The LinkedIn Algorithm and Real-Life Networking

There is plenty to complain about when it comes to social networking platforms.

They’re too political, or too many ads, or too many pictures of food, or “no one sees my stuff.”

In small business circles, it’s hard to believe that anyone complains more about any one network than they do about LinkedIn.

“The world’s largest professional network” doesn’t seem to work like it’s intended to for everyone.

We, of course, don’t take into account user ignorance, and the fact that we haven’t spent any time reading the LinkedIn manual to make it work (just like so many other things in life), but the fact that I post something and 900 people don’t comment on it seems to be a viable topic in many small business conversations.

Interestingly enough, there are many similarities between how you build your network on LinkedIn, and how you build your network out in the real world – and both require the same kind of focus, strategy and attention to make them work.

Let’s look at how you can up your game in both.

The LinkedIn Algorithm and You

As a card-carrying member of that frustrated-with-LinkedIn small business owner club, I have experienced many fits and starts with the platform… Most of the time going full tilt on it for about three weeks, and then throwing my hands up, “It’s going nowhere.”

About two years ago, I changed my thinking on it, and determined I was going to focus on LinkedIn for the long haul.

I’ve been researching ever since, seeing what kinds of posts LinkedIn likes (did you know – something that’s blow-your-mind simple – that LinkedIn prefers people not see your post and then click to leave the platform?) and working to tailor my interactions.

Now, I’m not purporting to be @Richard Branson, but I have learned a lot, I do believe I’m getting much better results on a weekly basis, and I’ve pulled a number of leads from my efforts that have turned into new business.

So, here’s what happens when you post something:

First, LinkedIn shows the post to a subset of your followers to see the “value” of your content.

If that group of followers interacts with your content – and to LinkedIn, that means comments and conversation, not just likes – then LinkedIn will show it to more people among your 1st tier followers.

If THAT group interacts when, then your post goes before a real person at LinkedIn, who makes a decision as to whether it is moving quickly enough to justify going outside of your 1st ring network. Obviously, that’s your goal when posting – to have it seen.

The LinkedIn Algorithm Challenge

Here’s the rub…

What if you’re posting quality content (as we all believe we are), but that small subset of your followers that LinkedIn that gets the first whack at it doesn’t know how the algorithm works?

Many LinkedIn users rightfully believe that the path to better engagement is reciprocity – if I interact with your stuff, you’ll turn around and interact with mine.

It works. It definitely does.

But what is interacting?

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LinkedIn is not Facebook or Instagram. “Likes” are there, but they’re not scored as highly as actual interaction when the algorithm is set in motion on your post.

Is it nice that someone takes the time to give you a thumbs-up? Sure.

Is it the help you actually need to get your post in front of more people? Not really.

In this comparison between LinkedIn and real life that we’re doing here, it makes sense: since LinkedIn is a networking site, transpose those interactions to a real world networking event…

You’re standing across the room from someone, make eye contact, and they give you a thumbs-up (yes, we’re using that).

Is that nearly as valuable as that person walking across the room and having a conversation with you? Not even close.

Why would it be any different on LinkedIn?

Back to the algorithm… So, LinkedIn selects a pool of my followers who get to see my posts first. What if they don’t know what I just said above?

What if they don’t realize that commenting on a post and starting a conversation is what really gets the ball rolling?

Simple: You will not get past that first tier of the algorithm. (Note: I’m not talking using hashtags or boosting or other ways of getting your post in front of people – just the basic algorithm).

What’s the solution? Grow your network with people who know how LinkedIn works, and engage with them, so that that reciprocity starts to work for you.

How do you find who those people are?

You pay attention to LinkedIn. You make better connections.

Now, that’s not to say that the people you’re connected with aren’t great connections, but for the purpose of this medium we’re talking about, it doesn’t help you to show your post to people who are going to just let it pass by into the ether.

They might send you ten referrals a year in real life, but if they don’t engage with your stuff on LinkedIn, they’re not valuable to you there.

And if your posts aren’t going anywhere on LinkedIn, then you can be sure they’re not leading to new business for you.

Watch your feed.

See who’s interacting. Who’s engaging other users in conversation. Who’s getting results.

Then build relationships with those people.

You know when you connect with someone or follow them, and a couple days later LinkedIn gives you a notification that says, “Someone you recently followed just posted XYZ”?

It’s a great piece of insight into how the algorithm works – LinkedIn wants people connecting… And new connections on the platform, to the algorithm, are worth exploring for future engagement.

Those annoying notifications are actually educating you on how LinkedIn works!

Back to Real-Life Networking

Now, how does that relate to real life and finding mutual value in your relationships?

It’s important to continually be looking at your network, and seeking out people who understand how networking works.

People who believe in working to find mutual value in every interaction.

We’ve all done it in the past – spent significant time working a business relationship that led to nothing. Even put lots of time into creating value for the person. Still, nothing came back your way. Forget new business. Not an intro. No referrals. Nary passing along a “Hey, I know a guy…”

Hopefully, you’ve learned from that.

Fortunately, unlike on LinkedIn, in real life you have a little more control over who that small circle is – the people and businesses with whom you’ll build stronger relationships than everyone else.

That doesn’t mean you elbow everyone else out.

We’re firm believers in building every relationship you can, because you never know when something’s going to circle back around to you.

But you only have so much time in your workday, and if you’re building professional relationships, shouldn’t you be focusing your time (and resources, in the case of lunches, golf invites, etc.) on those that are going to be fruitful for you? That are going to help you grow your business or your career? Who understand how networking is supposed to work?

Just like on LinkedIn, it’s easy to see who these people are.

They’re the ones that everyone knows. The ones who are always surrounded by people at events. The ones who get speaking roles, and who thrive off of making connections.

Get to know those people, because they’re the ones that you want to know you exist, what your specialties are, and what questions should trigger them thinking of you.

Mutual Value – On and Off-Line

We talked about reciprocity earlier, and it is such a critical concept in business that we need to dwell on it for a bit here.

Because reciprocity is essential in building relationships, whether you’re doing it virtually or in-person.

On LinkedIn, it’s simple… The more you engage with other people’s posts in a meaningful way, the more you’ll get engagement back.

I’ve seen it work and, in fact, I’ve seen it work to the point where I now notice when people don’t engage back – same as when you pass referrals onto someone out in the real world, and nothing ever comes your way.

The ones that blow my mind are where someone asks a question in their LinkedIn in a blatant attempt to get interaction… And then doesn’t engage back with the people who comment. Naïve mistake.

None of us have boatloads of time to just sit on LinkedIn and comment all day.

But, if you focus on interacting with people who clearly “get it,” and absolutely focus on showing value (e.g. instead of liking a post or even just saying “great post,” say something of value that can start a conversation), you can make the algorithm start to work in your favor.

We spend a great deal of effort to get in front of the “right” people when doing business development.

LinkedIn has offered an easy way to connect with people that can be the beginning of a professional relationship to then take off-line.

It allows you to interact with them on terms that they care about (presumably, if they posted something, they care about it), and allows you to make a real connection.

There’s value in that, and you should put your focus right there.

The same philosophy applies to real life: optimize your time to spend with people who can help you grow your network, and then work overtime to show them value.

Blog: Want More Value from Your Chamber Membership? Help ‘Em Out

If you find they’re not “sharing” your story with their network, and reciprocating the value that you’re providing, then move on.

Leave the relationship open, always, but reposition your time and resources in more fruitful directions.

Make your real world algorithm work for you as well, by dissecting it, and creating better, stronger, more effective interactions.

Wrap-Up: Your Networking Should Be Working

Your networking time – both in-person and online – should be working for you, and yielding results.

Unfortunately, in both instances, many of us get frustrated when things don’t move forward.

Part of that is needing to play the long game – networking is not transactional, and should never be treated that way (a good lesson for probably 75% of networkers out there, based on walking around events and trade shows).

But it’s more than that… It’s optimizing your time, strategizing your relationships and always, always, always striving for mutual value.

What’s nice about the LinkedIn algorithm analogy is that it spells it out pretty neatly: Interact with the people who are the best at interacting.

Who have the best chance of spreading your messaging far and wide.

And do the same for them.

That’s how you get better engagement on LinkedIn, and that’s how you grow your business through networking.


Is your networking working?

Momentum – The Business Growth Agency helps companies develop, implement and optimize their chamber of commerce membership and sponsorship strategy. Want to learn how? Schedule a 15-minute Zoom call with us!