LinkedIn is taking a note from its competitor social networks and giving users the ability to follow people who fall outside their own network. You can now follow 150 influential users on LinkedIn for the latest updates as well as their professional insights.

A few big names include Richard Branson and Caterina Fake, as well as President Barak Obama and Mitt Romney. You can find the complete list of influencers here.

The new feature is essentially a content partnership between thought leaders and the professional social network. By following these influencers, you’ll be gaining exclusive insights about their thoughts and activities through your LinkedIn newsfeed as they publish original content like videos, photos, and Slideshare presentations. LinkedIn has already prepared a schedule of topics that will be addressed in blog posts from its influencers:

Over time, LinkedIn reveals, more influencers will be accepted into this exclusive circle. To try your hand at applying for a spot in the program, you can submit a pitch on the topic that you’d discuss, accompanied by your professional credentials. To give you a better picture about what types of people LinkedIn is looking for, Head of Content Products for the company, Ryan Roslansky, briefly explains the idea candidate in a blog post: “We’ll take a look at both universally-recognized thought leaders across LinkedIn and also industry-specific movers and shakers.”

With Twitter out of the picture after the company ended its content partnership with LinkedIn, which fed Tweets to LinkedIn, there was a void to be filled. This is a much  more organic approach at creating content, and one that has the added value of giving users a degree of professional access to some of the biggest names in the professional world. 

The partnership doesn’t only give LinkedIn’s users new content, but also could act like a motivator for users to start sharing more. At the moment, LinkedIn’s small box for sharing updates doesn’t quite provide an encouraging user interface for publishing long form content, and has likely seen better days since the Twitter integration ended. With this in mind, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a new feature update that should promote regular LinkedIn user to publish blog post type content.

The strategy for incentivizing users to leverage LinkedIn as a content publishing platform is a predictable in a bid (and one that we had reported on earlier when LinkedIn unveiled its redesigned site)  to compete for advertising dollars against Facebook , Twitter, and Google Plus. If it can boost engagement rate and time spent on site, that simply means more revenue for the platform.