The Most Important LinkedIn Advice an Expert will Never Give You
LinkedIn’s algorithm is today’s equivalent of the Coca-Cola formula
Spoiler alert: this is not your conventional “How-To” LinkedIn guide
LinkedIn has become one of the most relevant online platforms. With more than 675 million members around the world, it is by far the most important professional networking site in the world. Created by Reid Hoffman in 2002, it was sold to Microsoft in 2016 for $26.2 billion, and it has only continued to grow since then.
LinkedIn epitomizes the ruthless war for attention that every person or company with an online presence participates in. Every post, every comment, every “like” contributes to the user’s begging for attention. Let’s face it: all content creators take part in this war, trying to lure in as many visitors as possible with all sorts of resources: flashy emojis, uppercase letters, sensationalist takes, “clickbaity” headlines (hell, look at the title of this article), etc. It may sound sad, but it is nothing but the truth. In this era of excessive amounts of information, attention is the most valuable currency.
Analyzing “Hardcore “LinkedIners”
LinkedIn has its own “culture” a “game within the game”. “Hardcore LinkedIners,” as I call them, study their audience, prepare their posts in advance, evaluate which photo, video, and/or link they should include, and wait for the perfect time to post, comment, or share.
How do I know all of this? Well, (sadly) because I have experienced it all myself. While I started my LinkedIn account out of curiosity, as a learning experience, I have become one of those Hardcore LinkedIners, and I often find myself writing down ideas for posts and planning them with a schedule, wondering what the best time to post is, and analyzing how many hashtags and mentions I should employ, falling too many times on paralysis by analysis.
As a LinkedIn nerd, I endlessly searched for the way to crack its algorithm. You know, the mathematical formula that decides which posts people see, which profiles are at the top when you search for certain words, and many other “keys for success” on the platform. Those who know the secrets of the algorithm use it to their advantage to get access to a wide set of opportunities and connections that enhance their career and boost their popularity.
While I haven’t quite managed to crack the algorithm (I believe very few people know 100% how to use it in a perfect manner), I am willing to share the lessons I have learned from using this platform way more than any sane person should, and from experiencing both ephemeral success and failure on it (both of them ephemeral). The more I use LinkedIn, the more I realize that trying to crack this formula is absolute nonsense. I hope these lessons teach us to forget about the algorithm for a while and to use LinkedIn in a more logical manner.
Let’s analyze two of my most recent posts, which represent this failure and success. “Post A” is the first one chronologically, and an example of failure by traditional LinkedIn standards. With “Post B”, in contrast, I achieved my record number of reactions, comments and views. It also landed me several profile views and network invitations.
Let’s jump into the posts’ hard, cold numbers, as well as a couple of details that might help us explain why they performed so differently: the day and time of posting, and the time they took to “light the fuse” (get the first reactions that lead to consecutive reactions). Posts were written in Spanish, and since LinkedIn’s automatic translations are somewhat sloppy, I am providing additional background information for each of the posts.
Context: in order to raise money for the fight against COVID-19, two of the most popular sports radio shows in Spain decided to forget about their rivalry and make a joint show inviting top-tier Spanish athletes. My profile and network are very sports and media-oriented, so I saw this as a great initiative that would spark interest among my network. Boy was I wrong…
- 8 reactions
- 0 comments
- 659 views
- It did include a link to an external website
- Posted on a Monday afternoon
- It took several minutes to get the first reaction
Context: on this post, I expressed my disapproval of a new word that many experts and media in Spain are using to describe the evolution of the coronavirus crisis. “De-escalation” is the word. Rather than using already existing synonyms in the Spanish language, some are using a literal translation from English that the Real Academia Española, the official institution regulating Spanish, does not accept.
In the screenshots, I pointed out how the media were constantly using it, and how the official online Spanish dictionary couldn’t find the word. I also begged people to stop using that term. I did not have particularly high expectations for this post, but boy was I wrong again…
Here are the numbers:
- 145 reactions
- 33 comments
- 13,845 views (yes, more than 13,000 people saw my post). This is still insane to me.
- It did not include a link to an external site
- Posted on a Sunday morning
- Lit the fuse almost instantaneously
Reminder (once again): this is not advice from an expert, nor is it scientifically proven. These are just observations from the perspective of an experienced user.
This being said, here are the three key factors that influence your post or profile’s popularity, the three main lessons I have learned with these two posts and what made them perform so differently:
- Content quality
- The “network effect”
Let’s break them down.
*Warning: controversial statement incoming*
Content quality is, in some ways, the least important factor of the three, because it is highly subjective. While outstanding content might, in a logical way, jump out to more people, not everyone has the same standards for what “good content” is and what they consider worth sharing. I am frequently in awe of how basic and “dummy-oriented” some posts that go absolutely viral are, and how many high-quality posts go pretty much unnoticed.
I still believe that A provided more value to my network than B did, given my sports-oriented profile. In addition to talking about an unusual initative, it also had a very positive tone in the context of a huge crisis. This usually makes content very shareable.
It is clear that I was wrong. I had way higher expectations for A than I did for B, and the results of both posts proved me wrong. Again, the key feature of content quality: subjectivity.
Within “quality”, I am encompassing all of those little LinkedIn tricks they say affect your popularity. I might have posted Post A with the wrong hashtags, photo, or mentions. Also, including external links to content outside of LinkedIn on your posts is said to hurt your positioning. Could these be the reasons why Post A performed so poorly and Post B went crazy? Maybe. But I still think it’s the least important factor. The next two factors hold the key.
The “network effect”
This is the core principle behind any social network and any piece of content. It is the phenomenon behind virality. The network effect, in very simple terms, is the exposure achieved through sharing. The more people share your content, the more people will see it and probably interact with it.
With B, I was lucky that someone with a very strong LinkedIn profile and an extensive network, shared my post just seconds after I did. This was clearly the spark that allowed B to become popular in a short time.
Do you remember my profile’s emphasis on sports? Well, that doesn’t make any difference if someone with a profile this strong shares my post, as his network is very different from mine, and for the most part, it will be his connections — and not mine — who ultimately react to my post.
The network effect explains why people rarely interact with posts that have just a few Likes, Recommendations or comments. We have a tendency to share content that is already popular, because we don’t want to be the weird ones sharing content with “bad numbers”.
Luck is the only factor I am writing in bold letters, because I still believe it is the most important one.
I am a believer that luck is for those who seek it. You work hard, you put in the time and effort, you get lucky. This is also true on LinkedIn: the more time and effort you spend on it, the higher your chance of growing your profile and influence. However, it is also true that pure randomness plays a role in all of this.
After Post B got somewhat popular, a colleague told me that I was “very good at LinkedIn”. I couldn’t help but feel embarassed to tell him that all that glitters is not gold, and that I had deleted (and still do) numerous posts because they just “hadn’t caught fire”, as I often say, meaning they hadn’t been popular on the early stages after posting, which is the key phase for any piece of content.
In B’s case, how did I manage to drastically reduce the time it took for it to catch fire and to be shared by a colleague and this “elite” LinkedIn profile? I didn’t call them, I didn’t tell them, I didn’t ask them to share it. It was pure luck that they were using LinkedIn and they saw my post in that exact moment among the relentless waterfall of content that floods us every time we log in to any social media website.
Keeping in mind that it is important to take care of your profile and your posts (without getting obsessed with it), and once I have insisted that numbers don’t lie but they are nothing more than just that, numbers, and that luck also plays a huge role, I want to anticipate what you might hear from experts, and the advice I would give you instead.
What a LinkedIn expert will tell you
- Your maximum priority is to optimize your LinkedIn profile. Make sure it is as close to perfect as possible, constantly work to update it and make it stand out.
- Create a calendar to plan your posts, and make sure they add value to your audience.
- Before posting, make sure you have included the right hashtags, mentioned the right people / companies. Think twice before posting because every post has a large impact on your profile.
- Constantly edit or delete posts that don’t “catch fire” quickly. Scarce interaction will negatively affect your LinkedIn positioning.
What I think you should to instead
Like I said, I am no LinkedIn expert, but rather a LinkedIn user with his feet on the ground and some lessons learned after the mentioned failure and success. That is why I think these tips, coming from a healthier, more “human”, and more realist perspective, can be useful for you.
- Optimizing your LinkedIn profile is certainly important, but you should rather use it as a learning tool, a “career passive income” source. Don’t get obsessive, complete your profile step by step, with no rush. Make your profile work for you, and not the other way round.
- Just try to post regularly, but only if you feel something is interesting. “Adding value” is the main mantra everyone tries to follow on LinkedIn, and that’s great, but the concept of “value” is highly subjective, just like content quality. Remember, I still believe A adds more value and has a “higher quality” than B, and you already saw what happened…
- (Within certain limits) post, post, post. Don’t hesitate, the perfect moment to post is NOW. The more you post and see how your audience reacts to your content, the better you will become at crafting and framing it. This doesn’t mean you should post all the time and talk about every topic, but avoid paralysis by analysis at all costs and let reaction to action be your mode of operation.
- Let it fly. If a post doesn’t catch fire, move on to the next one. Editing a hashtag or an emoji after posting rarely changes anything, and if you delete your post, you will never know how it could have evolved. Look at it as a relief because you won’t be paying as much attention to comments or people interacting with your post.
Just like in any other aspect of life, there is always going to be someone with who has a bigger yard than yours: a better profile, much more popularity and a deeper knowledge of the famous algorithm. To a certain extent, just forget about the holy algorithm. Rather, just celebrate your “success” (Post B) with perspective, as a small victory, and use your “failure” (Post A) to learn and get better.
I hope this article will help you better understand, and more importantly, utilize this great platform in which, being honest, there is also a ton of confusion and B.S.
If you would like to know more about this topic, or you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments, and don’t hesitate to get in touch through our dear LinkedIn 😉.