So you're on LinkedIn, looking for prospective whatever-it-is-you're-there-fors, but it's not working out for you. You’re practically invisible, apart from a few supportive friends who like and share your posts to no avail.
To counteract this, you resolve to post on a regular basis. You're attempting everything from a novel's worth of text to borderline clickbait, but without a specific method. You're just throwing ideas around and seeing what the algorithm sticks to, which doesn't seem to be much.
You take a look at posts with a load of views, reactions, shares, and comments. They all seem to be talking about the same things you are. You're trying to figure out what you're doing wrong. Is it all down to luck? Do they have ties with some sort of secret LinkedIn cabal that decides the fate of each individual post?
Of course not, though the LinkedIn algorithm oddly fits that description. Luckily, unlike secret societies, we know the algorithm exists and how to "earn its favour".
Note that I'm assuming that you have a specific goal and reason for making your LinkedIn post go viral. If you just like seeing high numbers, almost any other social media platform is better for that.
So, with that out of the way, let's get started.
Yes, this sounds counter-intuitive, but it's just step one. Hear me out.
Put yourself in the shoes of a typical user. Nobody likes ads. You can sense one coming a scroll away, and when you encounter it you skip past without even realizing it.
If you're trying to make your product, service, or skills sound appealing and spread awareness of them, it's still an ad, just not a paid one. This is particularly detrimental because users can select the "I don't want to see this'' option. That lowers your rank in the algorithm since more people are choosing not to see it compared to the average post.
If they're particularly grumpy, they might just go ahead and report it as spam. It won't get taken down, but LinkedIn will take the report into consideration when choosing whether or not to show it to someone. With a large enough following, this feature is actually beneficial, but we'll talk about the algorithm later on.
Now that you've stopped trying, take a step back. Ask yourself what exactly are you hoping to achieve. A viral post won't fix your dwindling sales, land you your dream job, or bring the ideal employee to your door. It can, however, do the following:
- Improve your impressions
In a nutshell, impressions on LinkedIn are the number of times your post was shown to someone. They are a good indicator of the visibility and reach of your content. Having your post appear in people's feeds improves the chances of someone engaging with it and sharing it, which boosts your impressions even more.
- Affect the number of followers and connection requests
If people like what they see, they're going to want to see more. They will likely follow you and send connection requests. Depending on the kind of content you regularly provide, the post that went viral, and your target audience, you'll either get boosted even more, or plant the seed that will ruin your account's standing with the algorithm. More on that later.
- Give you networking opportunities
A well-liked post is not only an opportunity to get followers and connection requests, but to send them as well. Many people only allow third- or second-degree connections to contact them. That means that the more people you connect with, the more potential connections open up for you, expanding your reach.
- Generate leads
Viral posts are terrific for lead generation through LinkedIn. Someone liking your post is a great ice-breaker, increasing your chances of connecting with them. For example, you can send them a personalized connection request like "Hey, I saw that you liked my post about X. What's your take on it?" or "Hi! I really liked the comment you left on X; I hadn't considered it that way before. Do you think it also applies to Y?"
Now that we've established the baseline, we can get into the meat and potatoes of this article!
Sure, uploading amusing situations will earn you a lot of views, impressions, shares, and follows. LinkedIn may very well promote you because people appreciate these things and want to show them to others. But you can't really put them to good use.
If you try to gather a following by using this type of content as a launching point, you won't give yourself a head start, but rather a disadvantage. Many people will stop following you the moment you change what you post. The algorithm will interpret that as "Users don't want to see this, so I should show it as little as possible."
Instead, you should immediately start posting the type of content you want in the long term. This strategy will ensure a more consistent and engaged target audience that resonates with your content and can be marketed to. That increases the success rate of your social selling and the likelihood of one of your posts making it into viraldom.
While we're on the topic of quality over quantity, hashtags are no exception. Hashtags on LinkedIn are a zero-sum game. The more of them you use, the smaller the odds for your content to show up for someone who follows them.
Moreover, you have no control over which hashtag's followers will see your post, resulting in a more diverse and less engaged audience. Better to get fifty views from two core hashtags each, than to get two views from fifty marginally relevant hashtags each.
Keep your post clear, easy to read, and understandable.
You're writing a message to the lowest common denominator of any target audience: sleep-deprived people who ran out of coffee and are browsing LinkedIn during their bathroom break. If it's loud and clear to them, it's loud and clear to everyone.
How do you do this? I've yet to find a better guide than George Orwell's (yes, that George Orwell) lessons on speaking:
- Never use a metaphor, simile or another figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. (Metaphors that are overused or of which the meaning is no longer clear.)
- Never use a long word when a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous. (Use your common sense.)
Though I would add an amendment: "Use longer words should you need the nuance that the alternative lacks." A bit of nuance in one longer word saves you from conveying it with multiple smaller words.
When your post shows up in someone's feed, they're only going to see the first three or four lines and the “See More” button. You have to grab their attention in that elevator pitch span. You must create a question in the reader's head that they'll want to answer by clicking "See More".
However, what’s even more important is following up on the promise you made with your hook. Make sure you deliver on it. The last thing you want is clickbait. Again, the LinkedIn algorithm will see people clicking "Read More" then scrolling away quickly, and it’ll think "This will disappoint people, so I won't show it."
Formatting is the rhetoric of writing. It can make or break the same exact text and message.
Prioritize optimizing for the mobile view. What looks good on phones will look good on desktops, but not the other way around.
Use blank lines to divide paragraphs, underscores to (_) to separate sections, points for lists. Use standard text formatting, such as bold or italics, to emphasize your points. You didn't see that option when writing your posts? AuthoredIn can help you with that!
In addition to formatting your message and enabling emojis without the need to copy-paste them from other websites, AuthoerdIn also allows you to preview how your posts will appear on mobile, tablet, desktop, and even in dark mode.
Humans are emotional beings. The stronger the emotion you bring up, the more likely they will engage. Needless to say – not all emotions. You don't want people feeling guilty or embarrassed.
Happiness is a safe bet. Everyone enjoys seeing something that makes them happy. They also like showing such things to others, but there's not often a lot to comment on such content.
Sadness and anger are more difficult to use, but entirely viable. People love virtue signalling and showing how good they are by opposing something. You will undoubtedly receive more comments, but fewer shares and likes as a result.
But surface-level and direct emotions can only go so far. The way to optimally utilize their full potential is to wrap them into a story, especially one with a face to it. Comedic situations are funnier if they happened to someone. Sharing something slightly embarrassing, but insignificant, will be relatable. Negative emotions are amplified as well, so I wouldn't recommend using them.
The real golden goose of stories is the classic "Hero's Journey". It goes something like this:
- There's the hero. Maybe he's likeable from the get-go, maybe he becomes likeable later.
- The hero decides to do something. He starts doing it and he's well on his way to achieving his dream.
- But then – an obstacle! The hero is set back. It's not clear if he'll be able or motivated to fulfil his dream anymore.
- Then the hero changes, and pulls himself back up. He overcomes the obstacle, gets the girl, rescues the cat, and saves the day. Confetti and cheers everywhere!
People eat this stuff up. We’re all familiar with the outline, so it’s easy to write. It’s the most impactful when the story is based on real life.
When you publish your post you can just ask people to engage with it. It's as simple as that!
If people enjoyed your content, they'll be glad to give you a like, share, or comment on something, especially if you remind them to. It doesn't have to be anything special.
- For likes, you could say:
"Like if you agree!" or
"Like if you think [something relevant to the post]".
- For comments, ask:
"Let me know in the comments if you agree or think otherwise!" or
"What's your tip/ preferred method for/ experience with X?"
- For shares, try something like:
"Share with someone who will enjoy this/ find this useful!"
- For a hybrid which both boosts comments and ensures reach, but doesn't count towards shares:
"Mention someone who will enjoy this/ has been in this situation in the comments!"
- For gathering connections and followers:
"Connect with/ follow me for more content like this!"
Finally, we get to the great beast. The most curious thing about algorithms is that nobody knows exactly how they work. They're randomly generated by algorithms and tested by algorithms, all of which have also been randomly generated and tested, also by algorithms.
Luckily, they are meant to serve a human purpose, so we can figure out how to play them.
It's as simple as putting yourself in its shoes and considering how to fulfil their goals: making users stay on the site/app as long as possible.
As we covered above: you want to show people things they like. If you see a post with a lot of engagement, you’ll want to show it more.
Viral posts are posts that stay in this feedback loop longer.
You'll want to discourage showing posts that have links. Links drive people off the site and onto someone else’s page. If you see people scrolling past a post, or clicking “Read More” and then quickly moving on, you don't want to show it. The more of that there is, the more disappointed they will be.
However, what you can't sympathize with is that the algorithm is really good at profiling, which is the advantage I was talking about in Step 1.
Once your post has been in the feedback loop for long enough and has garnered enough of an audience, people selecting "I don't want to see this" is actually going to help LinkedIn narrow down the target audience for you.
Last but not least: you still need to put your thinking cap on. As I've said before, these are mere guidelines.
Getting a post viral isn't an equation where specific inputs get certain results.
You're unique, your topics and style are unique, and every single member of your audience is unique.
You'll have to do a lot of adjusting for factors that you yourself have spotted. You'll have to see what works and doesn't for you. To fully understand your LinkedIn activity, Shieldapp should help you with your post statistics and comparisons.
Meanwhile, Dashed AI will track your outreach, so that you can fine-tune your posts. Which topics resonate, at what time do your posts get the most engagement, which styles resonate, what messages and emotions do well?
If you can put all these insights together, you’ll get more viral posts and exponentially increase your reach.