Can You Go Viral On LinkedIn?  

It is pretty unlikely. Here’s why.

Definition: for the purposes of this discussion, I consider a “viral” post or article to be one that gets an unexpectedly large number of views, particularly with respect to what that an author has been used to receiving. Viral for you or me might be a thousand views, or ten thousand views, while Bill Gates could probably post his grocery list and do better than that.

There are good practices that will improve readership and engagement. These include:

  • Posting on a regular basis
  • A topic people are interested in
  • A good headline that draws people in
  • A photo or illustration that is interesting or unique
  • Cross promotion with other authors (but beware of Pods. More on this topic another time)
  • Having a lot of connections
  • Building a regular following
  • Getting involved in the comments and discussion an article generates

There are more, but these are some of the things you can do that will have a positive effect on your posts. But none of them is going to make you go viral. 

So what does? Things you can’t control.

  • Your post (unexpectedly) strikes a chord with a lot of people

I call this the “Johnston Posting Uncertainty Principle.” The JPUP states that you will never know how a post will be received. I have posts I have written quickly, on topics that I thought were pretty vanilla, and they do well. And then a couple of weeks later I do some real research into the way LinkedIn works, ideas that will have an impact on the way people think about using LinkedIn, publish my findings, and….nothing.

It does help if the post in question is about something that has broad appeal. Leadership and management related posts on LinkedIn will always have broader appeal than a post on Befunge (which is an obscure programming language with a funny name). 

  • LinkedIn promoting your post.

You can prompt (ie: grovel with) LinkedIn to promote your post, but there are no guarantees they will. In four plus years of posting on LinkedIn, I have written around several hundred posts and several hundred articles and I think I have been picked up and actively promoted by LinkedIn twice. Two out of six hundred are crappy odds.

Note that even having these additional factors to your advantage still doesn’t guarantee viral-litude. Here’s a real life example from LinkedIn Influencer Jeff Haden. One week his post gets 512,000 views. His next post gets 546,000 views. His post the following week? 23,000 (kind of antiviral). What do you think Jeff’s expectations were for his post the third week? I don’t know, but I am guessing that it wasn’t a 95% lower view count.   

The bottom line is that even following good writing and posting practices on LinkedIn, and even with a popular post topic and being picked up by LinkedIn, luck seems to be the single biggest factor.

So if you see someone writing a post on how to go viral on LinkedIn, read it with a certain amount of healthy skepticism. Go look at that person’s recent activity page on their profile and look at their posts. There may be a legitimately viral post there that got 500,000 views. Of course if they have cracked the code, all their posts after that first viral one are also getting 500,000 views or more, right?

But I think the whole idea of going viral loses sight of the bigger picture. I would rather have a post with a low number of views and really good engagement than one with a lot of views and no comments. Engagement can lead to connecting, and connecting can lead to networking, and networking can lead to business opportunities. I am not sure what views lead to as there is no way to find out who my specific viewers were.

Enjoy your posts that do well in terms of views, everyone likes the ego boost. But views are like a company’s sales, and engagement is like a company’s profits. Would you rather have really good sales, or really good profits?