Just How Big Is LinkedIn As A Social Network?

Author’s note: file this one under, “this isn’t going to make me very popular.”

Answer: not very. 

I have long posited that LinkedIn is a big database with a tiny social network embedded in it. 

And now I have some tangible figures to go by, courtesy of all people, the folks at LinkedIn. 

First, some background. 

LinkedIn has always been circumspect (coy? opaque?) with respect to how often users visit LinkedIn. Before LinkedIn was purchased by Microsoft a few years ago, LinkedIn used to include a figure in their quarterly results for how many users logged in at least once a month. Back in those days it was around forty percent. Occasionally, someone would come up with “new” numbers – always wonderful fabulous numbers – which did not stand up to scrutiny (and I have scrutinized many of them).  

LinkedIn has never published weekly or daily user numbers. Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say that LinkedIn’s daily user number is big, like really huge. If you were LinkedIn, would you keep it a secret? No, you would be shouting from the rooftops. In the absence of said shouting, I suspect that the number is pretty small, and LinkedIn would rather people don’t talk about it. 

But this past summer I was able to pull back the curtain and see for myself. Not everything, but some hard data and some clues. 

What happened was, I ran a LinkedIn ad for a client. When I finished setting up the target market for the ad, it was 82,000 people in size. The way the ad worked, when someone in our target market logged on to LinkedIn, they were shown (or more accurately, had a chance to see) our ad. The ad ran for a month. 

When I tabulated the results at the end of the month, 11,553 unique recipients had seen the ad a total of 38,571 times. 

Let’s translate that out of advertising-speak and into plain English: Over the course of a month, 11,553 out of 82,000 had logged on to LinkedIn. That’s 14% or much worse than the monthly user number was a few years ago. My thinking is this can be explained by the fact that we only showed the ad to engineers, and they must not show up as often as say, HR or sales people do. 

And those 11,553 people saw the ad an average of three and a half times each. So there are people coming by more often than once a month, but not a lot. If two thousand of them logged in every day or 20 times a month, that would make 40,000 ad views, but there were only 38,571. The type of distribution that would make this work is 1,000 daily users (20,000 views of the ad), 2,500 weekly users (10,000 views) and 8000 monthly users (8,000 views) for a total of 38,000 views. That would leave the following usage numbers for the engineers in our ad group:

Daily users: 1.25%

Weekly users: 3.13%

Monthly users: around 10%

These are interesting figures, and if close to the mark, would explain why LinkedIn remains mum, even if engineers are much less regular users. 

So what does all this mean? Just this: unless they are power users of LinkedIn like sales, marketing, solo practitioners, consultants or HR people, only a fraction, and a small one at that, of your target audience will  be around on LinkedIn today, or this week for that matter. 

Does this mean you shouldn’t be using LinkedIn? Of course not. But it does mean that you should be checking how your target audience uses LinkedIn, and there are a few ways you can do so. The clues I look for are completed profiles, lots of connections and followers (at least a thousand), and most of all LinkedIn activity. You can see someone’s recent activity on their profile, and see what they have posted, commented on, and liked. Taken together you can judge whether someone sees value in LinkedIn and how much they participate. 

In the case of my client, we discovered that only a very small percentage of their prospects were truly active on LinkedIn, so we now use a strategy that is less social and more credibility based, posting daily  instructional and educational content on their company page. This presents a body of content that their occasional LinkedIn user prospects can find. 

While people like to call LinkedIn the “professional social network” the facts point to it not being one for most LinkedIn members. 

Are you knocking on doors when there is nobody home?

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Obligatory boilerplate: I do not work for or have any association with LinkedIn, other than being a user who pays them for his Sales Navigator subscription every month.