Monday Mornings with Madison

Getting the Most from LinkedIn Engagement in 2021 – Part 1

While Facebook may be the largest social networking site in the world today, LinkedIn has been supporting its users for a longer time.  It is the professional social networking site for those looking to make new business connections, nurture existing professional contacts, and focus on personal development and growth.  According to the site, there are over 760 Million users worldwide in over 200 countries and in 24 languages.  That is a lot of potential reach for any business, which explains why so many business people are actively engaging on the site.  In fact, there are over 260 million monthly active users.

Moreover, since so much typical face-to-face business networking activity has been put on hold due to Covid – such as conferences, seminars, trade shows, symposiums and most business travel – being able to reach prospective clients and stay top-of-mind with current contacts is more important than ever.  One way to do that cost effectively is through LinkedIn, a social media platform that is mostly free from political rhetoric, banal personal posts, and silly and inappropriate content.  While so many social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook are under attack for how they handle questionable content, LinkedIn really hasn’t had to deal with such problems much, making it a social media site acceptable to just about everyone.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that most people haven’t a clue how the LinkedIn algorithm works regarding content so it is very hard to measure the effectiveness and ROI of LinkedIn engagement.  Does posting content actually produce customer engagement?  What type of content gets the most engagement?  What days of the week are best for post engagement?   What time of day will a post be best received?   How often should someone post?  How often should a person comment on other posts?  How often should someone share other creators’ posts?  How quickly should a person to respond to comments on a new post?  What kind of content will be best received?  How much engagement does a single post need to generate to be considered ‘successful’?

There is a lot to consider and almost no reliable information to go on from LI about what works and what doesn’t because the company seldom provides feedback on this.  Worst of all, any information gleaned on discussion boards with other LinkedIn Influencers becomes moot the moment LI updates its algorithm and changes the rules of engagement.  If LinkedIn is a moving target, then what is a company or business exec to do to ensure that their engagement efforts on LI produce the best results?

Recent Changes to LinkedIn’s Rules of Engagement

The answer is to stay current.  It is important to keep abreast of the latest modifications to the site, and determine how best to deal with each.   Here are a few recent changes to the LinkedIn algorithm that have been observed and reported by social media experts.  Again, LinkedIn does not share or confirm this information.  It is gleaned through use.

1. Expanded Engagement Time – When it comes to engagement time after posting, there is good news and bad news.  Whereas posts used to need engagement in the hour immediately after posting in order to gain traction — at least 4-8 comments in the first 60 minutes; referred to as “The Golden Hour” – this is no longer true.  Posts can now attract attention and engagement over a period of days and gain traction.  The average shelf-life of a post is now about 3-5 days, depending on engagement.  The person posting still needs for people to engage and still needs to respond to those comments, but it doesn’t have to happen within the first hour after posting.  This gives LinkedIn content creators the freedom to engage at will without feeling a pressure to have to engage immediately after posting.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that LinkedIn engagement pods will have a much harder time coordinating their efforts to ensure a post gains traction.  Since engagement can happen over a multi-day period of time, the focused activity of an engagement pod will likely be less effective in making a post be seen by larger audiences.  LinkedIn never approved of engagement pods – which were viewed as a way of gaming the system — and this will likely help quash pod effectiveness once and for all.  Was that the point of this change to the algorithm?  Probably not.  But I’m sure it will be seen as an added bonus.

For those who don’t know what an engagement pod is, here is a quick primer.  An engagement pod is a private group created inside LinkedIn.  The people in the pod promise to regularly and quickly engage with each other’s content. The goal is to “beat the algorithm” to gain increased exposure for the content generated by anyone in the pod.  (If you see the same people commenting on everything a person posts, they might be a part of an engagement pod along with that person.)  The idea is that members of the group can virtually guarantee a certain number of likes and comments on any post created by one of the members of the pod, and based on those engagements, LinkedIn would then decide to display the post to more people in the LinkedIn Feed.  The reason the pod strategy took off on LinkedIn is because a blog post by one of LinkedIn’s Engineering Team outlined changes in 2017 meant to “Keep the LinkedIn Feed Relevant” which included these three steps:

  • Step 1:  LI posts are reviewed by bots: This happens immediately, and is meant to flag anything that is spam.
  • Step 2:  Content is scored by the algorithm: Quality is assessed based on the reactions (or lack of reactions) from the post’s first viewers.
  • Step 3:  Posts are then reviewed by LinkedIn employees who hand-pick posts to distribute beyond the poster’s own network.

Pods were meant to address the second step. Members of an engagement pod hoped to increase their chances of a high-quality score within that first hour after publishing.  But with the new expanded engagement time, it looks like engagement pods will lose some of their power.  An engagement pod will still help those who are just starting out and have no following at all.

2. Break Penalty – Busy at work and don’t have time for social media?  Just need a break from posting on LinkedIn?  Beware, taking a break from posting on LinkedIn will have an impact on the traction and engagement of that person’s posts upon returning to LI.

LinkedIn is intent on rewarding consistency of use (which makes business sense) and punishing those who get active on the site for a while, build up a strong following, and then just want to sit back and ride the wave of engagement.  There is no longer any “coasting” when it comes to LI engagement.  Those who work hard to build up engagement need to know that taking a break will absolutely affect traction upon returning to content creation.  Anyone who is getting very busy or expects to be unable to post for a while should either create posts in advance and arrange for someone else to publish the content in the interim… or simply hire a social media expert to handle their content on LI for the duration.

So how long is “too long” when it comes to a taking a break from posting content?  As little as a few weeks can cause the algorithm to penalize the person.  For those who are used to strong engagement and a lot of traction, the engagement might drop to a beginner’s level.  That’s because basically that is what is happening.  The LinkedIn algorithm assigns a quality score to content even before it is published.  That score is not shared with anyone, but it exists.  When a person stops posting regularly, the scoring of that person’s content takes a hit (decreases) because of a lack of consistency.  Most likely, the content’s score is comprised of various factors including a score for the poster related to his/her activity on the site.  A person’s activity would be measured by the frequency in which they post or engage, the type and success of that person’s content, post reactions (such as like, applause, insight, etc.), comments, and re-shares.  So the more active a person is and the more often they post, the higher each post will score and the more it will be propagated in the LinkedIn Feed.

Think of a post like a snowball rolling downhill.  A person’s activity on LinkedIn is equivalent to climbing up the side of the mountain.  The higher the person is, the more traction a snowball he/she starts will gain as it rolls downhill.   The higher up it is, the bigger and faster it will roll.  In the case of a post, the more the post is shared by the LI feed, the more exposure it will have which will generate more like, shares and comments.

Just based on these two recent changes, it is clear that anyone whose sales and marketing efforts are tied to exposure on LinkedIn should post content regularly, and can probably stop relying on engagement pods to jumpstart their traction in the feed.

Next week, we will answer all those questions about the rules for engagement on LinkedIn for 2021, and then examine different formulas for measuring engagement on LinkedIn and ways to increase engagement.  Stay tuned!

Quote of the Week

“If you can get better at your job, you should be an active member of LinkedIn, because LinkedIn should be connecting you to the information, insights and people to be more effective.”
Reid Hoffman

© 2020, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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