Connect on LinkedIn…Or Follow?

“Dude, you look familiar. Aren’t we connected on LinkedIn?”​ (photo courtesy Mark Johnston)

“Dude, you look familiar. Aren’t we connected on LinkedIn?” (photo courtesy Mark Johnston)

LinkedIn seems to be pushing the idea of following as an alternative to connecting lately. It seems like we may be headed for a “third era” of connecting on LinkedIn. But to understand what this may mean, here is the abridged Bruce Johnston history of connecting on LinkedIn:

The early days of Connecting on LinkedIn (pre – 2018)

In the early days, say up until around 2016 or 2017, the mantra on LinkedIn was to “only connect with people you know well and that in turn know you well.” There was lots of talk about having tight, close networks of “trusted connections.” People would cite the Dunbar Number as proof that connection networks were impossible to maintain over a certain level.

Oddly, in the middle of all this talk about close knit networks and only connecting with people you know well, LinkedIn had an upper limit of 30,000 connections on any one individual’s network.

The permissive era of Connecting on LinkedIn (2018-2021)

Sometime around three years ago, a trend emerged where people started connecting more easily, and the trend has accelerated into this year. Whereas in the “old” days people tended to establish a relationship or at least trade messages before connecting, over the past three years LinkedIn users have just started sending connection requests to anyone who looked interesting. And to a large extent, those requests have been readily accepted. But the problem with this new loose concept of connecting was that the relationship still needed to be established.

This idea can easily be seen if you have asked a connection lately for an introduction to one of  their connections. The answer that often comes back is “I really don’t know that person that well and wouldn’t be comfortable introducing you.” Of course what they could also add is “…and to be honest, I don’t know you that well either.”

A third era?

Over the past six months or so, I am seeing more and more of LinkedIn pushing following over connecting, such as prompting users to put a “Follow” button instead of a “Connect” button as the default on their Profiles. And LinkedIn has talked about people complaining they are receiving too many invitations to connect.

What LinkedIn doesn’t talk about is all the spam messages from those connections we all so easily accepted. Because my guess is that one of the unintended side effects of this easy-connecting second era is that it has seeded the ground for automated tools on LinkedIn. Automation on LinkedIn five or seven years ago largely consisted of scraping tools and profile viewing tools. But these days the new tools take advantage of the new enthusiasm for connecting. Apps have been introduced that can send hundreds of connection invites and then hundreds of spam messages to those new connections. And those tools are not good for LinkedIn because if users see LinkedIn as a spam fest they will stop coming to LinkedIn. If that happens LinkedIn can say goodbye to all that lovely advertising revenue that Microsoft was highlighting in their last quarterly report.

There are things that LinkedIn can do – limiting the number of invites users can send is a good example. And LinkedIn could apply the algorithms to see if people are sending lots of the same generic message to connections, or checking to see that messages to connections actually are getting responses, or even limiting the number of messages users can send (I am an extremely active LinkedIn user but I do not initiate a hundred conversations with my connections every week). But what they really need to do is change user behavior. And one way to do that is to put the idea front and center that the default should be to follow someone instead of connecting with them.

Following could also be made more attractive if LinkedIn placed the content of people we follow more prominently in our feed. Typically, you follow someone in order to see their posts and content. And LinkedIn has talked about this. But there is a difference between appearing in our homepage feed and appearing prominently in our homepage feed. At any given time you or I will have hundreds of posts of all types in our feed. What’s important is what is at the top where we are more likely to see it.

LinkedIn tells us what we see featured prominently in our feeds is largely based on our Connection Strength Score, which is based on the interactions we have on LinkedIn with our various connections. To my knowledge, there is no Follower Strength Score. And how would you measure it? One alternative would be more subscriber type content like LinkedIn Newsletters, but that roll out is more of a crawl out.

Where do you stand in all this? Are you a fan of following or connecting? Has your idea of connecting versus following evolved over the past twelve months?

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. And in the spirit of transparency, I did not know several of my five thousand connections well before we connected. I won’t say which ones. Don’t tell LinkedIn.

Want more like this? (the newsletter I mean, not the disclaimer) I publish a weekly email newsletter on using LinkedIn effectively for Sales and Marketing. Each newsletter typically contains two articles like the one above, it’s free, and you can unsubscribe anytime. Here’s a link to the sign up page:

A Sales Story: An Inadvertent Lesson In Crowdsourcing 

Many moons ago I was a Regional Sales Manager based in Atlanta. There was another RSM named Ed that occupied the cubicle next to mine. We both spent eighty percent of our time out of the office in our respective territories, so we were only in the office at the same time two or three times a month. 

One afternoon, I could hear Ed on the phone next door to me, and I could hear him getting more and more exasperated as the call went on. He finally hung up, wheeled his chair back around the divider so he could talk to me and we had the following conversation.

Ed, “I have been searching for the key guy for our products at IBM. I have been looking for him for months now.” 

(this was pre-LinkedIn of course, and actually pre-Internet. You had to do everything by phone and networking)

“So I was just talking with your brother.” 

(my brother was a product manager at our offices in Toronto)

“And it turns out that your brother knew who the key guy was all this time!” 

Me, “You mean Henry Steinbecker?” 


Me, “Well yeah. He’s in their offices in RTP, off Six Forks Road. I went to see him back when I was selling our catalog products. I think it was maybe two years ago. Want his phone number?”

At this point Ed’s face turned a rather alarming shade of red, and he proceeded to use a lot of words I am quite sure his mother did not teach him. 

But here’s the thing. The information Ed so badly wanted – for months – was four feet away. All he had to do was mention it to me. 

So what does Ed’s predicament thirty years ago have to do with us and LinkedIn? Just this: with LinkedIn you have two huge avenues to crowdsource for help with your problems. The first is your connections. Your connections are a searchable database. Anything you need help with, information on, or opinions about, can likely be found among your connections. I have asked my connections for advice on tools, ideas, approaches, you name it. And I am happy to share my experience and knowledge back with them. This avenue in particular would have saved my colleague Ed a lot of time and trouble.

The second avenue is, well, all of LinkedIn. If you are searching for a new CRM to use, why not put together a post about what you are doing and what you need and publish it on LinkedIn? Yes, you will get a pile of salespeople, but you will also get a lot of good opinions, advice and you may meet some people that are worth connecting with.

Crowdsourcing: An under utilized – but valuable – use for LinkedIn 


LinkedIn Polls Have Worn Out Their Welcome

Last week was the breaking point for me.

When I logged in to linkedIn, there was a poll waiting for me on my homepage feed. A few minutes later I was notified that there I had new posts waiting for me. Another poll. Later on, another one. So I started counting. I refreshed my feed ten times before I stopped. Here is what was at the top of my feed those eleven total times.








A post by a connection




I am sick of polls taking over my feed.

The way I see it, there are two reasons for the proliferation of Polls on LinkedIn. The first is that the algorithm for some reason seems to think that Polls are what we want to see. The second is that when people see LinkedIn rewarding Polls with prime placement in the feed, that’s what people are going to post. And how can you blame LinkedIn users if they see LinkedIn rewarding the Pollsters?

But the problem isn’t the Polls in and of themselves, it’s the general low quality of them. Yesterday I saw one asking which of the colors listed wasn’t a primary color. A few minutes ago someone asked who the respondents wanted to win the football game tonight.

The worst part is that now I don’t participate in Polls that I think are worthwhile as the LinkedIn algorithm may take my participation as a signal that I want to see more polls.

So I came up with my own system for a low Poll diet. For any poll that is mundane or uninteresting (which is most of them at this point):

  • If it was posted by a connection, I unfollow them.
  • I see a lot of Polls from second degree connections. In these cases I mute the Pollster so I don’t have to see any more of their junk, and I unfollow the connection who commented or participated or liked the poll.

My feed has already started to improve.

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. For some reason LinkedIn gave me early access to the LinkedIn Newsletter. I have no idea why, but thanks for reading.

Want more like this? (note that that was a question, not a poll) I publish a weekly email newsletter on using LinkedIn effectively for Sales and Marketing. Each newsletter typically contains two to four articles, it’s free, and you can unsubscribe anytime. Here’s a link to the sign up page: