Using Automation Software on LinkedIn. Don’t. Here’s Why.


I get emails all the time from companies that sell browser extensions and apps for use on LinkedIn. The idea is that you can automate and scale up your interaction with others by getting the extension or app to do the work for you. They will do things like view profiles, invite people with certain keywords in their profiles or titles to connect, automatically send them welcome messages when they accept, automatically endorse them, automatically send them congratulatory messages when they have a work anniversary or change jobs, and automatically send sales messages to large swaths of your connections.

The result is you can have a lovely and productive relationship with a connection without ever having to go to the trouble of really being aware of who they are. 

But these tools – all of these tools – contravene the user agreement you have with LinkedIn.

As in these parts:

8.2. Don’ts. You agree that you will not:

  • Scrape or copy profiles and information of others through any means (including crawlers, browser plugins and add-ons, and any other technology or manual work);
  • Use manual or automated software, devices, scripts robots, other means or processes to access, “scrape,” “crawl” or “spider” the Services or any related data or information;
  • Use bots or other automated methods to access the Services, add or download contacts, send or redirect messages;

The bottom line is that anyone telling you that automatic scraping or viewing tools  are a good idea is someone who is not doing you a favor.

And doesn’t anyone else find it ironic when these companies say: “We will automatically look at 500 profiles, scrape the data from the profiles, then  automatically accept invitations to connect sent your way, and send the new connection a welcome message. It’s the ultimate in social selling!”  

Wait a second, where was the social part? How social is it when you are starting off your relationship with someone by conning them?

Quite frankly, the use of automation software cheapens the user experience for everyone on LinkedIn. They introduce an element of doubt in your interactions with people. Is that really you that sent that message or your bot? Was that you that sent me a “welcome to my LinkedIn network” message or a browser extension? If I send a real message of thanks to someone who commented on one of my posts, will they see the headline and just assume it as another piece of app-generated spam?

Don’t get tempted by the idea of using automation on LinkedIn. LinkedIn doesn’t like it, and it puts your focus on numbers. And numbers don’t have relationships with you, people do.

An unusual but valuable LinkedIn Search: content

You can search for content on any topic on LinkedIn. Here’s how.

Most people don’t realize that they can search for content on LinkedIn, but here are four good reasons why you might want to start:

1) you are doing research on a topic

2) you want to see if other people are writing about, have recently written about, or have covered an aspect of a topic you are thinking of writing about

3) you are looking for prospects and this is the type of thing they would be reading and commenting on

4) you want to see if your competitors are writing about a topic

All you need to do is to type the word or expression in the search bar, click enter and then click on “content.”

If you use an expression, put quotation marks around it. If you want to look for people writing about genome sequencing, search for “genome sequencing”, as the quotation marks tell Linkedin to look for those two words together. Without the quotation marks, LinkedIn will look for the two words, but not necessarily together. 

And a word about hashtags: not everyone uses them, so I usually don’t search for them. You get more results from “genome sequencing” than from #genomesequencing. 

Try it. Once you have tried it a couple times, you will start thinking of ways to use it to your advantage. 

LinkedIn now measures dwell time. They what? 

First some background: How does LinkedIn decide what we see in our homepage feed? 

The homepage algorithm figures out the following: 

  • The probability that you will “react” to this post, a reaction being a like, comment or share. This probability is based on your history with this poster. LinkedIn doesn’t mention it, but I assume they also look at your history with this post’s topic, or I assume, with a specific hashtag)
  • The probability that other people will react to your reaction – take action of their own. Are there people that typically are drawn to your comments or likes of a post? 
  • The value to the content creator of your reactions. Do your reactions give valuable feedback to the author? I am not sure how LinkedIn would measure this unless you were to “like” their comment or share. 

All the thousands of possible posts that could be presented to you are weighed, and the “best” ones according to the algos go into your stream. 

Limitations of this approach:

  • Some people read posts and appreciate them but are just not people who react. 
  • Someone may click “more” and open a post, but then realize that the post isn’t for them, and goes back to the feed. LinkedIn calls these click bounces. 

So now LinkedIn has added “dwell time” in it’s calculations as to the value they are assigning a post. 

There are two types of dwell time: the time a post is sitting in your feed, and the time the post is sitting in your feed once you click on it. 

Until now, LinkedIn had measured clicks, comments, reactions and shares to rate a post. Now dwell time will be factored in as well. 

If this is the case, less crappy posts will be presented to you and you will see more posts that actually have something to say that people read through end to end. 

Two observations in all this:

  1. One factor in all this that really should be emphasized is your “history” with posts from a given author. If you have a history of reading and / or reacting to a person – whether a connection or someone you follow – LinkedIn will remember and favor their content being put in front of you. Whenever you react to a post, you increase the likelihood that more of that person’s posts will appear in your feed. 
  2. Everything you do on LinkedIn, no matter how small, has consequences. Everything you do gets interpreted by LinkedIn (which is a little disquieting). 

Check your own homepage feed and see for yourself. Just don’t pull up a post from someone you don’t like and choose that moment to leave your device and have lunch. 

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.


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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?


How to use Hashtags on LinkedIn for Marketing 

Hashtags are coming on as a means to easily find content on LinkedIn. You just enter the hashtagged word or phrase in the search box on LinkedIn and away you go. 

But as usual with LinkedIn there is a secret rule you need to know about. 

LinkedIn recommends you use up to three hashtags, and they even emphasize three as the best number. LinkedIn has also specifically stated that more than three hashtags on a post or article will “hinder it’s distribution.” And when LinkedIn is doing the distribution that means those posts are literally going nowhere. 

And although they don’t say you will be rewarded, when LinkedIn says they recommend you use three, I take that as meaning content with three will be rewarded. 

Now there is something else to take into consideration here. If you have technical content where, say, fifteen different hashtags could be used, there is nothing to say you can’t use them. Just don’t expect any real distribution of that post from LinkedIn. But people can still find the post using a search for hashtags. 

So how should you decide what hashtags to use? Here are the steps I recommend:

  1. Make a list of all the hashtags you think would work
  2. Enter each one in turn in the search bar and search for it. If it is a popular hashtag, LinkedIn will show the number of people following it. 
  3. Go to posts and articles using these hashtags and see what else the authors are using – there may be ones applicable to you that you have not thought of. 
  4. Make a list of popular hashtags and the number of followers each one has. Check the list a month from now, then a month later to see what is rising and falling in popularity. 
  5. If there is a hashtag that you think your prospects would use, then by all means use it even if no one else is. 

Most LinkedIn users and companies using LinkedIn are not organized in their use of hashtags. You can be and can get an advantage over them.

What LinkedIn says and what the reality is: Publishing 

Let’s look at a few of the things LinkedIn says, what most people think it means and what it really means. Today we will look at publishing on LinkedIn. 

You publish a post or article on LinkedIn. LinkedIn tells you that your followers will  have the opportunity to see your post or article. 

What most people think that means: Say you have one thousand connections. You think one thousand connections will see you have posted. 

What it really means: some of your connections will have the opportunity to see your post. Maybe. 

Reality part 1: 

The reality is that when you publish on LinkedIn, LinkedIn puts your content in the news feed of 5-10% of connections. In the case above, that’s fifty to one hundred of them. The more people that engage with your post in the first sixty minutes, the more additional connections LinkedIn will put your content in front of. 

Reality part 2: 

When LinkedIn puts your content in front of your connections, that means it simply appears in their news feed. They don’t have to see it there to count as a view. It’s like you open a newspaper to read an article on page 5. Everything on those two pages you have opened – pages four and five – would be considered as being “viewed” by LinkedIn’s definition, because you could have viewed them if you had only looked around. Note also that there is a big difference between “viewed” and “read” too. 

Reality part 3: 

LinkedIn likes to talk about your followers. You likely have none, or at best a handful. Unless you are an influencer or someone who writes a lot, it is unlikely you have any followers aside from your connections. 

Reality part 4: 

Except in rare instances, LinkedIn does not notify your connections or followers that you have published something. 

The bad news is that your content isn’t going as far as you think it is. The good news is that given your connections have a lot lower probability of seeing your content in the first place, your engagement is a lot better than you think it is. 

Choosing Which LinkedIn Group(s) To Join

Due diligence comes first.
While a LinkedIn Group may look perfect for you, always do a little bit of extra research as it may save you a lot of aggravation later. Here are the things you should look for:
Group description. The description will give you clues as to what the purpose of the group is. Sometimes the description doesn’t match the group name.
Group rules. This will tell you how the group owner expects the group to behave. Whether the owner and his or her moderators actually enforce those rules is another matter altogether.
Group owner and managers. You can click on these people’s names, so do so. Find out who they work for. This will give you clues as to their motivation for being involved with this group. Groups owned and run by your competitors will probably not be glad to see you. Don’t invest your time in building visibility in a place where your welcome is uncertain.
And one that doesn’t mean as much as you think:
Number of members. This is a double edged sword. A large group will have more potential people to reach, but it will be more difficult to be heard above all the other people starting discussions. It is not uncommon for some of the really large groups to have hundreds of posts a day.
LinkedIn Groups have fallen on hard times the past couple of years. An ugly combination of group admin indifference, ham handed management by LinkedIn, and spammy users has resulted in a bad reputation for LinkedIn Groups. However, there are some absolute gems out there, typically groups where the owner is the main admin and heavily involved in the day to day discussions in the group. Two well run groups that I am a member of are “Step Into The Spotlight!” a group for marketing and branding and “Sales Playbook!” a group all about sales. The two owners have completely different styles but manage to run groups with multiple ongoing discussion threads.
These two groups are examples of what well run groups can be like. Unfortunately, they are the exception rather than the rule.

The Open Profile Hack For Sending Free Messages On LinkedIn

Nice, but definitely not free.


Did you know that you can send messages for free to some LinkedIn users that have Premium subscriptions? They are called Open Messages, and most people don’t even know they exist. 

Any premium LinkedIn member can choose to be “Open Profile.” If someone is Open Profile, they can be sent a free message, called an Open Message by any LinkedIn member. 

This is an elective choice that Premium members can make on their accounts. But if you were paying for a LinkedIn premium membership, wouldn’t you want to make it easy for people to contact you? I have a Premium Subscription myself and I get a half dozen messages every month from people who would not otherwise be able to contact me through LinkedIn. 

Open Messaging is a little sneaky. 

If you have Sales Navigator or a Business Premium Account you will be shown people who are Open Message. On their profile will be a green box that says “OPEN”, just to the right of the gold colored “IN” badge. Click on “Message” and a message box will appear. 

For free LinkedIn users, there is no OPEN designation visible, you have to click to send a message and you will find out then whether that person can be sent a free message or not. 

A ways back I ran an intensive outreach campaign. Over a four week period I sent just under two hundred outreach messages to second and third degree connections. I looked for Open Profile people in my searches and just sent my outreach messages to them. Yes, in essence I sent almost 200 InMails…for free.

This isn’t something you can use every day, in every situation. But any time you come across someone interesting or in a search with a premium subscription, it is worthwhile clicking on “message” to see if you can send them one for free. 

Take your edges where you can get them. They add up.

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