Lurking in the LinkedIn Shadows

“What’s the point of connecting on LinkedIn if people aren’t then going to engage with me there?”

I was asked this during a recent workshop by a participant who was frustrated that she was adding people to her LinkedIn network after meeting them but all subsequent interactions between them had remained on other channels, such as email.

The fact is, we don’t know who is engaging with our LinkedIn profile and activity and how. Sure, we can see when people look at our profile, unless we or they have closed off that functionality in our settings, and we can monitor likes, comments and shares of our content. And occasionally people will reach out personally to reference something they have seen us post.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

“People get very hung up on views and engagements and interactions and impressions, which can sometimes stop people, especially if they post something and they don’t get the engagement they hoped for.”

I recently interviewed LinkedIn expert Sam Rathling for my Connected Leadership Podcast. Sam talked about the power of ‘lurkers’ on LinkedIn, and across social media. Sam told me, “People get very hung up on views and engagements and interactions and impressions, which can sometimes stop people, especially if they post something and they don’t get the engagement they hoped for. It gives them a bit of fear around, ‘Oh, did nobody like it?’.

“But the magic is in those LinkedIn Lurkers. It’s in the people that don’t actually engage. If you are posting content, people are out there watching the newsfeed all the time. They might not be engaging but quite often it’s the LinkedIn Lurkers who are the ones watching, and they’re the ones who will step forward when they’re ready to because you’ve stayed top of mind with them.”

Most of the group during the workshop admitted to being lurkers, not actively posting or commenting themselves but following interesting content nonetheless.

It’s very easy to fall into the trap Sam talked to me about. Measuring the success of our LinkedIn activity by the number of likes and comments they attract. Yet I have lost count of the number of times people have told me that they follow my activity on LinkedIn, even though I wasn’t aware that they had been reading my posts. In fact, it happened again on the call I finished just before posting this article.

Not everybody wants to put their head above the parapet on social media. We need to recognise that there are two types of engagement with our profiles and content. Tangible Engagement is easy to measure, these are the responses we can see. But that doesn’t mean they are the most powerful.

At each stage of my career, I seem to have had someone engaging consistently and frequently with my content, but not always meaningfully. I’m sure we’ve all done it to some degree. We’ve seen a post by someone we know and clicked on ‘like’ without really engaging with the content because we want to support them.

I’ve had people who have liked videos I’ve posted within seconds of me posting them. Even if the video is three minutes long!

Often it has been the Intangible Engagements that have led to opportunities for me.

So those Tangible Engagements are a useful guide of which content may be sticky and resonant but not much more. Often it has been the Intangible Engagements that have led to opportunities for me.

Back in 2010, I was invited to speak at a conference in Bucharest. During one of the breaks, one of the other speakers approached me. He had enjoyed my presentation and wanted to let me know. He had also been struck by how good my English was, as he had assumed (given my name) that I was Romanian!

We exchanged business cards and connected on LinkedIn. And that was pretty much that.

Until three years later. My contact, Radu, reached out to me on LinkedIn and invited me to speak at a conference in his home town of Timișoara in Western Romania. He told me that the conference had a leadership theme. At that time I didn’t speak on leadership, and I told him so.

“But I’ve been following your posts on LinkedIn”, Radu told me, “and I know that you can do it.”

I had no idea that Radu had been following my content. But his intangible engagement with my work led not only to that opportunity, keeping me top of mind, but also gave him confidence in my work that I didn’t have. That conversation and the subsequent event were, in fact, the seeds of Connected Leadership, which became a book and a podcast.

I shared this with the group during my workshop and explained to the woman who was frustrated at the lack of engagement that she should remember the lurkers, whose engagement is not visible or tangible. She, after all, is one of them.

Of course, to truly drive engagement on any social media, tangible or intangible, you need to feed people’s newsfeeds with your own activity by posting, sharing and commenting.

But perhaps that’s for another time.