Social media, writing

How to be a thought-leader through LinkedIn

People often forget LinkedIn. Or rather, they dismiss it. It’s just that site where you put up your CV and then never go on it except to deal with those annoying Connection requests, right? It definitely was. But while we’d all pigeon-holed it as that, LinkedIn has quietly become one of the most promising of social networks – rivalling or surpassing Facebook and Twitter, not in overall size, growth or fame, but by proving hugely more effective in key metrics like engagement, particularly for a professional context.

Plenty has been written about how and why. So rather than repeat all that, read the first part of this blog post from Buffer. But if I were to name three main reasons, they’d be 1) turning it from a ‘business card’ networking site into a social network by putting in status updates/a newsfeed, 2) setting up a hugely powerful ad platform to utilise their network, 3) building a network of “Thought leaders” as bloggers.

Yes, bloggers. You thought that term had died with the 2010s, but it’s still a thing – it’s just become so commonplace and integrated into things like Facebook and media websites that we don’t even think of it as “blogging” anymore – they’re just articles (or, if I were to be pedantic, a variation on op-eds). And you know why Op-eds are still popular, and powerful, in mainstream media? People listen to them. We love them. Because they’re full of opinion – and transparently labelled as such – they contain lots of passion and emotion, or at least plenty of information from an angle that we’re interested in and want to hear about. Moreover, it has a face to it, a person behind it, someone we can judge – for better or for worse. And as human beings, these are the things that we respond to – more than a fact-sheet, more than a table.

And this is what LinkedIn has done brilliantly. For over a decade it’s been a place almost everybody feels they must have a presence on “for professional reasons”. Why not build on that – and the extensive network of contacts it’s led us to set up – by letting us broadcast our thoughts and opinions to each other? And the key element of it is because it’s Linkedin – that place for “work” – it’s not about what you had for dinner or the cat you saw at lunchtime, but something that has to feel useful, or at least relevant in some way to the world of work or your profession/industry.

So building on that – and in order to increase our time and engagement on the platform – they put in that newsfeed, allowed everyone to share status updates, links, photos, videos, all the things we already do on Facebook and Twitter. But they also added things like integration with Slideshare so users could share decks. And then they started blogging.

First, they showed us how it was done. They established a closed pool of exclusive “elite” bloggers – people like Barack Obama, Arianna Huffington, Bill Gates, people you might actually look up to professionally, admire for their ideas and strategic thinking. They got them to share their thoughts expansively on the platform. It did what social media does best – give access, be the great democratic leveler by allowing anyone to follow, hear and discuss those inspirations and ideas directly with these people that seemed otherwise a world away from yours.

Then they opened it up to everyone. Now anyone can write an Article. And anyone can follow anyone else, without going through the formal ‘Connecting’. And they’ve made it super simple and beautiful to do so – no doubt learning from modern blogging platforms like who realised the vast number of users don’t want to mess around tweaking a website, they just want to write and then post it.

And that’s what you can do now.

The ‘How to be a “Thought Leader” using LinkedIn’ is by doing just what I’ve said LinkedIn did themselves:

  1. Have something to say. Be passionate about your work, your industry, your beat – passionate enough to have an opinion about it and to want to talk to others about it.
  2. Try sharing a status update.
  3. The easiest thing is to share links – just like you already do on Facebook or Twitter. Stuff that’s relevant to people in your field. Write an accompanying sentence to say why you think this is worth reading (or not!) or what in particular you found interesting about it.
  4. Or a pure status update – say what it is you’re doing (for work) and who you’re meeting (as long as it’s not confidential of course!). Why not share a photo or a short video? Especially when you’re at a conference, a meeting or some other thing to do with your work (again, just make sure there’s nothing in it you wouldn’t want public). Say what’s interesting about it, or just celebrate the fact that you’ve met interesting people or talked about interesting things – this is still a social network, it’s just that it’s all work-related and we don’t have to feel super sick or guilty about it because THAT’S WHAT IT’S FOR.
  5. You could also share a slide deck via Slideshare (*cough* AGAIN make sure it doesn’t have anything confidential in it before you share *cough*)
  6. BTW the character limit for status updates is a maximum of 600 – roughly two tweets (by the 2018 Twitter character limits).
  7. Write an Article. Something that needs more than 600 characters, or a few tweets to convey.  Again, something you’re passionate enough to have an opinion about – and want to talk to others about. Articles can be really really long (up to 120,000 characters I think) but I recommend keeping them to 500w or less unless you really need the depth and detail (like this post!). Here’s a video from LinkedIn on how to create Articles, and some tips to get you started.
  8. Keep going. You don’t have to write every day, or even every week. But try for at least a few times a month. Maybe start with one article a month and a few status updates a week.
  9. Perhaps most important: don’t forget to listen. And converse. That means:
  10. Read your newsfeed a bit to see what your contacts are saying
  11. Find people who say interesting things and follow them so you see their stuff in your newsfeed. You don’t have to connect with them to do this, and remember you can always unfollow them later. And why not Like or Comment on their post if you’ve something to add to the conversation? You can also share their posts or links to your own feed – a quick and easy way to find things to post about.
  12. If people write comments – reply to them (in the comments)! Even if it’s a ‘thanks for your comment’ or something, it breaks down the barriers and starts conversations that could lead to new ideas, opportunities and/or collaborations. Also don’t forget you can always take it into a more private direct messaging thread, should you wish to carry on the conversation in a more closed context.

The aim is to build yourself up to a rhythm and frequency that’s right for you – there is not right or wrong amount. It’s what fits you. But you do need to do it reasonably regularly for people to get to know you.

By sharing all these things on your profile, you will establish your own voice and identity – and by consistently doing people will come to know what you stand for, what you find interesting and hopefully want to hear more because you’re talking about things they don’t know or that they too want to talk about. Just like, you know, real life.

Other key tips/things to know:

  • Anyone that you’ve connected to has the potential to receive your updates or articles in their newsfeed (their Home screen – one of the first things they will see/check when they log-in to LinkedIn). But they DO NOT have to connect with you. They can just follow you, just like on Twitter, Instagram etc. (note you can turn this option off in your settings, but if you’re reading this article, I suspect you wouldn’t because the whole point is to become more known!).
  • If you really want to, you can restrict who can see your status update or article at the post level. Most of the time it defaults to just your followers or ‘Public’. I advise doing it as Public as it means more people can find you and it’ll help grow your following. But there may be times that it’s a little more private and you’d rather do it to a specific circle of people.
  • You can also disable the comments on an Article. Most of the time I’d say don’t do it, as the conversation is the main point of this. But maybe you want to announce something and feel it’s a little sensitive – not enough for you not to tell people, but enough that you don’t want to talk about it any more than what you’ve said.
  • You can save Articles as drafts to post later. Which brings me on to…
  • Timing can be important. LinkedIn is (so far) blissfully free of an algorithm that meddles too much, meaning that generally what you see what’s been most recently posted, or at least most popular from that recent batch. Personally, I think people are more likely to be online at 9am on working days, so why not post around then? I’m not saying you have to write it all then – you can always write your Article up beforehand, then copy-paste it to post the next morning.
  • If hashtags are your thing you can tag them in your status updates and articles. LinkedIn has started surfacing these more – and also introduced the ability to ‘follow’ hashtags in your newsfeed, just like on Instagram, which could be really big in this professional context because all that content should be relevant to the thing you want to know about for your work.
  • My personal take on LinkedIn: people are on it a heck of a lot more than they admit. The key difference is, I don’t think they’re on it for that long necessarily – certainly not compared to Facebook. But there’s a significant number of people that religiously check it first thing in the morning at least 3 or 4 times a week (probably Mon-Thurs). As I mentioned before, I think the emails/notifications about new connections, work anniversaries and job searches they have running bring them in. They clear that – and then they have a quick look at their Newsfeed homepage. They might not scroll too far, and they might not spend more than 10mins total on LinkedIn. But it’s enough time to see a few posts that matter. And if you become someone whose opinions and info matter to them – they’ll want to check in more on what you say.
  • Finally, I’ve written this focused on LinkedIn because I really do believe there’s a big opportunity there. But this strategy can apply to any social network – it just depends on where your audience is and whether the platform/context is right for what you want to achieve. Are your peers all on Twitter, or Reddit, or Medium? It’s a similar thing, and it always comes back to the same basic principles: having something to say, something you’re passionate about, people you want to converse with – and then getting started.

(Bonus: here’s the Top 10 most popular articles according to someone on LinkedIn. Check out the number of likes and shares).

Journalism, writing

Tips for (science) writing


The University of the West of England are running an interesting science writing competition and asked a bunch of writers for their tips for potential entrants. Here are mine.

When you’re really into a topic, it’s easy to think that everyone else will be and it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few aspects – everything is so fascinating. I have to cover all the bases to do it justice. (This counts double if you’re coming from an academic background).

Take a few moments before you start writing to think: what is my story really about? What is the one take home message that I’d want a reader to get from my story, even if they only skimmed it or read a bit? If you were to sum up your story in a sentence or two to explain to a friend or your mum – what would that be?

In film and business, they talk about the ‘Elevator pitch’ – you catch the executive in the lift, and in the one minute between floors you succinctly pitch your idea – enough to give a taste of what the story is about, what’s fascinating about it, why it’s important and how you’re approaching it – why it’s worth them investing. It’s the same principle in writing.

More than anything, it helps you, the writer, stay focused and clear on the purpose and point of your story, in your writing, research and interviews. Your readers – and editors – will be thankful for it.

Journalism, Social media

What does success look like in the digital magazine age? (Or How to track qualitative metrics using Pinterest and Upwork)



I work for a funny little magazine. It’s online only, and published by a non-profit charitable foundation. Moreover, it purposefully gives all its content away for anyone to republish, for free – we care not whether someone reads it on our website or not, just that they read and engage with it at all, wherever they like. And it does go everywhere.

When your model is like this, what on earth does success look like? How do you measure that? When your content is everywhere, and the subsequent conversations too, how can you possibly know how well it’s doing or what people think?

Three years ago, this is what we at Mosaic wondered. So we came up with a system.

  1. Quantitative metrics: the straightforward stuff – unique pageviews, average time on page, referrals. All stuff you can get off of Google Analytics. We track our own website, and also have a republish tracker – building on an open source ‘tracking pixel’ that can be embedded into syndicators sites and which pings back data to us. But not everyone is able to put this in, so we also get what we can off of any known republishers who are kind enough (we ask nicely) to, confidentially of course, share their stats. We also use HotJar to generate heatmaps of our stories – a snapshot of how much and where people are engaging with our stories (i.e. how long they’re scrolling down and where they’re dropping off). Elsewhere, we track metrics from Facebook and YouTube insights, particularly for our videos, and in the last year have added podcast metrics – via our server Libsyn.

  2. Qualitative metrics: “Engagement” – comments, likes/reactions, shares, retweets, sentiment – sometimes seen as the softer stuff, but I actually think this is more important, particularly to us.

Yes, the quantitative stuff is important. Everybody likes to see numbers and graphs going up (especially higher ups). We watch those just as carefully as everyone else does. And we have to take them with a pinch of salt too. No web metrics are perfect, and it’s even harder to integrate when your data is coming from different systems and sources – how do we know what one publisher counts as a ‘view’ is the same as what another does, or if that’s the same as our data?

But given our publisher and mission statement, it was clear from the start that the qualitative stuff was going to be key.

When we launched in March 2014, we were – to be honest – taken aback at how quickly other publishers took to our Creative Commons offering. Though we’d done a lot of work to talk to potential partners about what we were doing to and to convince them of the quality and rigour of our work, we thought they’d be pretty cautious at first – fishing for more of a sense of exclusivity, seeing what the content was like first, and reader reactions to it. Instead we got a plethora of republishes right from day one including the BBC, Gizmodo, Digg, the Guardian and CNN.

With topics such as the safety of cycling and the legitimacy of female condoms, heated discussions started exploding all over the place – comments under Gizmodo and the Guardian, on forums such as Hacker News and Reddit, under other pages’ Facebook posts, and of course on Twitter – in reaction to our tweets and those of our republishers’ links.

It was a real buzz to see how big a response we were getting to our stories, and I got somewhat obsessed about reading and tracking every single thing – I lapped it up, I didn’t want to miss a thing, and was convinced that we needed to log it all lest we missed any of it – in the social media age, if you don’t capture it on the day it’s gone (or at least very very hard to find) tomorrow. We were just starting out and I sensed that we needed to demonstrate this impact to our managers and board to show just how viable the model was, and to hopefully keep their support – financially and in faith.

Initially, I favourited everything on Twitter I could find and then dumped it all into a massive Storify of each week (we publish a new longform story each week, a bit like launching a new book every week). I’d then add anything I saw on Facebook – on our page, but also if I saw any republishes, say, on Digg, I’d be sure to look up their posts on their page, then log every single (meaningful) comment – good or bad – from that. I’d even click on the ‘Shares’ under the post to see if any public shares had any meaningful comments alongside the share. I did the same for every forum and comments thread I could find across the web. For every one of our stories. I called all this ‘going down the rabbit hole’.

I dumped all of these into Storify but also started a spreadsheet on Google Docs to paste in each comment or tweet, links, dates, along with notes if a share, comment or retweet was from someone particularly ‘influential’ (e.g. noting the biog in their profile and follower count). This I felt was a good way of future-proofing the data and also making it meaningful, at a glance, for our Editor, the rest of the team, our Board and anyone else to see how we were doing, and what readers thought of our work, even if they only had a few minutes to glance it over.

I also started somewhat obsessively pinning every republish to our Pinterest boards – one for every story – a nice visual way of tracking republishes, while also maintaining a presence on a popular social network.

We still do this – it’s been extremely useful for everyone: writers, editors, my Editor when he’s writing a feedback report, us when we’re compiling Award entries. It’s also reasonably transparent – anyone can look at our Pinterest or Storify (the spreadsheet, for now, remains team eyes only).

I don’t do this all myself anymore. Frankly, I burned myself out trying – doing all that while running social media, production AND commissioning and editing the stories themselves is impossible. So after a year we took on a freelancer to help.

At the suggestion of a colleague, I tried Upwork, which allows you to recruit people to do web-based tasks all over the world. It’s mostly software developers and marketers – nobody did exactly what we were looking for, so I did a few searches and approached a few listees who seemed to have the skill in web marketing and keyword searches to handle the job. We found someone, and she’s great. Her work is invaluable to us and she’s a key part of our team.

Mosaic is now in its third year and this system of qualitative and quantitative tracking works out for us.

Going forward, I’d love to see some more investment (hint hint boss) in added resource for tracking, and to free up time particularly for analysis so we can really use the feedback and insights to improve our content. I’d love to afford a service like Chartbeat, that can integrate a lot of the quantitative metrics – website and social – into dashboards that can give you better at a glance insights that are actually meaningful (that said, I’ve reviewed a lot of services that people have pitched at us – lots of them are pants and nothing you can’t do if you can just take the time to look at the free metrics Google, Facebook and others give you).

I don’t think there is any shortcut to the qualitative tracking though. Especially when you have a content/publishing model like ours. If we were a commercial publisher, it may be a little easier, given that you would only have to track your own links and hence can tie that into a connected dashboard tracker like Chartbeat better.

Someone said to me recently that our way of doing things is a bit unusual and interesting, hence my motivation to share in this post. Hope it’s helpful to others in someway. If anyone needs me, I’ll be down the rabbit hole.


Japan and nuclear science

A few months ago, I found my 2006 Masters dissertation among some old files. Submitted as part of my Masters degree in Science Communication at Imperial College London, it’s about Japan’s history with nuclear science, both as a source of atomic weapons and a solution to Japan’s ever-present energy problems.

Re-reading it, it’s amazing how it holds up nearly 10 years on. Many of its themes are still relevant in 2015. Post-Fukushima 2011, Japan is again in the midst of major public distrust over nuclear power. With 2015 also marking 70 years since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and the structure of Japanese science in question following the 2014 STAP scandal, I thought others might find it interesting to read, so I posted it on Medium.

Genshibakudan to Genshiryoku: Japan and nuclear science

The post is my original 2006 text so of course some things will have moved on. I’d welcome any updates, thoughts and discussions in comments.

Social media

How to build an online community

Last Sunday I attended a Guardian Masterclass on building online communities. On the work dollar of course, and all for the sake of the project we’ve been working on for over a year.

Overall it was a good day with some excellent speakers and interesting coffee break chat (surprising given that we were all clearly missing our usual Sunday lie-in!). My stream-of-consciousness notes are below, and you can also follow more from the live tweets from the day on #socialconf. Continue reading “How to build an online community”

Social media

Social media sessions Part 4: New social networks and YouTube

The final sessions in my social media series introduced the many new networks on the scene and a closer look at one often forgotten as a social network, yet one of the biggest websites on the planet.

The New Social Networks

New social media channels spring up all the time, but what are they and which are worth dabbling in? This session covered:

  • Google+

  • Pinterest

  • Instagram

  • Foursquare and Gowalla

  • What’s the next big thing? Branch, Medium, etc.

  • What happened to the oldies? Friends Reunited, Myspace, Bebo, Friendster etc.

Crib sheet:

A Guide to YouTube

A guide to one of the biggest, most influential social networks. It is of course the biggest video sharing/hosting site in the world and actually the second-biggest search engine (after Google) too. Hosted by the Wellcome Trust’s Multimedia Producers Barry Gibb and Chris Chapman, this session gave a practical overview of the platform and many of the social functions people may not know about, as well as a discussion of how people are using it, how we’re using it for the Trust, Wellcome Collection, Wellcome Library and a chance to watch some of the best and most entertaining videos on the web.

Crib sheet:

You can see presentations and crib sheets from the entire social media series of talks here.


Big questions from a first book

XKCD questions
Sadly not the questions in our book

Between December and May this year, my spare time has been spent working furiously on a book. The Big Questions in Science: the quest to solve the great unknowns is a popular science coffee-table book looking at, well, exactly what it says. You can read more about it in this feature we wrote for The Observer.

The book is a joint effort between myself and two friends and fellow science writers, Hayley Birch and Colin Stuart, and it’s now available to buy in hardback to decorate your fine shelves, prop up your wonky tables and, of course, entertain and enlighten you with our fine prose.

Shit just got real.

The book came about after the three of us pitched similar ideas through our agent and our publisher, Carlton Books, were interested enough to take a punt. The subject matter is inherently fascinating, giving an excuse to delve deep into questions we ourselves would like to know the answers to. And given how I spend much of my day job editing or in meetings, it was GREAT to exercise my writing muscles, particularly at a decent length and for such interesting topics.

Looking back, it’s been one heck of an experience and I’ve certainly learned a lot about the process of book publishing, my writing and myself. Here are a few of my lessons learned: Continue reading “Big questions from a first book”


Longreads: Traditional Chinese Medicine

As part of my work on a new long-form publication, I’ve been doing a lot of long-form reading. I’ve been scribbling notes about various articles here and there and figured I might as well start collating them centrally on this blog. So here’s note number one.

I very much enjoyed this piece by James Palmer in Aeon last week. It is pretty long and not exactly narrative based, but more of a long, very interesting essay, taking us on a journey through history, culture, ethics and pharmacology. He has a few anecdotes scattered around from interviewees but on the whole this is Palmer’s thesis (and indeed, it is a little like a dissertation) and an excellent explainer of what is and where it is today.

The difference between a traditional feature, an essay, and a ‘narrative-based’ story (the latter of which is maybe what we think of most as long-form) is an interesting question I’ve been pondering. For me, this feature succeeds because of its breadth; it is in-depth, it has been researched thoroughly and the author clearly has a structure for his thesis. Sure, it’s lacking that ‘story’ spine that might keep people from wandering after the first 1000w or so, but the subject matter and writing is interesting enough, I think, to make it worth your while.

Blogging, Social media

Social media sessions Part 3: Advanced Twitter skills and a guide to blogs

Month 3 in my ongoing series, April built on some earlier skills and gave my colleagues and I a chance to talk about how blogging has evolved.

Advanced Twitter Skills

Building on the Twitter basic session, this session will provide more detailed advice and training on how to get the most out of Twitter for work purposes. Topics will include:

  • How the Wellcome Trust uses Twitter
  • Twitter Lists
  • Tweetdeck, Hootsuite and other ‘power user’ Twitter apps
  • Storify and other Twitter curation tools
  • Statistics tools (e.g. Topsy)
  • Advanced Twitter searching

Crib sheet:

A Hitchhiker’s guide to blogs

The scientific community has taken to blogging in a big way, but just what are they doing. And with so many science blogs out there, where to start? Join a selection of the Trust’s best bloggers as we guide you through:

  • What blogging is and how it has evolved
  • A survey of the landscape of mainstream science blogging including the Guardian, Nature, Scientific American, Occam’s Typewriter and other blog networks.
  • Good blogs to follow and basics of how to subscribe to them via RSS
  • Key science, policy and medical history blogs to follow why we like them
  • What the Wellcome Trust, Collection and Library are doing with blogs
  • Basics of what we do and what other scientific institutions do (e.g. AMRC, CaSE, IoP, MRC, CRUK, BHF, Nature)

Featuring the picks of Danny Birchall (Web Editor, Wellcome Collection) and Ross Macfarlane (Blog Editor, Wellcome Library).

Crib sheet:

Social media

Social media sessions Part 2: LinkedIn and professional tweeting

Following on from the previous month’s successful run, I continued my series of lunchtime talks in March with two sessions.

Tweeting for the Trust – personal and professional uses of Twitter

Slightly unusual one. This was a panel discussion, chaired by me, featuring 4 very active Twitter users from various parts of the Wellcome Trust who use Twitter in a professional and personal capacity. The idea was to provide an insight into why and how Twitter has been so valuable to them in their work, but also how (and if) they keep their personal and professional Twitter lives separate.

The speakers were:

  • Mark Henderson, Head of Communications @markgfh
  • Hillary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning @hleevers
  • Danny Birchall, Web Editor, Wellcome Collection @dannybirchall
  • Amy Sanders, Programme Manager, Wellcome Trust @amyplatypus

I managed to persuade (bribe) two of our graduate trainees to live-tweet it for us, so here’s a summary:

LinkedIn for Beginners

Very popular session explaining the nuts, bolts and best practice for LinkedIn. I learnt a lot of valuable things about the service – more than I thought I did, although a few features still puzzle me. I also, usefully, discovered that LinkedIn’s privacy settings are on the whole very transparent and easy to understand, which makes a change from most social networking services!

(Rather detailed) crib sheet:

The next sessions are on Advanced Twitter Skills and a Hitchhiker’s Guide to Blogs. Will blog here once they’re done.