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The Illusion of LinkedIn Influence

  • People

In the hyper-connected age of LinkedIn, where your “influence” is often gauged by the number of connections you have, it’s time to ask: What are we really achieving?

I’ve decided “connecting not collecting” is the way forward, humans are not Pokémon.

The Metrics of Influence: Why Numbers Deceive

It’s all too easy to equate a high number of LinkedIn connections with professional success. We often see articles celebrating “LinkedIn Top 100 Followers in UK Accountancy,” usually based on the sheer volume of their network. But is the metric of “number of connections” a true barometer of influence or expertise?

No, but it’s complicated.

The metric of “number of connections” on professional networking platforms like LinkedIn is not a straightforward or fully reliable indicator of influence or expertise for several reasons:

The Signal-to-Noise Ratio Problem

Shallow Connections: A large number of connections often include many that are relatively shallow, resulting in low-quality interactions. 

Information Overload: Having a large network can overwhelm you with posts, articles, and updates, making it difficult to sift through for quality information.

Variability in Connection Types

Non-Expert Connections: Not all connections may belong to your industry or possess relevant expertise. Family members, friends, or colleagues from unrelated fields may inflate your connection numbers but not add professional value.

Inactive Users: Large networks often include inactive or seldom-active connections, reducing the practical utility of the network.

The Depth-Breadth Trade-Off

Focused Expertise vs. General Influence: You may have deep connections in a narrow field, signalling expertise but not broad influence, or vice versa.

Influence Outside of LinkedIn: Many thought leaders or experts may have influence demonstrated through other channels, like academic publications, media appearances, or speaking engagements, which are not reflected in their LinkedIn connections.

The Emergence of Alternative Metrics

Engagement Rates: Metrics like the number of meaningful interactions, comments, shares, and content quality are becoming more indicative of real influence.

Blockchain-Based Solutions (Speculative): Future platforms might use decentralised technology to create more nuanced, value-based metrics that gauge the quality of your interactions and contributions to your network.

Hidden Costs of the Numbers Game

While a large network offers the illusion of influence, it can also create a high signal-to-noise ratio, making it increasingly challenging to find valuable connections or insightful content. This becomes particularly problematic if you’re using LinkedIn as an educational tool like I was.

Social media for me has always been a place where I can keep abreast of current affairs and learn. Of late this has become more difficult due to the volume of noise across the channels I use so I have had a flurry of deleting social media accounts and reducing the number of connections I have on LinkedIn.

Concentrating on quality of connections rather than volume I now have more time for interaction as I am not fighting against the tidal wave of noise and distractions that lead to lost moments with little value to me or what I can provide to others.

The True Value of a Connection: Knowledge Sharing & Genuine Interactions

If you have 5000+ connections but hardly interact with any of them, the likelihood of benefiting from that network diminishes. A more focused, curated network is likely to offer:

  1. Richer Interactions: You can engage in meaningful conversations.
  2. Knowledge Sharing: Professionals can share industry-specific insights that are directly applicable to your field.
  3. Personalised Opportunities: A well-maintained network often leads to job opportunities and partnerships that are more aligned with your skills and interests.

Who makes the Cut?

How many KNOBs can you fit into your life? Exactly as few as possible right! The below is how I decided who to remove from my LinkedIn life?

Know – do I recognise them from their profile picture?

Name – do I recall their name or something about them?

Originality – do they post anything original, interesting, or educational?

Better – do we enrich each other’s lives, and would we choose to spend time together?

Below are my number of LinkedIn connections before and after my KNOB cull.

To remove a connection from LinkedIn:

  1. Click the My Network icon at the top of your LinkedIn homepage
  2. Click Connections on the left rail
  3. Click the More icon next to the connection you’d like to remove and click Remove Connection
  4. Click Remove from the Remove Connection pop-up window
  5. Sit back relax and enjoy a clutter free feed

Should you delete LinkedIn?

Perhaps a little more extreme than removing connections but maybe the time has come to stop the hamster wheel? I had a flurry of deleting social media accounts a little while ago and the world has continued to spin. LinkedIn was the only one I kept but even that is under review.

I asked some of my nearest and dearest why I should keep LinkedIn, and this is what they came up with:

  1. Gaining new clients (selling at people)
  2. Self-promotion (marketing at people)
  3. Distribution channel for content (broadcasting at people)
  4. Due diligence (protecting yourself from working with people who are not your people)
  5. Identity protection (protecting myself from others trying to be me – good luck!)

Not a huge amount of value being shared in that list for my liking. If there is not a value exchange between connections, what are you bringing to the party? Perhaps it is time to evaluate why we are using LinkedIn and social media in general and whether it is a place we need or want to be.

The Strategic Approach: Selective Networking

Maybe deleting LinkedIn is a bit extreme but after a cull of existing connections there are a few other simple tips you can apply to make it a better place to build connections.

  1. Quality over Quantity: Instead of accepting every connection request, be selective. Choose individuals who align with your professional goals and interests.
  2. Engagement over Passive Scrolling: Proactively interact with your connections. Share, comment, and create value-added content.
  3. Build a Professional Ecosystem: Connect with people across varied sectors and roles within your industry. Diversity within your network can enrich your perspective and open doors to opportunities you didn’t even know existed.

Emerging Technologies & Future Predictions: Blockchain-Based Networking Platforms (Speculative)

In the future, we may see decentralised, blockchain-based professional networking platforms that aim to assign a ‘value’ to each connection based on the quality of interactions, rather than the quantity. Such platforms could potentially provide a more accurate measure of genuine professional influence and knowledge-sharing capabilities.

This will take us away from the digital equivalent of the person turning up to a physical networking event throwing business cards around like confetti who then wondered why the phone never rang off the hook with attendees wanting to buy their product or services.

Now if you compare the earlier list of 100 LinkedIn influencers by number of connections and review the #ICAEWROAR which is a project scoping the social landscape of accountancy you will note a lot of differences. In fact there are just a few names that appear on both. Why?

Mainly because they completed their research on Twitter so not a direct comparison but the methodology used was a far cry from number of followers:

ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales) focused on UK-based individuals tweeting and discussing accountancy related topics such as accountancy, tax, budget, assurance, insolvency, audit and finance.

Their values of integrity, objectivity and respect for others were applied to the tone of voice of the tweets and retweets, determining the data included in the metrics.

Working with BrandWatch they used their social media listening tool to pull data relevant to their specific keywords, looking at a metrics comprising of:

  • Audience re-tweets;
  • Author tweets;
  • Positive and neutral sentiment
  • Visibility and audience relevance.

Whilst not a direct comparison as the tools used were different you can see the extra lengths gone to so a fair and reasonable conclusion can be gathered about the level of influence social media users have. The tools are out there if we choose to use them.

Conclusion: Let’s Redefine Influence

Let’s shift the focus from accumulating numbers to building a well-curated professional ecosystem. The essence of networking isn’t in how many connections you have but in how well those connections align with your professional journey.

If we are genuinely honest the digital landscape is cluttered with ‘connections’, we hope will buy something from us – but why? They don’t know who you are let alone like and trust you.

What You Can Do About It

Curate Your Network: Focus on connections that align with your career and learning goals. 

Engage Meaningfully: Go beyond merely collecting connections to interacting with them meaningfully.

Adopt a Balanced View: Recognise that while a certain level of connectivity is beneficial, it is not the sole or even the most significant marker of professional influence or expertise.

Consider the Emerging Alternatives: Keep an eye on newer, more nuanced metrics and platforms that offer a more balanced view of influence and expertise.

The Takeaway

In a digital landscape cluttered with vanity metrics, make your LinkedIn experience count by focusing on meaningful, quality connections. It’s not about how many people you know; it’s about how well you know them and what value you can provide to each other.

If like me, you use social media more as a tool for curating educational pieces then perhaps try using a tool like Feedly to build a list without the noise.