The History of User-Generated Content on LinkedIn
Back in 2018 and for large parts of 2019, LinkedIn was a paradise for anyone who understood how to create interesting, premium-quality content. During this golden age, content creators were able to generate millions of views. All of this was possible because of a huge experiment that LinkedIn had rolled out across its entire platform.
At the time. LinkedIn noticed a huge problem. People were seeing LinkedIn only as a CV database. Instead of logging into their LinkedIn account daily, they were using other social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis.
Users only accessed and updated their LinkedIn account during job transitions or to check their messages when recruiters sent them messages. A low number of monthly active users meant that LinkedIn could only sell a limited amount of LinkedIn Ads and LinkedIn Premium subscriptions.
User-generated content to get more people returning on a regular basis!
Types of Content on LinkedIn
In the early days of LinkedIn, the only content type available was the sharing of external links. Early pioneers realized the enormous potential of this feature and used LinkedIn as one of the top sources to generate inbound traffic for their blogs and articles.
LinkedIn wouldn’t stop there. Over the years it acquired and developed many different companies and technologies to enhance their own platform and to make it more attractive to users.
In 2012, LinkedIn acquired SlideShare, an online platform that allowed to share PowerPoint presentations and slide shows online, and integrated it into the LinkedIn platform.
As competition with other social media networks grew, more and more social media platforms attempted to keep their users on their own platform by introducing more and more native content types.
LinkedIn jumped onto this trend with the creation of LinkedIn articles. Instead of sending people away from LinkedIn to read an article on someone else’s website, readers could now read articles on LinkedIn itself.
In the beginning, LinkedIn articles were limited to LinkedIn Influencers with the blue badge. Later, LinkedIn rolled out LinkedIn articles to everyone.
What was missing was a newsfeed comparable to Twitter or Facebook. This all changed with the introduction of LinkedIn posts. LinkedIn referred to these content types initially as shares or status updates but settled for posts in the end.
Both text-only and photo posts were limited to 1,300 characters of text. Unlike articles, it was impossible to use different fonts and formats. It was just pure text. Photo posts were essentially a regular post with an attached photo.
For a long time, these posts didn’t have a huge amount of reach. The content was usually only seen by first-level connections and rarely went viral.
This changed in 2017, with the introduction of a new LinkedIn newsfeed algorithm that attempted to show readers more relevant and interesting content in their newsfeed based on interests and preferences.
I was one of the early adopters and quickly learned how to utilize the new newsfeed algorithm to generate leads on LinkedIn with content marketing.
My biggest post generated over 3.5 million views, I had several posts with 500,000+ views, many with 100,000+ views and almost all posts had a minimum of 10,000 to 50,000 views.
It was the golden age of organic reach on LinkedIn.
As time went on and LinkedIn introduced more and more native content formats. First video posts, then document posts, then live-streaming.
Every time they would tweak their newsfeed algorithm to give the cool new content type a massive, unfair advantage when it came to newsfeed impressions.
With the introduction of video posts, text posts were downranked and lost a huge number of impressions. If you wanted to succeed you had to ride the wave and switch from text to videos.
This all changed in late 2019, early 2020. If you want to learn more about the earlier algorithm changes, check out my other article: The LinkedIn Gold Rush is over.
As of today, organic reach on LinkedIn is almost dead.
What’s not working anymore on LinkedIn and what’s still working.
External Link Sharing
External links always had the lowest priority among all content types on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn learned from other platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. They started punishing users for sharing external content so viewers would stay on their own platform longer.
This resulted in more ad impressions and raised overall revenue.
LinkedIn Articles (aka. LinkedIn Pulse)
Articles quickly fell out of favor among content creators. The problem?
Writers had no control over their content. They couldn’t install any tracking scripts, they couldn’t embed any lead generation forms, etc.
So writers started to create gateway articles. They would share maybe the first 10% of their article as LinkedIn article and then link to the full article on their own website.
When LinkedIn realized this, they started to downrank articles and no longer invested in the development of their publishing platform.
Articles have the second-lowest organic reach on LinkedIn after external links.
LinkedIn Newsletters are a recent add-on to LinkedIn articles. Members can subscribe to newsletters to receive email notifications when an author publishes a new LinkedIn article. This program is still in beta and by invitation only.
LinkedIn articles and LinkedIn newsletters look identical. The only difference is, that LinkedIn newsletters contain an additional header at the top, above the article headline with a Subscribe button.
Text posts were the first native content type that was heavily prioritized by the LinkedIn newsfeed algorithm. It forced content creators to write compelling mini-stories within 1,300 characters of space.
Photo posts had a lower priority since most content creators abused them for low-quality cat photos and memes without any originality.
Video and video marketing was a huge buzzword in 2019. Everyone was talking about how video and visual content would take over as the number 1 medium for B2B marketing.
LinkedIn had huge plans with video and aggressively pushed this new content type out to everyone. At that time it was quite easy to generate anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 views.
As more and more content creators flooded the platform and started to take advantage of it, the average video quality dropped dramatically and people started to complain.
And LinkedIn did what it always does.
It downranked videos.
Shortly after videos, a new content format became the new favorite of the LinkedIn newsfeed algorithm. Documents.
LinkedIn made it possible to share PowerPoint presentations, Word documents, and PDFs among other content types natively in its newsfeed without the need to use a platform such as SlideShare.
One of the newest LinkedIn content types is Live Streaming. This feature is still in beta and only available on application only.
The ability to create and share online and offline events on LinkedIn has recently been re-introduced to its members. It allows creating dedicated event pages for any event from running a webinar up to a multi-day conference.
Events can be shared as posts on LinkedIn. At the moment there is no prioritization of event posts over other post types in the LinkedIn newsfeed.
How did LinkedIn kill off organic reach?
The organic reach of all user-generated content was dramatically reduced in favor of other content types.
On a technical level, LinkedIn achieved this by re-prioritizing different content types such as LinkedIn ads within their newsfeed and by creating higher thresholds to jump from one level of separation to another level.
In the beginning, you could write a post, and if one of your connections or follower would like it (your 1st level), it would be shown to some of their connections and followers (your 2nd level), and if some of them engaged, it would be shown to their connections and followers (your 3rd level).
Nowadays, your content will almost always only be seen by your first-level connections and direct followers and you now need much more likes, reactions, comments, and shares in order for it to spread.
It is still possible to go viral, but you need a lot more engagement to make it happen.
You also require a higher level of engagement quality such as longer and more in-depth comments, comments on comments chains and sub-comment threads. As well as shares with descriptions.
The engagement velocity is also more important. If you don’t get initial engagement fast enough, your post won’t spread. This has nothing to do with the quality of your content and more with the time of posting plus a little bit of luck that your post was shown to just the right people in this short time frame.
Today there isn’t any obvious favoritism when it comes to content types such as text-only, photos, video or documents. All have been downgraded globally and are now much less effective.
It is also worth noting that your content only can grow to a certain undisclosed view count. Afterward, it will be put on hold for manual content review by a LinkedIn editor.
Only if your post is in alignment with LinkedIn’s internal, content guidelines will it be allowed to go grow further or even go viral. If it’s not, it’s organic reach will slowly die after the review. The entire process isn’t transparent and we know almost nothing about LinkedIn’s internal content guidelines.
All we know is that it has become a lot stricter.
On top of all of these changes, LinkedIn makes it a lot more difficult for content creators to grow.
First, they removed the follower count from posts, then they removed the follow button from everyone, except official LinkedIn influencers.
Today, an interested reader has to click on someone’s profile and follow them. This decreases everyone’s growth in terms of followers on the entire LinkedIn platform.
What’s showing up instead in your LinkedIn news feed in 2020?
Now you might wonder, how is this even possible? My news feed doesn’t look empty! Where did the millions of views go?
Glad that you ask, let me explain… 🧐
Your news feed isn’t empty because LinkedIn is pushing different content types out to everyone.
You might have noticed that a lot more LinkedIn Ads are showing up everywhere.
LinkedIn is following in Facebook’s footsteps and tries to get businesses to pay, to show up in the newsfeed of LinkedIn members.
LinkedIn Products Promotion
Next, we have internal LinkedIn promotions.
Currently, they are pushing two LinkedIn products: LinkedIn Premium subscriptions and LinkedIn Learning including individual courses.
Content from traditional well-known influencers
When LinkedIn realized that the overall quality of user-generated content dropped, they decided to re-focus on people they could “trust”.
Traditional LinkedIn influencers with blue badges, such as Bill Gates or Jeff Weiner.
LinkedIn curated editorial content
We also see much more internal content from the LinkedIn editorial team about current events and news. LinkedIn has an entire division of LinkedIn editors who are following the news around the world.
Whenever something interesting and significant is happening in the world, they’ll create news-of-the-day topics and then share a small selection of hand-picked user-generated content about this topic.
Those selected posts get a huge boost and are shared with more members on the platform.
Content from traditional authority publishers
Besides curated editorial content, we also see spikes from traditional publishers such as Forbes, National Geographic and The Economist.
These publications see huge amounts of views and engagement with their content, despite technically sharing external links.
One theory to explain these phenomena is, that LinkedIn might have undisclosed publishing partnerships with individual news organizations. In exchange for payment, LinkedIn might guarantee a certain amount of views and clicks.
Another theory is, that LinkedIn might have whitelisted certain, trusted domains of news organization without compensation. This would give any external links to websites such as Forbes additional news feed impressions over other, unknown domains.
Of course, it is entirely possible that all of this might just be a big coincidence.
Why is LinkedIn doing this?
LinkedIn realized that people weren’t willing to pay for expensive LinkedIn Ads anymore, because… Why would they, if everyone can get millions of organic views completely for free?
Fewer ads meant less revenue for LinkedIn, so they turned back the wheel.
Another reason is, that as more and more content creators joined in on the LinkedIn hype and took advantage of the incredible organic reach, the overall content quality went down and LinkedIn users started to complain.
This posed a huge risk for LinkedIn. If LinkedIn couldn’t keep their members entertained, they would log into LinkedIn less often and as a consequence ads-revenue and Premium subscriptions would go down.
LinkedIn also noticed that some of the new content formats weren’t as well-received by the majority of LinkedIn users, as they have been on other platforms.
This is specifically true for LinkedIn videos that took up huge amounts of available screen space.
LinkedIn’s Newsfeed Algorithm Priorities 2020
Based on the content that LinkedIn is promoting in their newsfeed, we get a clear idea of their current strategy in 2020.
Overall, there is a clear focus to move away from user-generated content to content that has been created by professionals, such as journalists, editors, as well as high-profile individuals through the LinkedIn influencer program.
Instead of having LinkedIn members, with unverified skill levels, teaching each other through posts, LinkedIn prefers to push their professional courses via LinkedIn learning from certified LinkedIn Learning instructors.
They also want to get more people to sign up for Premium subscriptions and are heavily promoting them.
It appears as if LinkedIn subtly tries to motivate its members to go back to the basics of one to one interactions via chat and messages.
User-generated content seemingly only plays the role of a sidekick and only focuses more on people you actually know. Your teammates, first-level connections and direct followers.
How are people coping with it?
I have talked to many people who have just resigned to their fate and continue with the same strategies, just with fewer results.
“What can you do? It is how it is…”
Turning to LinkedIn automation tools
Some seem to focus all of their efforts on LinkedIn automation and automated messages. They use software to send people automated invitations to connect and then follow up via a pre-written sequence of messages on autopilot.
This doesn’t work and is in fact very dangerous and can get your account banned for life!
Besides the risk to your account (see screenshot below that was shared with me), LinkedIn automation generally has a very low success rate. The lack of personalization and qualification results in little to no response rates from potential leads.
LinkedIn engagement pods
Other people are focusing on engagement pods. They usually meet in small groups via LinkedIn group chat, Facebook Messenger, Telegram Groups, Facebook groups or Slack channels and coordinate to engage with each other’s posts in the form of likes and comments.
More recently we also see the influx of Automated tools for LinkedIn engagement pods. Make no mistake, this puts your account at risk. Especially if you’re using tools.
It’s also problematic for another reason. If someone’s content isn’t good enough to create organic engagement by itself, but then received huge amount of engagement from an engagement pod, the following will happen.
You create what I like to call a pod bubble. All the people within this bubble will see each other’s content, while the content rarely travels beyond the boundaries of the pod itself.
Even worse, the LinkedIn newsfeed algorithm will learn that your content only seems to be relevant to other members inside the pod and will rarely be shown to other people in your network.
This defeats the intended purpose of the pod and makes it more or less useless.
In general engagement, pods pose a huge risk to the reputation of individual members as they’re required to engage with each and every post by every engagement pod members. And you might be forced to endorse someone or a topic with who or what you don’t agree at all.
Organic Paid Hybrid Strategy
Then we have others who follow a hybrid model of organic and paid content. This model performs very well and will be covered in one of my upcoming YouTube videos.
And last but not least, we see some people who are leaving LinkedIn altogether to focus on other social media networks such as TikTok.
Should you give up on LinkedIn?
Now, I know. This all sounds very bad!
What’s my recommendation? Should you give up on LinkedIn?
BUT… you have to adjust your LinkedIn strategy!
You will no longer be able to generate inbound leads via viral LinkedIn posts. Or more precisely, it’s almost impossible now.
You can still win big with content marketing on LinkedIn, but success is far more sophisticated to achieve today.
Mediocracy won’t get you anywhere.
If you don’t give it 100%, you might just as well spend your time and money somewhere else or switch to a paid-ads only approach.
What works in 2020 on LinkedIn
One of the most important things that you can do to get better results on LinkedIn is to optimize your LinkedIn profile.
Before, you could get away with a half-optimized profile, because of the huge amount of viral traffic.
Now, that the numbers are down so much, you have to make every visit count.
That means getting a professional headshot photo, optimizing your LinkedIn headline, uploading a professional header image and keeping each section up to date.
If you want to learn more about how to do it, check out my LinkedIn Profile Optimization Course.
High-quality content engagement
Today you need more and higher quality engagement.
To get more people to engage with your content in a meaningful way, you have to engage with everyone who is commenting on your post.
It’s also very important to engage with other people’s content, so they are more likely to see your content in their newsfeed too.
What works well are content creator alliances that share common goals and similar audiences. By engaging with each other’s content it’s possible for everyone to grow together.
Employee Advocacy Program
A similar very effective approach is an in-house employee advocacy programs. This works best for larger companies with huge sales and marketing teams.
By engaging with company page updates and user-generated content from employees, the company as a whole can supply the initial engagement necessary for a post to show up in more people’s newsfeeds.
I cover the details in my “How to grow your LinkedIn Company Page in 10 Steps in 2020” and what are the LinkedIn Page Best Practices.
If you want to learn more about how to set this up in your business, drop me a message to learn about my Employee Advocacy Program and check out my LinkedIn Content Marketing Training One Post Per Day.
Tag your LinkedIn connections to get their attention!
If you don’t have access to an elaborate content distribution network you can simply tag relevant people in your post or in your comment sections. They’ll receive a notification, even if the news feed wouldn’t have shown them your post in the beginning.
Be wise, use this sparingly and only if the content is relevant to people.
Otherwise, they might unfollow you or even worse, disconnect with you – due to your spamming.
Real dialogue, real conversations
Next, we have to get back to basics. More networking. More one-to-one communications. Interacting with other people on LinkedIn dramatically increases the probability of your content showing up in their newsfeed.
Remind yourself of the evergreen approach to marketing and selling. It all comes down to human interactions.
You have to talk to people. Get their email address and contact information. Follow up. Get them on the phone or meet them in person. Build a relationship and close the deal.
Build a Powerful LinkedIn Sales Funnel
It’s also very important that you have a proper LinkedIn Sales Funnel.
Remind yourself. Everything that you do on LinkedIn has to have a purpose!
Think of the product you’re trying to sell and then plan your way backward. What do you have to change in someone’s mind in order for them to buy?
Then create an educational sequence for your ideal audience to educate them and to knock out specific beliefs that are standing in the way of buying from you. This works best with email marketing.
To collect their contact information you have to create an attractive opportunity or lead magnet for them. This can be an ebook, a case study, a webinar or a calculator.
Next, think about the content that you have to create in order to attract the right people who would want to have your lead magnet. Map out your content strategy and user journey.
Plan out how you intend to create the maximum amount of engagement and how to promote your content. Then create your content.
Important: You have to amp-up your content game!
That means higher production quality, better-written copy, and more content optimization.
The ultimate strategy for LinkedIn success in 2020
In summary, the organic reach on LinkedIn is down dramatically.
LinkedIn is prioritizing LinkedIn Ads, internal promotions, LinkedIn Influencers, content from their internal editorial team, publishing partners.
User-generated content has to work a lot harder to get reach.
Reach is capped unless it has been green-lit by one of the content moderators.
Alternatives approaches such as LinkedIn automation and engagement pods don’t work.
The good news is, this is as bad as it can get.
Bottom of the barrel. If you can master this level, you’re good and will prevail over anyone else who gives up easily.
If you are new to LinkedIn, here’s where you can start.
To succeed you have to:
- Optimize your LinkedIn profile
- Map out your LinkedIn content marketing strategy to get high-quality leads for your business
- Create higher-quality LinkedIn content by employing storytelling techniques to generate audience engagement
- Connect with the right people – decision makers and CEOs
- Build an email list with an air-tight LinkedIn Sales funnel
Make no mistake. This requires work!
- You have to be patient
- You won’t see overnight success.
- It might take 6 to 12 months to take off.
Are there any alternatives to content marketing on LinkedIn that work as well?
Yes, traditional content marketing in the form of articles is now more powerful than ever.
Email marketing is also still very powerful.
I had great success with B2B content on YouTube. And paid ads on Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.