15th May 2020

LinkedIn, opinion polls and the big questions

According to a recent poll by YouGov, Elon Musk is America’s third most popular business figure and the sixth most famous. Almost three quarters of the study group have heard of him and would variously describe him as ‘exciting’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘charismatic’. Despite that, 18% of those asked had a negative opinion of him.

Now, Elon would probably find all of this fascinating, as he once said, “It’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”

Couldn’t agree more – feedback is so important, from clients, co-workers and the industry. This week LinkedIn sent its brand new poll feature live, meaning that in a couple of minutes you can tune into the thoughts and feelings of your whole network on any question you like.

Let’s have a look at how it works, and how you might use it.

What’s all the fuss about?

Sometimes an innovation comes along that’s so useful (and so obvious) that it’s actually a surprise it’s been missing until now. To be fair, LinkedIn is far from the first social media platform to introduce the idea – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have all offered polling for some time, alongside specific services like Pollpop, Doopoll and Polltab.

In fact, it’s not even new to LinkedIn. Back in 2014 you could use polls within groups, but in the six years that have passed, technology has moved on. You can now track results in real-time and review who responded (and which way they voted), which gives you all sorts of insight for future segmentation of your audience.

Of course, what makes LinkedIn different is the type of social media platform and the scale of what you might be able to achieve. If you’re a heavy user of LinkedIn, chances are you’ll have a pretty large network. Between your connections, their connections and the companies and groups you follow, polling on LinkedIn taps into a huge pool of professional and expert opinions from your own field, related fields and fields you may not have given any thought to before.

But you can also use your network to set up specific, targeted polls that drill down to the exact people whose feedback you’d like to gather in response to very specific questions. The new tool is invaluable for taking a broad view, but also good for close-ups.

How does it work?

To get started, you just need to select ‘Create a Poll’, add your question, with up to four answer options, then set the duration for anything between 24 hours and two weeks. Give a short intro for context if you need to, then hit ‘Publish’. You can find out more about how polls work at LinkedIn’s own FAQ page.

It’s not just about feedback though. Polls can be a way of increasing your presence, not just finding out what people think of your current offering, but a way of making yourself more visible, sparking debate and even providing answers and thought leadership within your industry. While it’s good to be asking intelligent questions within your own walls, nobody else knows you’re doing it. You don’t need to do it for the sake of showing off, but after all, part of being an innovator is being recognised as such.

So, what should you be asking?

The beauty of creating polls on LinkedIn and tuning in to what is potentially a vast audience of professionals (who of course are people and consumers too), is that you can be as broad or as precise as you want to be. The really granular questions will depend on your industry, but like any social media channel, you need to have a plan before you start. Let’s look at some of the broad types of questions you could be asking.

1. Change one thing

Innovation often comes from one small, but significant change. It can be something that’s been staring us in the face for years, only to have a massive impact once we notice it. You could sit around trying to think of innovations in abstract, or in the words of Jeremy Clarkson, you could ask the audience. If they could change one thing about their working day, or the kind of service you provide, what would that one thing be? It’s a direct line to understanding what customers really need from you.

2. What do they want to see more of (and less of)?

Believe it or not, people really do read blogs. If you’re a wealth planning firm for example, then your existing clients and potential future clients will be interested in your take on pension planning. But to keep your blog helpful and to keep your audience coming back, you need to know what they want to read about. You could ask about your current content and the areas that are most important to them, but equally you could branch into new topics and see whether any of them are things that people would be interested in reading about (before you commit the time, money and resources to writing them).

3. Ask for opinions

People feel much better about a business and a brand when there’s a two-way discourse going on. People like to be listened to, they like to talk about what they’ve enjoyed and also about what irks them. It doesn’t have to be about the service you’re providing – it could be about things that concern them in their day-to-day life, or things that prey on their mind for the future. By tapping into the questions that are swirling around unanswered, you’ll be able to provide targeted resources to help.

4. Ask about values

We’ve all sat around a table at some point, writing on Post-it notes, sticking cards on the wall and asking ourselves what really matters to us. That’s how most of us sketch out our brand values and come up with our mission statement. But wouldn’t it be useful to learn about what our customers value? Whether it’s what they value in a brand, in a service or in the individuals they communicate with, it can help us to stop coming up with shiny values statements, brand manifestos that are sincere, but nonetheless created in a vacuum, running the risk of not connecting with the people we want to reach.

5. Make it fun

Not every question needs to be about business, fears for the future or things that irritate people in the workplace. You can ask lighter questions too, things that your audience want to know the answer to as well. Ask about holidays (well, maybe park that one for the time being), things to do in your free time, whether they’d be happier reading a book, watching a film, baking a loaf or abseiling down a cliff face.

People love ‘would you rather’ questions and they serve two purposes. First, they show that we’re interested in them beyond the simple promise of remuneration. Second, they tell us about the kind of audience we appeal to, which in turn can fine-tune our branding – ask which bits of business jargon annoy them and in 24 hours you’ve got the basis of your tone of voice.

Ask clients, ask colleagues, ask the community

Most of all, remember that the power of LinkedIn isn’t just in finding clients, it’s in connecting with like-minded individuals and businesses, and learning from their successes and mistakes. It’s being present and notable within your field, being a contributor to your professional community and connecting with others who exist to do similar work to you.

As a result, you should use the powerful LinkedIn polling potential in a way that gets the best from it. Target clients, but also canvas contemporaries, start conversations that get people talking, because if a new solution comes out of it, then there’s kudos in being the one who took the first pioneering steps. Most of all, realise that after years of sending out surveys that end up in junk folders, don’t load properly or receive scant response, LinkedIn has (albeit belatedly) set up a direct conduit between you, the information you need and the people who can provide it.

Finally, while you should plan your questions before you ask them, remember the old adage that the only stupid question is the one you didn’t bother to ask. Maybe if Elon Musk had been able to poll whether or not it was a good idea to throw rocks at his Cybertruck windows in a live demonstration, things might have been different.