LinkedIn Marketing: How Brands Can Use The Algorithm To Their Favor To Market Organically
LinkedIn is a pretty powerful marketing tool for brands and businesses. According to eMarketer, LinkedIn has approximately 62.1 million domestic users (projected to grow to 70.9 in 2024) and pulled in $1.58 billion in advertising revenue in 2019 (projected to grow to $2.16 billion in 2022). As with other social media platforms though, businesses do not need to pay money to market on the platform - if done right, brands can have a solid organic presence that generates awareness, quality leads and leads to conversions.
And that is where having an understanding of the algorithm LinkedIn uses is important. Having an idea of how it works, and how to work with it, gives brands an edge on the platform. Even individuals posting to try to increase their presence (including the dreaded ‘influencers’) would be wise to understand the playing field.
To be clear, the actual algorithm is proprietary information, so we cannot access it ourselves to gain insights. That being said, much has been written and tested in small case studies about how and what LinkedIn promotes in terms of organic, so we have a pretty good idea about some of the strategies that work.
Before we get started, a quick point that sometimes gets overlooked: unlike some other platforms, in the LinkedIn feed, the site defaults to ‘top’ posts rather than ‘newest’. This means that getting engagement on your posts is crucial for visibility, particularly during one specific time….
Winning The First Hour
Once you post out on LinkedIn, a few things happen that determine how much reach your post will have. Initially, LinkedIn will do some quality control checks on your post to make sure it complies with their policies. Basically, it will check if the post is spammy, if there is any sexuality, violence or threatening language as part of the post, among other things. In essence, if you are being a good person and trying to post to generate healthy discussion, you have nothing to worry about here.
From there, LinkedIn will then expose your posts to your first connections to see the amount of engagement it gets. Reactions (i.e. likes) are good, but comments are better because LinkedIn wants you to use the platform to foster discussion. This is how LinkedIn determines the ultimate reach of your post: the more engagement you get in the first hour, the more your post is exposed to a wider audience.
LinkedIn wants to put good, high quality content in front of people, and so the algorithm will read the engagement your post gets as a sign of whether it should boost it up. Remember: LinkedIn’s news feed defaults to ‘top’, not ‘most recent’, so while you can find posts with low engagement, LinkedIn will prioritize showing you ones with healthy engagement.
Of course, creating top notch content is a given to making sure your posts get healthy engagement. But there’s more to it than that. Before we take a deeper dive into some specific topics, here are a few quick hitting facts that can help:
What time you post on the platform matters. There are some differing viewpoints on what the optimal time to post is, but HubSpot recommends posting Tuesday through Thursday, between 8AM and 2PM in your local time zone.
Truthfully however, optimal posting times are a great area to do some testing, as not every audience is the same. This allows you to get a good sense of when your audience will engage (on the other side of the coin, HubSpot recommends avoiding posting on the weekends or outside normal business hours). I typically make my posts late morning or very early afternoon, but am varying the day and exact time to see if I get better results.
Remember earlier when we said comments are the biggest factor LinkedIn uses to determine quality of a post? Well, this is why you need to be replying to everyone who comments on your post - not just simply liking their comment. This is the discussion LinkedIn wants to generate and what will get your post more reach.
There is such a thing as posting too much on LinkedIn. According to Andy Foote in this article, 20 times a month is the sweet spot - anything more than that can be detrimental to the distribution of your posts. The algorithm likes to show the content of more members instead of just a minority that post multiple times a day. Speaking of daily posting, research found that if someone posts a second time on the same day, that post needs to get 3X more engagement to get the same views as the first post. A third post will get ignored by the algorithm. So be careful how frequently you post.
Don’t be afraid to use hashtags in your post - but make sure they are appropriate and relevant. At one point, LinkedIn themselves said that hashtags did not move the needle on your posts. Times have changed however, and using a hashtag can expose your post to anyone searching for that hashtag, which can help increase reach.
Now let’s take a deeper dive into two topics that have spurred some debate and testing amongst the LinkedIn community. We’ll start with one some people may not even consider when the post:
To Link In The Post or Link In the Comments?
When you add a link to your post to an external site, there are two different ways you can do it. You can put a link to the external site directly in the post you make so the link is part of the post that goes out. In practice, it looks like this:
While most people do this, there is a belief out there that this will lead to the post being deprioritized by LinkedIn’s algorithm. The thinking is that LinkedIn wants to keep people on their platform as much as possible, and that because links like this take users away, they are frowned upon by the algorithm.
Alternatively, you can post a link to the external article in the comments. This has been thought of as a way around the algorithm, but it does require more effort from your audience to view the link. Instead of just a click, they have to dig into the comments and find it. Generally speaking, the more hurdles you put in front of your consumer, the less likely they are to convert (or in this case, hunt down the link).
This begs the question: which strategy is better?
The answer depends on your strategy. The social media website Agorapulse did an interesting study on this topic. Essentially, they used a company page, a personal page and tested a few posts on each. Some had the link in the body of the post, some in the comments.
The results were illuminating:
Impressions were 169% higher when the link was posted in the comments
Likes were 25% higher for posts with the link in the body of the post
Shares were 72% higher for posts with the link in the body of the post
Post clicks were 14% higher when the link was posted in the comments (this requires some context though, as people are required to click “show comments” to get to the comments to click the link).
This data supports another insight about posting on LinkedIn: text only posts tend to do better than other forms in terms of engagement. This is one I can speak to personally - I have noticed that when I just have text in the body of my post (think a motivational quote, which I like to mix in from time to time), the reach of the post is higher than when I include a link with the body of the post.
The takeaway: if you are after awareness for your post, it is a good idea to post the link in the comments. If engagement is your goal however, it is better to post your external link in the body of the post. That’s why, before you start posting, you need an idea of what your goal is and how it will be quantified.
One last consideration: keep in mind conversions when you come up with your strategy. It is great if people see your post and engage with it, but as a business you want it to lead somewhere profitable. So, you also want to analyze referrals (i.e. where your traffic is coming from), how many are coming from LinkedIn, their path through your website - assuming they click through at all - and conversion rate. I recommend Google Analytics for this, but there are a few platforms out there that can help measure these metrics.
Does Engaging With Your Own Content - Not With Others Who Comment On It - Have An Impact?
This is something I see pretty frequently in my feed. People have some content that they put up, and as I take a look at the engagement, I see that they comment on their own post (beyond posting a link). It can vary what they say; sometimes they will tag another person, other times they will try to start discussion. They will also react to their own posts with a like (I’m glad they like their own content. Posting content you don’t personally like is a bad strategy).
The question we want to tackle here is does that make a difference in terms of the algorithm? Does LinkedIn look at this in a positive or negative way - or does it matter at all?
There isn’t much research done on this topic, but I was able to find a story from 2017 when someone tried this out. They noted that when they liked their own post, the amount of people who view it increases by ⅓. If the post gets serious traction it can be more than that. For context, this person had roughly 11,000 followers on LinkedIn.
My take is that, while this requires some more testing to fully play out, it is worth it to like and comment on your own posts to get the discussion started. The dissenting voices I was able to find basically talked about it compromising your personal brand by making you seem desperate - a comment that lacks any kind of desire to find what the true impact is. So feel free to comment within reason on your posts (always be appropriate) and like away.
This should give you a pretty good idea of how to get started organically marketing on LinkedIn, and some nuggets to use the algorithm to your favor. One final point: content is always king, so make sure your content is relevant to your intended audience. Algorithm or not, that is always going to be the biggest factor in determining success or failure of organic marketing.
Oak Moon is a consulting agency based out of Columbus, OH that helps companies market their brands, define value propositions and uncover customer insights, among other services. If you are interested in hearing more or have questions or comments about this blog, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.