Let’s have a short talk about following on LinkedIn

Following doesn’t work like it used to, and in fact, it sucks. 

Well, I told you it would be a short talk. 

Over the past couple years following has changed on LinkedIn. There are four facets to following, only one of which I think is worthwhile (but it really really is worthwhile). 

Let’s cover the rotten ones first. 

Following companies

Does nothing for you. I have not been able to find any circumstances where I have been notified that a company I am following has published something on LinkedIn. 

Following people

Follow all you want, you won’t see their content either. I don’t get notified about new content from people I follow. 

So in both circumstances we don’t see the content we thought we were going to see. Note that if you have a Sales Navigator subscription, you can designate people and companies as leads, in which case your Sales Navigator home page feed is filled only with the content and activities of the people and companies you’re following. So perhaps this is all an extraordinarily ham handed attempt by LinkedIn to get people purchasing Sales Navigator. But paying seventy bucks a month is a pretty expensive way to see anyone’s content.

The following “flirt” signal

Some people will follow someone in the hopes that that someone will invite them to connect. This is a weak strategy as not everyone checks their followers. 

The follower connect strategy

This is the one I advocate. I regularly review my followers, and when I see someone interesting I invite them to connect. When I do, I always include a personal note and make a point of telling them what’s in it for them in connecting with me. I have been doing this for five years and it works around two thirds of the time.

Following is another example of a LinkedIn feature that is best used in a manner different from how everyone thinks it should be used. 

How To Rank Higher In LinkedIn Search Results

The most important factor for ranking higher in search results isn’t the quality of your profile or your use of keywords. Those things will get you included in the search results, but not necessarily a high ranking.

What is the most important factor? Your relevancy to the searcher. So what does that mean? It means that you may show up on page two (that is somewhere between 11th and 20th) for one person and page seven (61st to 70th)  for another person searching using the exact same keywords or search parameters. And no one wants to be on page seven. When was the last time you googled something and closely examined the seventh page of results?  

Relevancy is a bit of a moving target. LinkedIn interprets relevancy based on an ever evolving algorithm which weighs things like the searcher’s prior activity on LinkedIn, similar searches other people have conducted in the past and the profiles that get selected by the query. Having the right keywords in your profile will get you included in the search results, but they probably won’t help too much, as everyone else who was included in the search results had those keywords too.

And let’s face it, you can’t do anything about a searcher’s prior history, or other similar searches to this one.  

The biggest factor for where you appear in search results is your relationship to the searcher. LinkedIn thinks that the closer the relationship, the higher the relevance. So LinkedIn tends to list the search results by connection level – first degree connections first, seconds second , group members third and the third level / everyone else crowd last. And this makes sense. Say you are looking for someone to help with you build a WordPress based blog. You search for WordPress on LinkedIn, maybe adding your location to find someone local. LinkedIn shows that you have three first degree connections that qualify, then forty second degree connections, sixty group members, and two hundred third level / LinkedIn members. Based on what you asked for, doesn’t it make sense that LinkedIn lists the three people you can contact directly – your first level connections – first?

So what does this tell us? To appear higher in searches you should develop a big network. No, this doesn’t mean you should indiscriminately connect with anyone on LinkedIn.  But you should be connecting with people in, and affiliated with, your target audience – your target audience being the people you would like to be found by, whether that is prospective employers, prospective customers, or peers. The more people you are connected with, the more likely you will show up as a “one” or a “two” in the search rankings. If you and I are in the same field, have similar experience and credentials, but you have two thousand connections and I have two hundred, who’s your money on for appearing higher in search results?

LinkedIn even says this (it’s in the LinkedIn help section):

The more connections you have, the more likely you will have a connection to the searcher. Closer connections, such as a 2nd-degree connection compared to a 3rd-degree connection, improve your ranking in searches.

There is a big difference between search engine optimization and LinkedIn search results optimization. To optimize for LinkedIn search results, you need lots of relevant connections.


Thanks for reading. I publish weekly newsletters on using LinkedIn for Sales, LinkedIn for Marketing and Advanced LinkedIn Strategies and Tactics. Each is typically a two or three minute read and contains useful ideas you can put into practice right away. You can sign up here: https://practicalsmm.com/contact/

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?