on any social media campaign is to be really clear about the goals. And I think it’s very easy just to rush in and start posting, and not really have a clear objective. So I think that’s, that’s great advice.

Ash: Yeah, hundred percent, I see a lot of the time, even some people that I work within the first month, it feels super skygo. It’s just a scattergun approach. So just is not contact the sacred content, but they’ll be doing a lot of different things at the same time. And it’s like, you almost have to narrow it as you go. And really start to hone in on what they’re trying to achieve and what they’re trying to say.

Mike: Brilliant. I think that’s, that’s key. I’m sure, one of the things that our podcast listeners would want is some, you know, ideas and tips on how to improve their LinkedIn presence. So, you know, I mean, the first thing to talk about maybe is reach, you know, how did you get more reach? Is it all just about getting the biggest network you possibly can? Or is it different to that?

Ash: No, I think for me, it’s an organic approach. So you’ll get some people will just build a big audience. And that’s not necessarily like people that they know, they’re just connecting with people. But for me how I approach it is just good content. Put good content out there, understand what your audience resonates with and start to narrow what you do more in that direction over time. So the content is becoming more relevant to the audience, which results in greater reach. And then from that greater reach, just connecting with the people that are engaging with that content. So it’s like organic, audience building, you’re only building your audience, when it’s people who care about what you’ve got to say, a lot of the time, I personally only just, it’s just people who connect with me. So I know for a fact that if I’m putting content out there, it’s resonating well, and someone connects with me off the back of it, then it’s someone who’s interested in what I’ve got to say. And in terms of how people, I think the best way that people can get started in doing that, is, like I say, observe and reflect, take, take once a week on a Friday, Friday afternoon, just book out the 10 minutes in your diary, and turn the voice note function on your phone on and just talk about what your week has been like and any things that you’ve been thinking about this week, in particular, or interesting thoughts that come off the back of the things that you’re reflecting on? And then listen to that back and listen to it with through the filter of would this make a good, interesting piece of content for who I’m trying to engage with? And I think the answer will be, yeah, at least be one thing in there in a week, it tends to be the case with clients, every time we do that exercise, at least one piece of content comes on the back of it. So yeah, that in terms of how can you create content in a really easy way, it can take 10 minutes on a Friday, just by doing that exercise, and it’s something that I do with a lot of clients, and it really, really works. And then yeah, just get involved get stuck in there get pointed out. And the biggest thing as well is I’m I always learned is that you learn as you go. So you can do as much pre approach you can do as much planning and that kind of thing. But the majority of the time the learning comes from putting content out there and seeing what works and what didn’t.

Mike: That’s brilliant. I mean, so the, the idea of actually testing things and seeing where they work, I think is great advice. I mean, is there any kind of rules of thumb as to what types of content work better? You know, I hear a lot about video on LinkedIn at the moment.

Ash: Um, I think video was a conversation. like six months ago, everything was video video,video, but I I’m not sure. I’m just not sure whether the browse time is there. Because I don’t feel that personally, I’m not spending a minute solid on one person’s piece of content on LinkedIn. It’s very much a casual browse environment for me. And I feel like that’s the same with quite a few other people. So I think it’s very difficult to get people to watch something that’s 1234 minutes. So I think Yeah, video really works. I found when it’s short, and it’s really relevant to the point or it’s valuable. If it’s just casual video, it tends to fly I personally, I only do text posts for myself, and they really, really work. I’m a big fan of just doing text posts. But I don’t think there’s one thing that takes priority over others to a big degree, video works, image works, text works, articles work, it’s just good content. At the end of the day good content will work no matter what format it’s in on LinkedIn.

Mike: Right? That’s really good advice. Um, is there anything else you suggest people think about as, you know, your top tip for either avoiding the pitfalls of, you know, doing the wrong thing, or alternatively, you know, being more effective on LinkedIn.

Ash: Um, yeah, if it, if it’s something that Steve said to me yesterday, or the day before, he said, if the world has already heard it, I don’t want them to hear it again from me, which is a really interesting point. And if you look at things through that point of view, you’re never going to produce content that is vanilla, or it’s easily ignored. And that doesn’t mean that you have to have a really unique engaging point of view, that’s groundbreaking, it just means you have to tell it in a different way. So you can take a very basic point that everyone has heard, like, I don’t know, Mental Health Awareness Week, last week, I saw a lot of people doing content around that. And mental health matters is a super generic basic point of view that everyone is heard and everybody understands the importance of. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid that point, you just have to tell it in a way that people haven’t heard before. And how you do that is maybe by talking about your experiences in your business, handling that as a, as a subject, how is the business coping with people’s what, what do they put in place for employees, and nobody has ever heard that unless you’ve told that before, unless you said this is how our business approaches mental health for our employees, then it’s a completely unique point of view, because it’s about your business and your experiences. So I think that idea of like, don’t put, if if a message is already out in the world, they don’t need to hear it from me again. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t lean into the generic and broad and widely spoke about topics because that’s where you get a lot of ideas and inspiration. It’s just about spinning them in your own unique way, in a way that no one’s read before.

Mike: I think that’s, that’s great advice. Thank you. So if people listening to the podcast would like to know more or perhaps work with you to either build their profile? Or if they’re in the marketing team, the profile of their CEO? How would they get in contact with you?

Ash: LinkedIn, which I’m just Ash Jones on there. And you’ll see like my tagline says about working with CEOs. My website is great and my email

Mike: Fantastic. Thank you. I hope people listening do get in contact because I know you can add a lot of value. So thank you very much Ash. I really appreciate your time and all your insights today.

Ash: Oh, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Mike: Thanks so much for listening to marketing b2b tech. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please make sure you subscribe on iTunes, or on your favourite podcast application. If you’d like to know more, please