How to hack the LinkedIn algorithm and game your engagement rate… not!

These days, when I scroll through my timeline on LinkedIn, it almost feels like every second post has a selfie (or a photograph where they are just posing for the camera)!

In most cases, the photo has nothing whatsoever to do with the text they have also written in the post – there is no connection at all (even as the text is actually quite useful and meaningful to their profession/industry)! But then, LinkedIn only shows the first 3 lines in your timeline along with the selfie/photo – so all you see is, primarily, the photo!

Here are some examples from my timeline. This is not to say that this is wrong. Whatever works for these people based on how they measure works would be right according to them. I can, at best, offer another perspective based on my own experience.

So why do people, so many of them at that, religiously post their selfies/photos on LinkedIn posts even when they don’t add any value to the actual content?

That is because of the passed-on wisdom (where else, on LinkedIn only!) that a post with a selfie or a photo gets you 3x more engagement and up to 2.5x more reach!

There are several such nuggets of wisdom involving methods to hack the LinkedIn algorithm and improve your engagement on the platform.

Here are some that I recall seeing recently:

“You are not supposed to add a link that takes users outside LinkedIn in your post. If you have such a link, add it in the comments.”

“You are supposed to get as many comments on your post as quickly as possible so that the algorithm assumes that your post is very ‘buzz-worthy’. To ensure you get comments, you are told to end posts with a question that is easy to answer (“Agree?”, “Reply Y in comments”, and so on)”

“The first 60 minutes after you post is called the ‘Golden Hour’, with regard to comments. Ensure that you respond to every single comment because comments in this period help the post gain 20% growth. Even here, short comments have half the impact of comments that contain more than 12 words.”

“Write in numbered lists.” (If you see the selfies/photos examples above, many also have a numbered list template!)

“Carousel posts, Document posts, and Polls supposedly get you up to 3X reach.”

“You are to always add a call-to-action in your posts – signing up for your newsletter, requesting to follow you for more content like the one above, etc. “

… and so on. There are many, many more.

Before I write further, I need to get this out of the way: I do not consider myself to be some LinkedIn influencer, but can only assume that there is at least some merit in my LinkedIn presence because LinkedIn itself said so, by adding my profile to the ‘most viewed profiles’ list under ‘marketing and advertising’ (called ‘LinkedIn Power Profile’) for 4 years in a row – 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Plus, LinkedIn added me to a list called ‘Top Voice’ in 2020. I believe LinkedIn has dropped ‘power profile’ and has tweaked ‘top voice’ methodologies after 2020, but the point is this: I do not follow any methods or tactics to ‘game’ the so-called LinkedIn algorithm and yet LinkedIn thinks my presence on the platform is reasonably noteworthy at a country-level.

Having said that, here goes…

I have never ever posted a single selfie on LinkedIn.

I do not reply to every comment that agrees or disagrees with my point of view. I only comment when someone takes the effort to explain why they disagree with my point of view, so that it starts a healthy to-and-fro of ideas and perspectives, and we may both end up learning new ways to approach the topic.

Most of my comments are far more than 12 words. In fact, some of my comments are longer than my original post itself 🙂

I personally don’t bother about the so-called ‘Golden Hour’ of comments and start replying only when it suits me and my time.

I have never posted even a single carousel, document, or poll. Ever.

I don’t have a personal hashtag. I use hashtags that I think are relevant to the post and those that people may search on LinkedIn and may land up on my post.

I post my links inside the post, not in the comment after adding ‘link in comments’ in my post. If at all I’m adding a link in the comment, it is only because I already have a link in my post, and using the good old marketing wisdom of not adding 2 calls-to-action in a single piece of content, it makes sense to add the 2nd link in the comment.

To be fair, the intent behind the many LinkedIn algorithm hacks is good and quite obvious – increase reach, and improve engagement. I mean, who doesn’t want better reach for their posts?

But where things go haywire is when people tend to give the hacks primacy over the very point of the content itself!

This leads to adding a selfie/photo in many posts even when it doesn’t add value.

This ends up in them responding with cookie-cutter, totally inane replies (that simply parrot the comment, or agree with whatever is in the comment) to every single comment… and the replies stop after some comments – Golden Hour over, after all!

This also creates situations where an entire book review is shared in the form of a document with each slide having just one sentence with 2-3 lines. To be fair, Instagram has inculcated the swipe-left and swipe-right behavior and it sometimes does help break the reading into small chunks.

The larger reason why people follow such hacks is that they want to continue getting high engagement rates from LinkedIn, week after week.

There are similar gaming tactics for Instagram too, and I assume there may be some for Twitter and Facebook too, though, Twitter, with its many, many changes in policies and the algorithm under Musk, may have made algo-gaming really confusing and difficult.

I have 2 reasons why I don’t indulge in these tactics, and I have written about them in the past too:

1. Personal branding is about long-term consistency, not short-term intensity or hacks. And because it is about long-term consistency, my metrics are not bound by what LinkedIn tells me in the name of engagement. My primary metric is what I am gaining in terms of knowledge or perspective while researching a topic, or engaging in the comments. And what I gain in the offline, real world in terms of work-related leads, connections, etc.

2. The digitally visible engagement is only a tiny fraction of the overall real engagement that could also happen when someone only reads and does not leave any digital trace of their activity. In essence, a LOT more people only read, and move on, than the number that also comments, Likes, Shares, etc. I call this the ‘invisible majority‘ of the internet.

Because I’m absolutely sure of what I’m sharing, and why I’m sharing, I do not feel the need to give that content a supposed boost using these algorithmic hacks.

Where does this ‘absolutely sure’ confidence come from?

It’s from defining my personal brand clearly and sharply. In terms of what I’d like to be associated with/known for, in the long run.

I use a 3-layer definition – imagine this as 3 concentric circles.

The smallest circle, in the center, is about the industry that I operate in – communications. And this includes all kinds of subdivisions within the industry – advertising, marketing, public relations, digital marketing, and so on.

The 2nd circle, in the middle, is about the ecosystem in which communications exist. This helps me look at communications from a broader perspective. Communication in our day-to-day life. Communication in politics. Interpersonal communication between people. Communication between a parent and a child. Other areas that need communication skills or use communication in other formats, like negotiation, the news and broadcast industry, movies, etc. And more.

The 3rd circle, the outer circle, is about the place I’m situated in – the area I live in, Bengaluru, South India, India, Asia, and the world. The things that affect these, and what affects my worldview within what affects these, form the crux of this layer.

While the first 2 layers are about my work and profession, the outer circle is about myself as an individual. Understandably, I restrict the content about this outer circle to platforms that are not specifically associated with ‘profession’, like LinkedIn. So, most of my ‘outer circle’ content is restricted only to Twitter, and Facebook, while the content from the first 2 circles goes into these two platforms + LinkedIn and Instagram.

Any given day I surf the internet (on relevant websites) or read any newspaper, I use the 3-circle parameter to identify what to have an opinion on, and what to share among those opinions (after all, not all opinions are shareable to the entire world of strangers. Some are meant for specific groups of people).

And I have so many things every single day that I have to judiciously cull out the most interesting things (they have to be interesting to me first or affect my state of mind first), prioritize them, find time to articulate my view clearly, and as unambiguously as possible.

I have no dearth of things to share about because of this 3-circle system I follow. I only lack the time to prioritize things and articulate my views on them. But I do manage to, as a daily habit, much like brushing my teeth, sleeping, my daily 5 km running routine, etc. 🙂

I research for content based on not what may go viral, but what genuinely intrigues or interests me, or what provokes my thought. I’m the first beneficiary of what I share – those that see it on LinkedIn are secondary 🙂

So if you stand to gain from what you are sharing in terms of better knowledge, and newer perspectives (while you research and read more), that is THE biggest benefit of this activity, more than anything to do with external validation or platform-centric engagement.

To be sure, I do look at the platform metrics that LinkedIn shows me (I don’t do that so much on Twitter). LinkedIn shows you ‘impressions’ right under every post and the 7-day impressions on your profile page. I make some assumptions about certain topics supposedly getting more impressions of shares, but they break into smithereens in the next week when I share something else similar to it 🙂

Overall, I have come to believe that there’s absolutely no point trying to game or hack the LinkedIn algorithm. That time/effort is better spent in defining your personal brand as sharply as possible, researching relevant updates within that area for you to gain from first, and articulating them in as interesting a manner as possible.

In a way, these hacks are akin to search engine optimization techniques that prioritize being found by search engines over quality of content. This involves adding keywords for the sake of search engine visibility, a kind of clickbait.

It also doesn’t make any sense trying to figure out ‘the best time to post on LinkedIn’, something that I keep getting asked so many times by so many people. Generally, I stick to a morning posting schedule – when people just get to the office and start working (8:45 am to around 9:30 am). Beyond that, it doesn’t matter even if you post on supposed odd hours, say 11:30 pm, in the night. You can always repost (as in, not post again, but use the Repost option that functions like Retweet of Twitter) it with or without an added comment in the morning, again. You can even repost it on the weekend because that’s a very different set of users.

The bigger issue around using hacks is that they tend to move you towards gaming your content and playing the numbers game. You eventually try to post more of what seems to be working, as per LinkedIn metrics, to try and emulate the same success again and again. This is not very different from movie producers trying to copy one film’s success as a formula.

In personal branding, numbers are secondary.
Content that offers value to yourself, and to the readers is primary.
And consistency trumps short-term intensity/bursts.

Every profession and industry can use the 3-circle parameter to define your own content guidelines and stay off shortcuts like algorithm hacks.

HR? The specific role within HR that you operate in (recruitment, internal communications, leadership communication, or even broader HR) could be at the center. People management, in general, could be the middle circle, since it applies to so many areas beyond merely HR.

Legal profession? Your immediate legal area (civil, criminal, corporate, IP, etc.) could be the center. Use of the legal framework in many other facets could come in the middle circle (open any newspaper any day and you’d find tons of news that hinge on legal orders/rulings).

The 3rd circle is free for you to decide from a gamut of things that happen around us – sports, politics, travel, physical activities you are interested in, music, movies, city improvement, and so on. But unless your primary profession involves one of these things, don’t put them in the inner or middle circle, for the purposes of LinkedIn 🙂