Connecting vs Following On LinkedIn (part 2)

I wrote one of my newsletters a few weeks ago (October 6th) about how LinkedIn seems to be gently pushing us towards a “Follow First” strategy instead of just connecting with anyone we come across. I received some comments and messages pointing out that for all practical intents and purposes, following is just as good as connecting.

While you may not think there is much of a difference, there are some differences you should consider in whether you would rather be a connection or a follower.

Some interesting characteristics of connecting and following:

  • In order for me to connect with you, you have to accept me as a connection. Following someone does not require such permission. I can follow you and there is nothing you can do about it. Oddly, as the follower, I am in control of our relationship (such as following constitutes a relationship).
  • As a follower, I can’t send you messages. If we are connected, I can send you a message. Whether you welcome that message and wish to respond to it is another story. These days, having messaging privileges is a double edged sword. People accept connection requests more easily these days than five years ago on LinkedIn, but being connected does not mean you have a collegial relationship with your connection. You still have to establish that.
  • In most cases, you won’t even know that I am following you. You can see a list of your followers by clicking on the number of followers when you look at your activity. Most LinkedIn users don’t ever have a look to see if anyone is following them
  • You can’t search your followers. I search my connections at least once a week. People are always asking me if I know someone with a certain skill or experience. I have over five thousand connections so out comes the LinkedIn Search tool. I also have around five thousand followers. I can see a list of them, and scroll through them one by one, but that list can’t be put in any order and is not searchable.
  • Another aspect of this that is kind of backwards is what we see in our homepage feeds. 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?

The bottom line? If you want to see the person’s content, follow them. Following tends to be a one way street. The person you are following sends information your way. I say “tends to be a one way street” because you can always comment on their content.

If you want to connect with someone on LinkedIn, then by all means do so. But realize that in order for you both to benefit that you will need to put some work in.

And a suggestion for LinkedIn: get a move on with the implementation of the LinkedIn Newsletter to everyone. If I subscribe to your newsletter, I know I will be notified when you publish your next issue. Following is nice, but I think subscribing is better.

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? (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 to four articles, it’s free, and you can unsubscribe anytime. Here’s a link to the sign up page: https://practicalsmm.com/contact/

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: https://practicalsmm.com/contact/

Connecting On LinkedIn Has Its Privileges. Here Are Four Of Them.

One is obvious, the other three less so. But the more you use LinkedIn, the more the “less so” ones become important.

When you are connected to someone on LinkedIn:

  • You can send each other messages directly over LinkedIn. This doesn’t replace email, the phone or whatever messaging system you use, but it does come in handy for LinkedIn-centric messages such as referencing someone you know mutually on LinkedIn, or drawing their attention to someone or something of interest on LinkedIn.
  • You have visibility into your connection’s actions on LinkedIn – you will be notified when they do things such as posting or commenting, sharing or liking someone else’s post. Once again, the same notifications apply in reverse – they will have a window into what you are doing on LinkedIn. By default you are considered part of each other’s network on LinkedIn, and connections see what the other connections in their network are up to.
  • You rank higher in your connection’s search results on LinkedIn. As LinkedIn is one huge database full of people, an obvious application is to use that database for searches – for suppliers, vendors, prospects, experts, new staff, information, discussions on specific topics …anything. And one of the things you will find is that LinkedIn wants search results to be relevant to the searcher, and if one or more of their connections get found in the search, LinkedIn will tend to list them at or near the top of the search results. If you are searching for a WordPress expert, it makes sense for LinkedIn to list WordPress experts you are already connected with first.

So if one of your connections looks for someone in your field, you are going to appear high in the search results. This is why it is a good idea to connect with prospects. This may seem a little odd, I mean, who would forget you and what you are good at? Why would a search be needed? The answer is actually quite simple. Some people amass huge networks of connections on LinkedIn – two thousand, five thousand or more. It is pretty easy to forget people when you have that many in your “connection rolodex.”

This happens to me often – I have a large network and I will be asked something like, “Bruce, do you know anyone who works at Goldman Sachs?” Often it is a skill, profession or company I am not as familiar with and I really don’t know what I am going to turn up (I picked the company name at random, but it turns out I do know someone at Goldman Sachs).

  • Connections show pathways to other people on LinkedIn that you didn’t know exist. You may find a prospect on LinkedIn and see the little “2nd” postscript after their name and then the person or people both you and that person are connected with on LinkedIn. You can use this information in two ways. The first is to name drop the mutual connection’s name in a message or invitation to connect, which implies you are worth connecting with too. To be fair, this is the easy thing to do, which makes it the thing most people do, but it’s a pretty weak approach. The second – and better – use is to use that mutual connection or one of your mutual connections as an intermediary, and ask them to introduce you to the person of interest to you. Alternatively, you can ask if you can use them as a referral, or even just ask them for information that can help you with on this person you are interested in.

Any tool that provides pathways and ways of contacting prospects, suppliers and vendors, experts, or prospective partners is a good thing. Any tool that allows you to build thousands of pathways is a powerful thing.

Direct messaging, notifications, search result prominence, pathways to prospects. Being connected means a lot more than you probably think it does. Start taking advantage of the privileges you have been given.

Obligatory boilerplate: 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. But I was an early subscriber to Sales Navigator and have a grandfathered subscription where I pay a lot less than I should. Don’t tell LinkedIn. Thanks.

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 to four articles, it’s free, and you can unsubscribe anytime. Here’s a link to the sign up page: https://practicalsmm.com/contact/