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Flexa: B2B organic & LinkedIn influencing their way to 1 million users
LinkedIn has changed over the last few years, but what does all that posting lead to? And is it actually good for business.
Before covid, the phrase 'LinkedIn influencer' might have made you think of @BestofLinkedIn. But even this meme account, which was dedicated to the most inane posts from LinkedIn, shut its doors in 2022.
Today, LinkedIn has changed. It's broken through the ranks and become a regular part of more people's lives. It's what one of my interviewees for today's posts calls the "Facebookification of LinkedIn."
I've been fascinated by its ascendency. Many people use it now as a place to grow their personal brand. But the bigger question for me is how much does it actually translate into metrics that matter.
Given that I'm a performance marketer by background, vanity metrics have never meant anything to me. So do all these likes, comments, shares, and impressions actually translate to something?
And if they do, can this become a growth engine for a business?
A growth engine must be three things: scalable, repeatable, and sustainable.
For consumer brands, organic social is not a growth engine. But what about B2B?
For this weeks' post, I interviewed Molly Johnson-Jones and Maurice O'Brien, the two co-founders of Flexa, the employer brand platform focused on flexible working. The chances are over the last three years, you'll probably have seen one of Molly's posts in your feed.
This is the story of Flexa use B2B organic as a core part of their growth.
I want to say a huge thank you to Molly, and Maurice for their time, as well as Beth Carter, Flexa's head of growth, for setting this interview up.
How to grow to 1m users with organic B2B
Let's start off with where Flexa are today. They've got over one million users and are growing by 100,000 users per month.
And how much does LinkedIn have an effect?
"We know when someone comes into our funnel, they will have seen a post from Flexa, they'll have seen a post from me, and then I've seen some form of B2B or DTC paid advertising," says Molly.
Molly's posts are the ones that I frequently see in my feed. Molly started Flexa after she was sacked from her investment banking job for requesting flexibility. The reason she wanted that? She has an autoimmune disease, which left her needing more flexibility at work.
Flexa began life as a jobs board, and the Flexa founders had LinkedIn on the shortlist to experiment with.
"We had a hypothesis that LinkedIn would be important but not as big as it was," says Maurice. In fact, "the first person who said 'you need to lean heavily into Molly's story' as an engine for growth, was one of our angel investors."
This was a few years ago, back when LinkedIn was predominantly the network for recruiters and those in HR. But, Molly points out, that was a good thing.
Going to where your customers are is good marketing sense. Making sure you stand out is better. And making sure that your messaging lands and resonates is what we all aim for.
A few years ago the platform was "heavily used by recruitment talent, HR people, it was their social network," says Molly.
"Our hypothesis was that people like other people's stories they can relate to. And they also like a bit of a shock factor." Maurice adds, "there has to be a human connection because it's so hard to stand out in the market we were going into."
Around this time Molly had just a few thousand followers. She would share LinkedIn posts, then ask friends in WhatsApp groups to go and like them, knowing that would be good for the algorithm.
The early signs of product-channel fit
A few months later, and things seemed to be taking off.
"I remember a point a year and a half in, we were at some event and people were randomly coming up to Molly being like, 'you're Molly Johnson-Jones'" Maurice tells me.
"Yeah, that was really weird."
As Molly's LinkedIn started to gain traction, and some virality, they realised how important it would be for the brand.
Extending the acquisition strategy
Today, Flexa use a combination of organic B2B as well as paid ads on LinkedIn for their B2B customers. They also target DTC via other ads.
Clearly it's been core to growth so far, but I wanted to understand what that looked like numerically and if they thought it could go to venture-scale.
"There's no reason the strategy would change, I think it just gets a bit more targeted – as it has done over the last three years," says Molly.
"If we look at where we were last year, we were gaining 30,000 new users a month. Now, with the same budget, same posting, we're getting 100,000 new users.”
To me, that looks clear that there's scalability, repeatability, and sustainability, the three signs of a growth engine.
“Next year, we need to get to 300,000” Molly continues.
There's also viral loops within the content itself. When Flexa post about companies that that are doing things flexibly, those posts do well, more people see them, and then more companies and users join those companies. Repeating a content flywheel.
But what about a ceiling there. "One limitation on organic that will come is when we have 10,000 companies – how do you give them all the attention that they want?" Molly tells me. While Maurice adds, "the next stage is trying to replicate the fast growth in the UK and expand geographies."
How did they get this so right?
“I’ve been posting three times a week, every week, for three years."
Just posting on LinkedIn isn't enough. I was keen to understand what they've learnt about the algorithm, what they think is replicable, and what's changed.
The bare necessities of LinkedIn
If there was one word that stuck out it was consistency. "I've just consistently doing it for the last three and a bit years," says Molly. "[Consistency] is the most important part of it. And I know everybody says it, but genuine consistency. At least three times a week, every week, for three years."
It reminds me of producing a podcast or newsletter, knowing most die out after the first few episodes. Producing this level of content is a lot of work.
Getting the content right, of course, is important too. They've experimented with the personal and professional, the B2B and the DTC. They admit they've gone too far in one direction on occasion, but now the balance is the vital thing to get right and has been the big focus this year.
"We've also got a lot more credibility now and a bigger platform. We can post stuff now which challenges the status quo and is probably a bit bolder," says Molly. "But when we started out, it's quite hard to be taken seriously if you just come out with controversial opinions."
How their goals have changed
"Before it was just posting to gain awareness or followers. Now we're posting to be seen as thought leaders. Ultimately, we're posting so eventually they convert, which makes it more strategic and commercial."
"In some ways it's easier to grow a following today, as people are more used to consuming stories and personal content and selfies and everything"
"But also, just having followers is a vanity metric. And there's a crucial distinction between that and actually being able to get something from them."
Today on LinkedIn
As with any new platforms, opportunity is available to those who take early advantage of it. Right-hand side ads on Facebook in those early days were like printing money, and LinkedIn a few years was a less saturated place.
"There is more noise now. I think it's actually more difficult to stand out. And I think if, if you were starting now, it would be a lot harder. I've had three years to work out what works and what doesn't work, um, at a time when it was less noisy," reflects Molly.
"So I do think that's definitely been an advantage to us. There's still ways to stand out, but today, it's becoming a lot more of a classic social media platform rather than professional."
And with that, I look forward to the discussion of this emerging... on LinkedIn.
My top 5 takeaways for growing on LinkedIn
Three posts per week, every week. Consistency, consistency, consistency
Ignore the vanity metrics. If you can't convert the audience it doesn't mean anything
Mix your content: be personal and professional, and don’t just do too much of one thing.
Don't be controversial just for the sake of it: this reflects advertising at large: you can’t clickbait your way to customers hearts.
Scale is possible: my three signs for a growth engine seem to be met with this story. Going from 30,000 users/month to 100,000/month over a year with the same effort and cost shows scale.