In the fall, LinkedIn was preparing to launch its accelerator program, an incubator-style initiative that provides creators with a $15,000 grant for weekly posting requirements. González, who’s known for giving personal finance advice as The First Gen Mentor on TikTok, saw it as an opportunity to expand the topics she discusses as a woman of color in corporate America.
“It's something that I've tried to also implement in my TikTok account, but it doesn't get as much engagement as my money content,” she said about the career advice she offers. “So I'm like, ‘OK, great. Now I can finally have an outlet for that career advice I've been wanting to give along this whole time.’”
But LinkedIn’s program doesn’t only offer money. González has help, too: She meets with a mentor from LinkedIn on a monthly basis to brainstorm new posts, which helps her understand what content performs well and what doesn’t. “[My mentor] has a front-row seat to the work that I'm doing,” she said. “She's only helping me be a better creator by giving me that feedback.”
Companies have been using money to incentivize creators on their platforms, offering everything from a dedicated creator fund to ad revenue. And though that’s good and obviously helpful in some ways, many creators say that they have little knowledge on how to actually be a creator; maximizing engagement, working with brands and reaching new audiences are all skills that many people have to learn on their own. LinkedIn’s approach adds an extra coaching layer, and according to people in the program, that extra support is a game changer.
LinkedIn has been expanding programming for creators for a decade. In 2012, the platform launched its influencer program, which let hand-picked creators like Bill Gates and Richard Branson write about trending topics. In March 2021, LinkedIn introduced Creator Mode, which changes the “connect” button to “follow,” which helps people build an audience. And most recently, the platform launched a podcast network for a select group of people.
The accelerator program, which is part of LinkedIn’s larger $25 million investment in creators, started with 100 hand-picked people in the U.S. and is now expanding to India. Andrei Santalo, LinkedIn’s global head of Community and Creators, was hired in May 2021 to spearhead the influencer program; his team has grown to more than 50 creator managers over the past few months.
Santalo said the idea behind the program is to first use coaching to help creators learn about different mediums — video, written posts, audio — and provide the grant money as a cushion. “You can't just build tools for creators and put them out there and hope they use them,” Santalo said. “There's so much competition; there's so many places to create and consume.”
For every seven creators, there’s one manager who holds weekly or biweekly calls to discuss content, Santalo said. In addition to mentorship, program participants can tune in to weekly chats about things such as audio best practices and managing finances. Creators can also participate in “Cappy hours” (a play on CAP, the abbreviation for Creator Accelerator Program), where participants can network with each another and hang out.
But Gigi Robinson, who uses her platform to discuss mental health and growing up as part of Gen Z, said the accelerator program is really only helping people who are already well-established on social media. LinkedIn’s first batch of accelerator program members include popular TikTokers, professional speakers and video game experts.
Giovanna González is a creator on LinkedIn; Andrei Santalo is LinkedIn’s global head of Community and Creators.Photos: Giovanna González and Andrei Santalo
“Why is there a select handful of 100 people on LinkedIn who were already established creators?” she said. “How is elevating their platform and paying them going to elevate voices when they can work with smaller creators who are trying to spread their message who aren't as well-established?”
At the moment, Robinson doesn’t make money on the platform. But she does work with a creator manager as part of a partnership with LinkedIn’s Community Management team, which helps her optimize engagement on LinkedIn; she uses what she learns to improve posts on Instagram and TikTok as well. She’s used the platform to better establish herself as a professional on social media and connect with companies she wants to work with. For example, she connected with and tagged Sports Illustrated in a post several months ago, which led to a photo shoot in the Dominican Republic with the publication.
But outside of making connections with potential brands, she hopes LinkedIn will add in-house monetization tools similar to what Instagram and TikTok offer for a larger group of creators. “Hopefully, in the future, we see a little bit more of a disbursement of funds,” she said.
Phil Gerbyshak, a sales trainer who specializes in LinkedIn, agreed that LinkedIn could benefit from integrating a monetization tool directly on the platform that could function similarly to Stripe. Aside from making money, Gerbyshak said creating a direct line of communication between creators and the platform they work for is “extremely helpful,” and LinkedIn should continue adding coaches to support a larger group of creators.
He added that the accelerator program is a step up from its influencer program in 2012, which only involved more famous figures. “This program by LinkedIn is an opportunity to showcase a more diverse group of creators,” he told Protocol.
LinkedIn’s paid mentorship program and features like Creator Mode are still in their early stages. Santalo said the accelerator program is slowly growing and will be rolled out to several other countries in the coming months. He also said that the resources offered to those in the program will expand to more users. “[We’ll] continue to expand the heart of the program, which really is coaching, incubator style.”