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LinkedIn Top Voices 2018: Influencers

Susan Cain
 

Every day, over 2 million posts, videos and articles course through the LinkedIn feed, generating tens of thousands of comments every hour — and tens of millions more shares and likes. So, who stood out in 2018 — and who should you be following to stay ahead?

We dug into the data to reveal our 4th annual LinkedIn Top Voices list, uncovering today’s must-follow writers and creators around the globe. As in past years, we do a special ranking of LinkedIn Influencers: Which leaders, thinkers and innovators saw the biggest impact via their writing, sharing, commenting and conversing?

To find all of the standout voices, we use a combination of data and editorial signals. We screen for engagement among professionals sharing in their area of expertise, looking at what kind of conversations — measured by engagement, including comments and re-shares — their original content is creating. We track relative follower growth, too: Are these Influencers attracting dedicated fans in their particular sector? Finally, we emphasize quality and diversity; the list should reflect the world we work in.

The Influencers below are weighing in on today’s biggest issues, from the A.I. “Cold War”to closing the gender gap in tech. They not only start important conversations; they invite others to weigh in and stay engaged by following up in the comments. In doing so, they help professionals feel more informed and prepared to succeed in today’s business world.

Here are this year’s 20 top Influencers around the world.

 

1. Richard Branson | Founder, Virgin Group

What he talks about: Britain’s well-known entrepreneur and businessman covers all aspects of his life and work, from his travel adventures to the initiatives of Virgin Group’s more than 60 companies. “I don’t see any separation between and work and play — it’s all just living, and I love sharing all of it,” he says.

Top conversation starter: Branson’s post on looking beyond CVs and hiring based on character instead received more than 1,300 comments from members on both the jobseeking and hiring side.

What’s not on his LinkedIn profile: “I’ve had 77 — and counting! — close shaves with death, and wouldn’t change a thing about any of them,” he says.

 

2. Melinda Gates | Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

What she talks about: “I’m interested in understanding and dismantling barriers to equality — especially for women and girls,” Gates tells LinkedIn. That includes sharing stories of the female entrepreneurs she meets and bringing attention to issues like the tech gender gap. “There’s no place on earth that has achieved true gender equality yet, but we’re seeing tremendous progress all over the world, and it’s important that we keep that momentum going,” she says.

Favorite conversation starter: For her first article, “We’re sending our daughters into a workplace designed for our dads,” Gates delved into what inclusivity efforts were needed to bring our offices into the 21st century. Nearly 800 members responded, including many women and men sharing their own personal experiences at work.

Trend she’s watching in 2019: “I hope that venture capital stops missing opportunities to invest in companies founded by women and people of color,” says Gates. “When a more diverse group of founders gets the chance to turn their big ideas into thriving companies, we’ll see a new generation of products and services that will fill unmet needs, close market gaps and better serve everyone.”

 

3. Ray Dalio | Founder, Co-Chief Investment Officer & Co-Chairman, Bridgewater Associates

What he talks about: Dalio, a billionaire hedge fund manager and investor, consistently hits the mark with timely pieces on topics like China-U.S. tensions and what’s happening in the stock market. “I write about my views on the global economy and where we are headed in the current business cycle, current economic and political events as well as my principles for work, life and investing,” he says.

Top conversation starter: In February, Dalio wrote about the rising risk of a recession, sparking conversation both on and off LinkedIn. The article was shared by over 500 members and picked up by Bloomberg, Vanity Fair, CNBC and more.

Most interesting story of 2018: “The ongoing conflict in countries and between countries, especially the growing conflict between the U.S. and China,” Dalio tells LinkedIn.

 

4. Nicholas Thompson | Editor in Chief, Wired

What he talks about: As the head of a leading technology publication, Thompson shares the industry news he finds most interesting and important. In his daily video series, he breaks down stories like the NSA taking action against Russian hackers and Walmart’s push into VR.

Favorite conversation starter: His piece on the past two dramatic years at Facebook“helped contribute to the big national conversation about the mistakes that the company made leading up to and after the 2016 election,” he says. “And it generated all kind of great commentary on LinkedIn.”

Trend he’s watching in 2019: “How the debate over the values we embed in A.I. develops. Will we be able to figure out ways to make A.I. systems that aren’t biased? If we can figure out how to do that, will we choose to?”

 

5. Justin Trudeau | Prime Minister, Canada

What he talks about: Prime Minister Trudeau shares about the issues impacting Canadians as well as the wider world, whether it’s supporting the Gender Equality Advisory Council or responding to new U.S. tariffs.

Top conversation starter: Trudeau held a Town Hall earlier this year, and after his appearance at the University of Manitoba, he continued the conversation on LinkedIn. Trudeau responded thoughtfully to some of the nearly 530 comments, like how Brexit will affect Canada’s relationship with the U.K. and what Canada will look like five years from now.

The workplace trend he’s following: “Equal pay for equal work isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” Trudeau says in a LinkedIn post. “Narrowing the gender gap in Canada could add $150 billion to our economy in the next decade.”

 

6. Susan Cain | Co-Founder & CEO, Quiet Revolution

What she talks about: After writing a bestselling book and giving a viral TED talk on the power of introverts, Cain started a company dedicated to spreading that message in the workplace. She focuses on the latest stories and research in psychology, from why people crave alone time to whether or not teens with anxiety should have to give class presentations.

Favorite conversation starter: “I believe [my piece on overcoming the fear of ‘putting yourself out there’] hit home for a lot of creatives who unnecessarily hold themselves back, out of one worry or another,” Cain says.

Where she gets her best ideas: “In cafes!” she tells LinkedIn. “I love the daylight pouring through the window, the elderly man sitting next to me reading his newspaper, and the implicit association with intellectual freedom that every well-appointed cafe evokes.”

 

7. Ian Bremmer | President & Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media

What he talks about: “I write about politics, I write about business, and I write about the world. Often about the three together, but not always,” says Bremmer, the founder of a global political risk consulting firm and a digital media company. His posts cover everything from the growing divide between the U.S. and Europe to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Favorite conversation starter: Earlier this year, Bremmer wrote an article on why he doesn’t invest, something he gets asked frequently. More than 50 members weighed in, sharing their investment stories and providing additional points to consider.

Most interesting news story of 2018: Russia’s cyberattack on Ukraine and its global impact. “If World War III happens next year, this is the story you need to read to understand why,” he says.

 

8. Beth Comstock | Author & Former Vice Chair of GE

What she talks about: Since leaving GE last year, Comstock has written a book and become even more of a leading voice in workplace and management issues. She shares articles, ideas and conversations around topics like the benefit of making non-traditional hires and how mentoring can improve mental health.

Favorite conversation starter: Comstock says she was surprised by the depth and emotion of the comments on her conversation with author Michael Ventura about empathy. “People are hungry for more connection to topics that the workplace often eschews as ‘soft’ — they aren’t, and people wanted to say so,” she tells LinkedIn.

How she gets her best ideas: “I take cues from questions and comments,” says Comstock, who regularly posts thoughtful replies to her followers. “I also read a ton and like to use articles and research as prompts.”

 

9. Sallie Krawcheck | CEO & Co-Founder of Ellevest

What she talks about: The leader of a robo-advisor tailored to women, Krawcheck writes about “investing, getting ahead at work, the macro issues,” she says. Her posts highlight related research findings, stories of female entrepreneurs and the week’s biggest issues in money.

Top conversation starter: At the beginning of the year, Krawcheck started a discussion about whether meritocracies really work. Over 40 members jumped in with thoughts on the value of prioritizing diversity and ideas for overcoming biases.

Most inspiring book of 2018: “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger” by Rebecca Traister.

 

10. Gary Vaynerchuk Chairman, VaynerX & CEO, VaynerMedia

What he talks about: Also known as “GaryVee,” the entrepreneur and social media personality covers everything from marketing issues, like building your personal brand, to workplace topics, like dealing with stress.

Top conversation starter: His video explaining what he believes is the best marketing strategy for 2019 got more than 1,500 people debating the pros and cons of investing in social media marketing.

What’s not on his LinkedIn profile: Vaynerchuk is originally known for being a wine critic who grew his family’s wine business from $3 million in annual revenue to $60 million.

 

11. Arne Sorenson | President & CEO, Marriott International

What he talks about: As the head of a global hospitality company, Sorenson shares highlights from his visits to Marriott’s properties around the world and also says he tries to use his posts to advocate for important issues, such as environmental sustainability and a safer workplace.

Favorite conversation starter: Last summer Sorenson published an article announcing Marriott’s pledge to eliminate plastic straws at its properties by 2019. To keep the discussion going, he asked members whether they had stopped using plastic straws yet. Nearly 400 weighed in and shared ideas for what can be done next.

Most interesting news story of 2018: “This was an incredible year for news in my home city, Washington, D.C., but I think the #MeToo movement was the story of the year,” Sorenson says. “So many brave women stood up, and the world listened.”

 

12. David Sable | Chairman, VMLY&R

What he talks about: Sable heads up one of the world’s leading marketing communications companies and writes about the industry’s biggest issues, from the ethics of data breachingto addressing echo chambers.

Favorite conversation starter: “Cut the cord, get tangled up in a thousand wires,” which fueled comments from others overwhelmed by the influx of content streaming options.

Most interesting news story of 2018: “The demise of Sears — because it is so instructive and few get it,” Sable tells LinkedIn. “No one ever called Sears a disruptor but their impact was at least as big… bigger than Amazon’s in its day. Amazon is following Sears by the playbook… will they end up the same?”

 

13. Gordon Orr | Board Member, Lenovo & Swire Pacific

What he talks about: Orr, having been responsible for establishing McKinsey’s practice in China and living there for more than two decades, writes about the opportunities and challenges of doing business in and with the country.

Favorite conversation starter: “[My] discussion on getting paid and paying tax in China,” he says. “So many people have very unusual ways of getting paid and clearly many of them don’t work.”

Favorite podcast: “The Trade Guys,” a podcast produced by a think tank in Washington, D.C., about the implications of trade issues on our day-to-day lives.

14. Whitney Johnson | CEO & Founder, WLJ Advisors

What she talks about: “At the most basic level, I research and write about using disruption as a framework for managing change,” says Johnson, a bestselling author, speaker and performance coach. She covers issue like what to do when you hire the wrong employee for the job and the importance of changing your environment.

Favorite conversation starter: Johnson wrote a post asking people to share a book that has changed how they think about the world and work. She kept the conversation going with nearly 1,000 commenters by following up and asking what they did differently after reading.

How she gets her best ideas: “I will have an experience that I want to make meaning of,” Johnson says. Once I have the idea, I’ll ask myself, ‘Is this something that I haven’t heard or thought about before?’ When I first started writing, a mentor shared a really good piece of advice: Will someone who doesn’t know you (and can only respond to the words on the page) respond? Great litmus test.”

 

15. Mary Barra | Chairman & CEO, General Motors

What she talks about: The head of a major global automaker, Barra is passionate about everything from the importance of STEM education and mentorship to General Motors’ vision of an all-electric future.

Favorite conversation starter: About a year ago, Barra published an article outlining the company’s commitment to a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion. “It’s still one I refer people to when they’re looking to understand our vision,” she says. “In an increasingly fast-paced, headline-driven media environment, we appreciate this format because it allows for a more thoughtful approach.”

Most interesting news story of 2018: “I read an intriguing opinion piece in The New York Times dispelling some of the myths about math. We often think we need innate ability to excel at math, but in reality, most of us simply need more practice,” Barra says. “This is especially relevant for girls, since research suggests boys and girls have an equal mathematical ability yet many girls hold a false belief they’re not as capable as boys in math. Practice can be the key to closing that confidence gap, which can have a profound effect on the future of engineering and innovation.”

16. Bernard Tyson

 | Chairman & CEO, Kaiser Permanente

What he talks about: Tyson shares about how providers can innovate and uncover new ways to increase the affordability and efficacy of health care today, often pulling from his own experience running a health care system that serves some 12 million people around the U.S. This includes weighing in on issues like metal health education and how guns are becoming a public health crisis.

Top conversation starter: Tyson’s article, “Climate change: An urgent threat to global health,” highlighted how the discussion around climate change overlooks the direct health implications, like spreading asthma and infectious diseases. Nearly 530 members weighed in on the issue.

Approaching health care holistically: “Kaiser Permanente is in the business of keeping people healthy, and we are the entry point into the health system for many of you,” Tyson says in a LinkedIn post. “But to keep you healthy outside of our hospitals, we need to look at the other factors that affect your health from your zip code and job to daily behaviors – it’s all part of the equation.”

 

17. Brené Brown | Research Professor, CEO & Author

What she talks about: Brown, a professor at the University of Houston and CEO of the Brené Brown Education and Research Group, culls from her research and experiences to share thoughtful insights on topics like perfectionism and regret.

Favorite conversation starter: She was pleased by the real conversation and engagement on her excerpt from her book “Dare to Lead” on how vulnerability is essential to becoming a great leader. “I even got an email from a friend in San Francisco telling me that his leader read the article, made copies for the 40 people on his team and did a ‘Lunch and Learn’ on the piece,” she says.

What’s not on her LinkedIn profile: “I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, I’m an introvert and I get really pissed when people drive slow in the passing lane,” she tells LinkedIn.

 

18. Sanyin Siang | CEO Coach, Professor & Author

What she talks about: “I draw on behavioral science principles and then focus on the human factors,” says Siang, an engineering professor at Duke and executive director of the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics. She tries to engage different perspectives in her video conversations and enjoys experimenting with different formats, such as travelogues.

Favorite conversation starter: “Any conversation in which the commenters share a bit of themselves,” Siang says. “The reader is the hero of every post.” An example: Her piece on why good leaders are also good teachers, which received nearly 400 thoughts and stories from members.

Most interesting new story of 2018: The general decline in trust in our public, private and social sector institutions, per the Pew Research Center studies, she says. “Yet, there is increased interdependency and complexity that requires greater trust among institutions and individuals to work together to create innovative and imaginative solutions. What does this mean for how we lead? How we work? And who the new stakeholders are?”

 

19. Winnie Byanyima | Executive Director, Oxfam International

What she talks about: Byanyima examines gender- and economic-related inequality issues globally — and with a deeply personal purpose. She was inspired by her parents and neighbors who “met every week under a tree in my mother’s garden to share and learn from each other how to lift themselves from poverty, keep their girls in school and resist the culture of early marriage,” Byanyima tells LinkedIn. “So, from childhood, I have known that poverty and women’s subordination are two sides of the same problem.”

Top conversation starter: Upsetting reports came out over the last year regarding sexual misconduct by Oxfam staff in Haiti. Byanyima took to LinkedIn to express her sorrow as well as the steps the organization is taking to ensure that doesn’t happen again. Members engaged directly with her, asking questions and weighing in with how they think such actions may create change. “Glad to see it’s being addressed — publicly — not hidden behind closed doors,” replied one member.

Building an economy that works for women: Byanyima was a founding member of the Gender Equality Advisory Council, where she helped outline a set of concrete solutions to start closing the economic gap many women face internationally.

 

20. Dan Schulma | President & CEO, PayPal

What he talks about: Schulman is focused on transforming the global financial services industry, and much of what he shares is about how PayPal and others are making this happen. He also digs into topics like how to create a sustainable workplace culture and what it takes to become a successful leader, sitting down in intimate interviews with people like Levi’s CEO Chip Bergh.

Top conversation starter: Schulman sat down with Wendy Kopp, co-founder of Teach for America and now CEO of Teach for All, to discuss everything from optimism in business to martial arts (Schulman is a daily practitioner). Members were inspired by the core message: “Such a great article for anyone interested in the connection between businesses doing well by doing good,” one commented.

Trend he’s watching in 2019: Schulman is focused on the next evolution in finance. He tells LinkedIn that he sees the industry evolving from “traditional notions of financial inclusion to the broader goal of universal financial health.” Companies will go beyond providing payment accounts to include the services, tools and

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