A Highly Automated LinkedIn Cautionary Tale


 

I have a lot of clients who are always looking for email addresses and phone numbers for prospects, especially the prospects they find on LinkedIn. As such, when I see or hear of tools that say they can gather this type of info, I will usually check them out, as I will get asked about them sooner or later. Often they don’t live up to the hype. 

A couple months ago I attended a webinar / online demo for one such company. They’re hot, getting a lot of buzz and claim to be the first to use AI for real time results. 

The first screen they showed was one with all their high profile customers. Among them were LinkedIn and Microsoft. Well, that’s reassuring. 

Part way through the demo, the presenter showed how this tool integrates via a chrome extension with LinkedIn. How it appeared to work was you set up a search on LinkedIn and then  the tool took over. It went out on the web looking for emails and phone numbers for the people found in the search and overlaid them on the LinkedIn results screen. All very well done, good looking and all around cool. 

At this point another webinar attendee asked whether this tool was approved by LinkedIn. The presenter did not reply directly but pointed out that LinkedIn was a customer. 

Except…

It didn’t seem like something LinkedIn would be happy with them doing. Among other things, LinkedIn doesn’t like tools or chrome extensions that:

  • Take control of your LinkedIn account
  • Scrape data from LinkedIn
  • Change the appearance of a LinkedIn screen

…and this tool appeared to be doing all three. Oh, not in a major way, but it still appeared to be doing it. 

So I opened up Sales Navigator – with the presenter still droning away in another window – and contacted LinkedIn tech support. Got a very chill dude in the tech support department and asked him flat out, “I am watching a  demo right now for a software tool called <redacted name> They claim it is okay for use with LinkedIn, but I am not so sure. Can you confirm that for me?” I had to wait a few minutes for him to look it up, but he did confirm it for me. That is he confirmed LinkedIn was pursuing all avenues in going after this company and preventing them from using their tools on LinkedIn. And that anyone using that tool on LinkedIn could be doing irreparable harm to their LinkedIn account. LinkedIn appears to have no problem tossing people that don’t follow the user agreement. Because – and this is my spin on it – LinkedIn signs up two new members every second, so terminating your account or mine won’t even count as a rounding error. 

I never did finish watching the demo.

So today’s lesson is one I have been saying for a while now: don’t use automated tools that integrate with LinkedIn. And courtesy of my little adventure today I can expand on that a bit: “…even if they say that LinkedIn allows them to.” 

Why do you think I put all these funny disclaimers all over my website, on my newsletters and on my LinkedIn profile saying I am not affiliated with or endorsed by LinkedIn. I want my prospects, my customers, my readers and especially LinkedIn to know I am not claiming any special endorsement or relationship with them.

These automation companies may make the claim that LinkedIn won’t come after you, but you are taking the risk, not them. Act accordingly.

The obligatory disclaimer:

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.

 

What Your LinkedIn Company Page Says About You

You can infer a lot from how a company presents themselves on LinkedIn via their Company Page.
There are five “classes” of company pages, and which class you are in sends the perceptive LinkedIn user signals about your company.
Steerage class: no LinkedIn company page at all
A company with no company page presence on LinkedIn is one that doesn’t understand what LinkedIn is, and quite frankly, doesn’t care. Even a static company page only takes twenty minutes to set up (including photos and logos) and constitutes free advertising.
What conclusion would you draw about someone who doesn’t care about free advertising?
Tourist class: skeleton LinkedIn company page
Companies with skeleton pages also don’t “get” LinkedIn. These companies provide the boilerplate information LinkedIn asks for – a description of what the company does, where it is, what industry it is in, how many employees – and that’s it. Boring and old school, these types of pages look pathetic next to peers that are using  LinkedIn company pages to actively market their products and services.
Middle class: good looking page, but static and still boring
These pages look sharp, but never change. In other words, the company doesn’t use status updates. These types of pages are usually a sign that the company in question has low or no staff devoted to marketing, sales support, or inside sales.
When I am working with my customers and we see they are competing against companies with pages like those above, I start getting excited.
Second class: good looking pages with posts
This is the level where LinkedIn company pages can start to have a positive effect for a company. However, many of these second class companies make the classic mistake of using status updates as naked sales come-ons such as specials and limited time offers. These companies are so close to having it all, but their aim is way off. Blanket sales pitches are hilariously ineffective, as LinkedIn users will come back to the company page a couple times, see that it is just an advertising channel, and don’t come back again.
First class: good looking pages with regular posts that provide value
This is where a company is firing on all cylinders. The company publishes regular status updates that provide value to their prospective customers. Their followers see this and keep coming back for more. The company becomes a resource to the prospect.  When the prospect is in the market for the company’s products or services, the first class company is a natural to be invited to participate. Note that by this time though, the first class company will have likely offered an ebook or a success story or a webinar, will already have the prospect’s email address, and will likely already know the prospect and be well positioned to compete for their business.
So, be first class. It takes work, yes, but not as much as you would think, and the rewards are more than worth the effort. And sure beats competing on price like the lower classes.

The First Hour After You Publish On LinkedIn Is (Maybe) Critical

It’s an accepted best practice that getting engagement for your post in the first sixty minutes is important. But is it critical? I am beginning to wonder.

When we hit publish, LinkedIn takes our content and presents it in the feeds of a small group of our connections. It is generally accepted that the figure is five to ten percent of your connections. Typically it gets put in front of people that you share a high “Connection Strength Score” with. Simply put, these are people who you have directly interacted with lately on LinkedIn. So, in theory, LinkedIn is putting your content in front of a crowd that should be favorably disposed to engage with it.

What happens in the next sixty minutes is important. LinkedIn looks at the engagement your content generates. They don’t explain what that means, but it is widely thought to include likes/reactions, comments and shares, and that comments are weighted more heavily than the other two. If you get a lot of engagement in that first hour, LinkedIn expands the circle of people that are presented with your post in their feed. If that second “wave” gets good engagement, LinkedIn sends out more and more in further waves until the engagement waves “crest” and slow down.

Let’s dissect this a bit more because I want you to understand what’s happening here and what isn’t:

  • If you thought everyone you are connected with was seeing your content or having your content put in their homepage feeds, you’re sadly mistaken.
  • LinkedIn acknowledges their role in boosting posts, especially during the first hour, and further boosting if your engagement is good.
  • But everything else is guesswork. While it is generally accepted that Likes, comments and shares constitute engagement, LinkedIn does not define what engagement is in the context of their intent to further distribute content. And note that LinkedIn also does not define or explain what “further distribution” is – how much further? Another five to ten percent? A lower number like three to five percent? How about a larger number as your high engagement is a sign of a successful post? LinkedIn doesn’t say.

The bottom line is LinkedIn has a big hand in you going viral, or at least achieving widespread distribution on LinkedIn. But…a big hand doesn’t mean the only hand. Does a mediocre first hour doom your post to obscurity? I am beginning to wonder.

Let me illustrate why with one of my own posts. On July 14 I wrote and published a quick post about a company follower hack. In a nutshell, the only way LinkedIn presents followers to company page admins is chronologically, with the latest ones on top. So I suggested that if you were following a company you could un-follow it, removing yourself from the middle of the pile, and then follow it again putting yourself on the top of the pile. Just a simple way to take advantage of the way LinkedIn had set up company page followers.

So I published this post at 7:30am which is when I usually post. Around 8:30am I checked back in and these were my statistics so far:

Views – 104

Likes – 1

Comments – 0

Shares – 0

New profile views* – 0

New followers* – 0

(* As posts drive profile views and new followers, I have always considered new profile views and new followers to be a part of my engagement, purely because I can identify the individuals who view or follow me and contact them if I choose to.)

Well, I thought, looks like this one is headed for the scrap heap. LinkedIn had likely put my post in front of four or five hundred people, and was certainly not going to reward a hundred views and 1 like.

But then an odd thing happened. During the course of the day I kept getting notifications about people liking, commenting and sharing the post. And the commenting was lively – I had two different people who said I was incorrect and a third person questioned whether what I was suggesting was ethical. All three of these people wound up drawing more and more people to the post, as every time they argued their case, LinkedIn’s algos automatically alerted more and more people to my post.

A week later, and that same post that looked like it was headed for the scrap heap had the following statistics:

Views – 14,200

Likes – 208

Comments – 57

Re-shares – 10

New followers – 40

New profile views – 80

Oh…and three direct inquiries from people interested in talking to me about my services.

Well that sure turned out differently from what I thought was going to happen. I didn’t get a boost from LinkedIn, so where did I get it? I am thinking that it was two things: the comments and the re-shares. While there were only ten re-shares, eight of them were from second level connections, exposing my post to people who had never seen my content before. And the three people that started lively side conversations wound up unwittingly promoting the post.

So what did I learn from this? First, that while important, a lousy first hour doesn’t mean your post is toast. Second, being original starts conversations and perhaps generates more re-shares. And third, those conversations appear to drive more views and more engagement.

I have been writing and publishing for a few years now on LinkedIn, but it never gets old. I am constantly being taken by surprise and learning something new.

The obligatory disclaimer:

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.