Your LinkedIn Followers – Just Who Are These People?

an orcaYou may have a following on LinkedIn and not even know it. A guide.

If you are active on LinkedIn, and especially if you publish on LinkedIn, you may have noticed a discrepancy between the number of connections you have and the number of followers you have. The difference is made up of people who have actually signed up to follow you. But who are these people? What do they want? What are the benefits to following someone? Or to being followed?

I decided to investigate and here is what I found.

How you get followers

You tend to pick up followers when you publish on LinkedIn. On each post on the   LinkedIn longform publishing platform, a light blue highlighted follow button appears to the far right of the author’s name at the top of the post, and again at the end of the post beside the author’s name (which kind of makes more sense. I decide I want to follow someone after I read them, not before).  

You can choose to follow someone from other places such as the “recent activity page” which makes sense, or from the drop down menu behind the “connect” button on their LinkedIn profile, which doesn’t.  

So who are these people and what do they want?

Followers are your phantom connections. They are interested in what you have to say. They are not interested in connecting with you; at least not now. They are fans of what you write, but not necessarily you. They may have liked or commented or shared one of your posts and are interested enough that they have chosen to follow you to see what else you come up with. They are so intangible that LinkedIn doesn’t even give them a relationship designation like a “1” or a “2” (more on this in a minute).   

How to find out how many followers you have

Go to “Who Viewed Your Profile”, select “Who Viewed Your Posts” and just to the left of the “Publish A Post” button at the upper right is a number. This is your total number of followers. But this includes your connections. So next, go your “Privacy and Settings” page. The new Privacy and Settings page has your number of connections displayed quite prominently.

And now for some math that could only take place on LinkedIn:

(# followers) – (# connections) = (# followers)

Or to put it a little more clearly, your total number of followers minus your number of connections equals the number of people who have “signed up” to follow you.

For most LinkedIn users, this number will be zero. For people who are active on LinkedIn – sharing, liking and commenting on other people’s posts, this number may be in the tens or hundreds, For people who write and post often on LinkedIn, it can be in the hundreds or thousands; and of course the LinkedIn Influencers can have hundreds of thousands.

How to see who your followers actually are

I have found several ways of doing this, but here are the two easiest methods:

1) Go to “Who Viewed Your Profile”, click on “Who Viewed Your Posts”. Click on your number of followers, just to the left of the “Publish a post” button.

2) Click “Your Updates”. Your number of followers is listed twice (No, I don’t know why. This is LinkedIn). Ignore the one at top right. The number of followers after the tabs for “Recent Activity”, “Published” and “Drafts” is clickable. Do so.  

A list of all your followers will appear.

Some observations:

  • Your “true” followers are listed before your connections begin being shown.   
  • This is the only place I can think of on LinkedIn where people’s photo, name and headline appear, but without a superscript number to identify how they are related to you on LinkedIn. You can’t tell if they are a “2” or a “3” for example. You have to click on them to go to their profile for that.  
  • If you do click on a person to check them out, then go back to the list, LinkedIn takes you back to the top of the list and you have to scroll down all over again. If you have a hundred followers this is a pain.
  • This whole exercise got me thinking: exactly who am I following? Anyone? Lots of people? There is no way of knowing. I may be following forty people who are all excited I am following them and I have completely forgotten who they are. Kind of like LinkedIn Alzheimer’s.

What are the benefits of following someone?

Here’s where things get messy. When someone follows you, they will see your public updates and longform posts. But how will they know when you post? They get notifications from LinkedIn. Oh dear. Not that. Anything but notifications. Yes, notifications. And it gets worse. There are two types of notifications on LinkedIn. The type I call “red flag” notifications where the little notifications red flag lights up at the top right of your screen, and the type where the notification just gets dumped into the home page status update stream and it’s hit and miss whether someone ever sees it.   

But fortunately, a notification gets deemed worthy of red flag status if you and the other person have a strong connection strength score. And of course unfortunately, by definition, true followers aren’t connected with you, so no red flags. The posts of yours they asked to see are mixed in with all the astrologer / math quiz / bikini people / happy talk updates on their home page.

A practical recommendation: If you are serious about following someone, just ask them to connect. Customize your invitation. What’s the worst that can happen? They say no, and you can still follow them. If you don’t want to connect with them, just go to their profile every few weeks, click on “recent activity”, and catch up with their posting.  

What are the benefits to the person being followed? (the “followee?”)

Well…you can figure out you have followers, but not necessarily why they followed you. And you can’t send them a message unless you use InMail.

I suppose in theory, the more followers you have the better, but as there is no real commitment from a follower to actually read your stuff, and because followers will be largely unencumbered by the knowledge that you have published, I kind of question that benefit. When I reviewed my followers list this morning, my only thought was “they’ll likely never see this post”.

So…why did LinkedIn put in followers in the first place? An extension of following Influencers? But then the idea of followers conflicted with people complaining about getting too many notifications, so Linkedin put limitations on notifications and the followers idea is left drifting in the wind.

There’s a useful idea here. Pure in it’s intent. Garbled and incomplete in its execution. Probably forgotten by LinkedIn. And that’s too bad.


The Lottery That Is LinkedIn Publishing

image4When you publish on LinkedIn, you play the lottery as to how well your post will be received. And like all lotteries, there are a few winners. Everyone else? Thank you for playing.

Influencers aka caviar class publishing

Ah, the Influencers. People with names like Gates and Branson and Welch. Influencers because they are captains of industry, or run some obscure but trendy sounding Silicon Valley startup, or even for being a media type that reports on people that run trendy startups. These people have all won the LinkedIn publishing lottery.

How? Influencers get promoted by LinkedIn. They receive top placement on the Pulse page, their posts are promoted by LinkedIn, and they receive prime placement in the Pulse feed.

You can see examples of this every time you read someone’s post. Anyone reading a post will inevitably scroll too far past the end of that post and do a driveby “view” on some Influencer’s post. If one hundred people comment on this post, the next one below it (as of very early Tuesday April 19th,  it’s one by  Rodrigo Brancatelli) will get one hundred extra views from those people, and then another hundred when I scroll too far when I read those comments. That person has won the publishing lottery,

Writers posting to LinkedIn aka true lottery class publishing

When you or I write a post and publish it on LinkedIn we play the lottery on multiple levels.

Most writers dream of going viral. Talk about long odds. Daniel Roth, LinkedIn executive editor, reported that there were 130,000 posts a day on LinkedIn publisher. He reported this nine months ago, in July 2015. You are probably competing with north of twenty thousand authors on any given day. And then you are competing with the anointed ones – the Influencers and all their perks. The odds of you rising above the other 130,000 authors in any given week are about the same as making ten holes in one in golf. Sorry, you’re toast.

Well, you can give up on going viral, but at least you have all those people who have signed up to follow you and be notified when you post. Heh-heh. Wrong again.  LinkedIn assigns an algo to decide whether your followers really want to be notified about your posts or not. It’s all very complicated and Big Brother, but in the end, your post will be seen by a fraction of the people who explicitly requested to see it.

By the way, LinkedIn sounds like they are trying to lessen the focus on views. The  afore-mentioned Mr. Roth has said don’t write aiming for views, go after conversations.

Status updates aka the teeming masses

This is where the LinkedIn masses post: the status update stream on your homepage. Ironically, the more active you become on LinkedIn, and the more connections you have, the harder it becomes to see individual updates go by in the stream.  

Oh, and those updates have to compete with the increasingly lucrative Sponsored Updates posted prominently to the update stream by LinkedIn.

A back of the envelope calculation came up with a ballpark of ten thousand status updates a day in my home page stream (the things I do for my post research: spending my time counting updates and trying to extrapolate that sample across a twenty-four hour period). And as a very active LinkedIn member, maybe I return to my homepage twenty times a day. But only two posts tend to be visible at a time,so even if I am paying attention and see those two updates (questionable), I will only see one out of every twenty-five hundred. Very long odds indeed.  

But in a way, the complete randomness of seeing a status updates has a charm and attraction to it that the artificial LinkedIn algorithms don’t.

And lastly, if you want to find a post or posts on a topic outside of the broad channels that LinkedIn has? Good luck. Indexing does not exist. The tagging system suffers from what I can only call benevolent neglect. 130,000 new posts  a week and if one in every thousand is a good one, that means there are 1300 good posts every single week on LinkedIn…somewhere. But finding even a couple of them is like…winning the lottery.

Inviting everybody to post on LinkedIn was a brilliant idea by LinkedIn. Executing the idea properly so that everyone – writers and readers and LinkedIn – had a shot at winning should not have been a gamble.

7 Things I Learned From Who Viewed Your Profile

Streets of LyonI researched the “source” feature on WVYP. And what I found surprised me

When you look at the “Who Viewed Your Profile” page, you see each viewer’s photo, their name, degree of connection with you, headline, how long ago it was they viewed your profile, and once a couple of days have gone by, where they came from on LinkedIn to get to your profile.

Like a lot of LinkedIn users I had been aware of this “source” feature on Who Viewed Your Profile for a while now. And like a lot of users I didn’t pay that much attention to it. Then I posted to LinkedIn twice in one week and I received a spike in Profile Views. Scrolling through the pages of people (I have a premium account so it shows everybody for the past ninety days), I started picking up on all these different sources. So that got me thinking…what can these sources tell me?

So I went back through my last several hundred profile viewers (thank you everyone, by they way. You view my profile, and in turn you become part of my research), compiled all the sources and here’s what I found.

  1. The LinkedIn Home Page: One Update Stream To Rule Them All

I found a dozen different sources for profile viewers, but one stands way above all the others: the homepage. Over fifty percent of my profile views come from my viewer’s homepages, meaning they clicked on my name in the status update stream. They either saw I had posted, someone else shared or commented on my post, or I commented or someone else’s post, but the bottom line is my name appeared as a clickable blue link, and they clicked on it, taking them to my profile. The surprise here is how many people do see your name in their status update stream and click on it.

  1. That Profile Update Notification Thing Actually Works

When you are making changes to your LinkedIn profile and are in “Edit Profile” mode, there is a little toggle switch asking of you would like to notify your network that you have made changes. I leave mine on “yes”. And it resulted in   people who looked at my profile, obviously curious to what I had changed.

  1. I was flabbergasted to see profile views based on Endorsements

Someone clicked on my tiny thumbnail photo after I had endorsed someone. A bunch of people did this. As a matter of fact as many people came to me from Endorsements as came to me via Search. Wow.

  1. And yes there were reciprocal Who Viewed Your Profile View profile views

Anyone who has used one of those silly browser extensions for viewing profiles will tell you that sometimes when you view someone’s profile, they will come back and view yours. It’s a small percentage (more on bots in a minute).

  1. I was surprised at how few came from my posts

Then again, many of the people who read my posts are already connections or followers, so they don’t need to check me out to see who I am.

  1. The LinkedIn Mobile App is a big disappointment

Mobile App viewers are not broken down any further. So while the Mobile App was my second largest source of viewers after the homepage, the sources within the Mobile App were not identified.

  1. Not as many people come to me via Search as I would have thought.

Search pales beside the home page. No comparison. Part of this obviously has to do with the fact that as someone who writes on LinkedIn and is generally very active on LinkedIn, there will be a lot of opportunities for me to show up on people’s status update feeds, but to have the home page be ten times more powerful than search in generating profile views really surprised me. On the other hand, this may point more to the idea that most LinkedIn users don’t really use LinkedIn that much, and get what LinkedIn interaction they do have through their homepages.

Lastly, one more pleasant surprise: I need to give credit to the oft maligned LinkedIn help desk. I had a lot of questions with respect to this topic and the Help Desk was patient with them all, and with additional requests for definitions and distinctions. And they answered every question I had within ninety minutes.

I am still investigating, compiling sources as my profile views come in, but my research has definitely given me a few ideas to try out that may make me more effective at using LinkedIn. In the meantime, have a look at your own profile viewers. What do the sources tell you?