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by Adam Gray | @AGSocialMedia | LinkedIn

When I was writing my first book Brilliant Social Media (Pub Pearson) I had a bit of time on my hands and needed to do some research around the structure of networks and how to map them. Thankfully at that point the online learning portals Coursera and EDx were running a huge number of courses and they were free so I studied every single one about networks and network analysis that was on offer and that ultimately led me to do a course at Berkeley on statistics…so I do have a reasonable well informed opinion about this but wouldn’t profess to be an expert on the matter.

In this video Bonnie Barrilleaux (Data science manager at LinkedIn) talks about the new algorithm and what they are hoping it will achieve. It’s quite a technical talk and seems quite involved, but what LinkedIn are describing isn’t particularly complicated as it’s just measuring behavioural responses to what people are shown. I don’t at this stage think that this creates much of a problem for people who are reasonably active and successful on LinkedIn but aren’t rock stars either. We, those people in the middle, probably aren’t going to be stolen from or given to in terms of the new algorithm and the visibility it provides. I think though it just implicitly states (not that we didn’t already know it) that LinkedIn is a business and they want to take more money from people and the best way to do this is to have a larger engaged customer base and the best way to do this is to reward a larger rather than smaller portion of that customer base and that’s what the new algorithm is about.

I think though that the fundamental issue that LinkedIn have is that although they can measure user responses to posts and draw conclusions about the quality of those posts there is little correlation between popularity and quality.

One of the courses that I studied used the spread of a contagious disease through a population as a metaphor for the spread of an idea through a population (as the two behave in a very similar way) and interestingly the way that you get a disease to spread quickly is to infect someone who is very central within a network (that doesn’t mean someone who necessarily has lots of connections but it usually means someone who’s have lots of connections) but the deeper I looked in to this the more I realised that the model of the disease was not the same as spreading an idea. An example of this might be the spread of the bubonic plague through Europe in the 14th century, where it killed around 50% of the population. The reason the black death was so effective  at killing people was because most people who were exposed to it contracted the disease (it had a very high contagion rate). If you want a post to go viral it too needs to have a very high contagion rate (a high percentage of the people exposed to the post need to comment/like/share so that it spreads downstream) but this is not something that we can easily affect. Certainly not in a business environment because a photo of a new starter’s desk with phone, computer, coffee mug and t-shirt will always get more likes than an article on how to optimise your blog writing!

At Digital Leadership Associates we have always held true to the belief that writing good content and sharing good ideas that makes the reader’s life better/easier is the way forward and that won’t change simply because the LinkedIn algorithm has been tweaked. 

I think the presentation and response to the questions was absolutely focused on cutting the data and trying to make sense of it – it was all about the metrics that they use and how they blend the indicators – let’s be honest there are only 4 things that they can measure on a post by post basis – likes, comments, shares and blocks and there seems to be a lot of smoke and mirrors being used. 

She used a quote “when a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a good measure” and they are trying very hard not to let people know what’s being measured.

The long and the short of it is that if you are getting falling response rates it could be because your content isn’t hitting the spot, it could be because your audience isn’t engaged enough (so you need to like comment and share more of their content in order to engage them in the hope that Linkedin will like you more for that) or you need to reevaluate how you blend your use of LinkedIn with other social networks as LinkedIn is not the only social network in the world!

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