How to LinkedIn like a human - #00008

LinkedIn is not the first social platform creators think about. Here's how one musician uses it successfully while keeping their personality intact.

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Have you ever been told: “You should get a more sensible career"? I’m Timi, and each week we interview a storyteller, artist or creative entrepreneur in Asia who ignored this advice to pursue a creative career instead. The goal with each story: zero generic fluff. 

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INTERVIEW: How to LinkedIn like a human

At the end of 2020, LinkedIn’s editors (they have a team of 60+ around the world) published their first Top Voices List, a collection of industry professionals who have an engaged following on the platform. 

Before you roll your eyes, this is not a ranking of people who gamed LinkedIn using annoying clickbait and hollow copy. The editors used these criteria:

Are the contributions insightful, conversational and timely? Do they seek to give and get help vs. being self-promotional? Finally, does this list reflect the world we work and live in today?

Most of the profiles are who you’d expect from a professional social network: senior executives, entrepreneurs, consultants, the occasional young up-and-comer. 

On the Singapore list, Xiao’an Li, a musician and composer, sticks out as someone who works in the creative arts (not the most active industry on LinkedIn) and for his casual, irreverent tone. 

He is co-founder and partner at Li & Ortega, a music and audio production firm for games and advertising. Or as Xiao’an describes it in his LinkedIn profile, “music for whatever the hell you want.”

Xiao’an credits his visibility on LinkedIn for all sorts of work opportunities — new clients, speaking engagements, and meeting interesting people outside his immediate professional circle. LinkedIn has become Xiao’an’s flywheel.

If your creative work can benefit from interaction with the professional working world, this interview provides practical advice — even if you don’t post twice a day. 

In this interview, Xiao’an also shares what he’s learned from his time running a career community for 7,000 musicians, a job that is thankless and meaningful in equal measure. What he learned from that experience informs the way he engages online today.

1. The real benefits of organizing a community

As a composer fresh out of music school, Xiao’an had difficulty finding work, and he learned he had to network constantly to drum up business, showing up at conferences and industry events all year round. 

“I have a great deal of social anxiety going up to people I didn't know and striking up conversations that way. That remains to this day my least favorite method of networking. I hate it. I decided to find a way around it, which was that if people knew me online and I was visible online, when they saw me at a conference, they were more likely to come over and say hi, thus sparing me the trouble of going up to them.”

He decided to run a Facebook community to help composers get consistent information about the industry. 

Xiao’an asked four experienced composers for support to bring the group together. They brought credibility and he did the groundwork, canvassing other groups, asking people to share it, and ensuring a steady stream of useful content in very moderated discussions. 

From a few hundred members at launch, it grew to 7,000 members over three years.   

The work didn’t drive business, but he stuck with it, “because I felt it was meaningful to share the things that I knew no matter how early my career was with people who were having similar trouble in their early careers: finding work, understanding how the industry works, what to charge, what kind of rights to negotiate for their contracts.” 

As the group grew, people started to know Xiao’an less as a person and more as a faceless admin, and the amount of unpaid work, like signing off on activities or approving advertising, became too much. So he stepped away.

Imagine being in Congress or the Senate without a salary. This is also my fault for not coaching my fellow moderators and delegating properly to them. The level of delegation is also very limited, in retrospect, because it was a Facebook Group and not a proper organization or a company. I should've just run it myself, at least I’d be able to make unilateral decisions.”

What do people get wrong about communities? 

“It's not a device by which you gain personal advantage. You should only do it because you want to, and by helping people, you inevitably build a grateful network.”

2. Learning how LinkedIn can be useful, and how to be useful on LinkedIn

For several years, Xiao’an used LinkedIn as a way to educate himself about business, following people and reading articles. 

“A lot of articles would quote other articles and it just brings you down this rabbit hole of bullshit. I would find articles that corroborated each other and then found their primary sources and read those. My wife is a scientist. If I do less, I'll hear from her.” 

Xiao’an started posting actively in 2019, with not much success. Here are the things that didn’t work:

  1. Shared links to industry articles and news

  2. Wrote articles (sometimes)

  3. Shared my work via outbound links

  4. Posted 100 times between Jan 1 - Aug 13

  5. Little to no community/comment engagement 

Compared to the 2019 list, here’s what he did differently in 2020:

  1. Created text, image, and video content focused on providing value/entertainment to others

  2. Wrote short and long form posts instead of articles (people don't have to navigate away from their newsfeeds.

  3. Presented my work in an insane but unique manner

  4. Posted 300 times between Jan 1 - Aug 13 (consistency)

  5. Engaged with nearly every comment

3. Landing on his signature post — his music videos

On LinkedIn, I realized that people like a personal element to any story you write, which also has to have a lesson. So it has to be entertaining, it has to be insightful, or it has to be educational. And in its entertaining value, it has to reflect some manner of truth.”

His posts offer distinct advice on music composition, making decisions on music production, and building a career in music today.  

What makes Xiao’an’s feed stand out, though, are his music videos. In these posts, he shows project snippets by distilling a client brief into a quirky humorous one-liner and producing a homemade video.

The comments light up with technical questions and conversations between composers.

“I feel like it's my ‘fuck you’ to people who make highly produced videos of their music, because it's just my iPhone. And then I sync it up with the music afterwards in Logic. And also you’re not taking yourself too seriously. Because we've got people on LinkedIn who take themselves sooo seriously.” 

4. Mining life experiences  

Much of Xiao’an’s insights come from his own experiences and mistakes. “It's very difficult to have stuff to write if you don't have life experiences. So if you're willing to put yourself through a few years of suffering, you'll get a lot of lessons and you can put stuff on LinkedIn.” 

These moments of introspection are encapsulated into LinkedIn posts as broad lessons that can apply to different situations. “Sometimes you can have a hundred different LinkedIn posts, all about the same concept, but applied in a different situation and a different angle geared towards a different audience.”

Each post uses hashtags like #creativity #personaldevelopment #music and #gameaudio to get onto the feed of people interested in these topics. 

And occasionally, a personal post might pop up.

“I think people like the occasional swearing, they like the occasional nonsense, because it breaks up the feed.”

5. A simple workflow

Xiao’an posts once or twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. 

“If I post at 8:30 in the morning, I miss everyone in Europe, but I get people in Singapore before they go to work and I get people in the US on each coast after they're done with work, after dinner, or right as they're getting home. Sometimes I post 8:30 at night. I'll get some early risers in New York. I will miss LA, but I'll get Europe while they're at lunch.”

The only automation he uses is the free plan from HootSuite, which lets him write a post at anytime and schedule it for publishing.

Unable to attend conferences due to the pandemic, Xiao’an used LinkedIn to network. His presence grew in 2020 through consistent posting, one to two times a day. By the end of the year, he had posted 484 times and gained over 1 million views.

If there is one thing that 2020 has taught me, it’s that you don’t need to fly to expensive conferences or attend time consuming networking events to meet new people and make friends around the world.

6. A no-mercy approach to trolls

“I've dealt with racist people. I've dealt with people who think that maybe I'm being unprofessional on LinkedIn. To be perfectly honest, I love those people. They should come around more often because every single time I share something about those people it’s at least 10,000 views.”

Compared to other social networks, LinkedIn has been much better at managing post quality. “I feel it actively deprioritizes useless content or anger or hate speech. And I think that with the amount of moderation and machine learning they're using the background, it's been very effective.”

Xiao’an is on LinkedIn and has a personal website. He is a partner at audio production firm Li & Ortega and blogs at music tech startup Musiio.com where he is a music strategist. 

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