How Does The LinkedIn Algorithm Determine What Goes Viral?

Ross Simmonds

One of the most powerful elements of LinkedIn are the connections you’ve made with people and the relationships you maintain. The more people you’re connected to on LinkedIn, the better the chances for your content to reach people outside of your network.

That might seem obvious.

But what if I told you that there was a little bit of special sauce behind the scenes also contributing to the likelihood of your content reaching new people? Would you be interested in learning more about it?

Well, today’s your lucky day… In this blog post, I’m going to break down some of the latest insights and ideas that I’ve learned from studying some of the documentation put out by the LinkedIn Engineering team.

Let’s get to it…

LinkedIn has implemented a four step process for content distribution across its network as a way to reduce the chances of spam or inappropriate content. Understanding the steps that LinkedIn takes before reducing (or amplifying) your contents’ reach is an important part of using LinkedIn as a channel for content marketing.

The first step in their process happens during the moment you publish the content on your account. In a blog post describing the strategies used to keep the newsfeed relevant, Director of Engineering,  explained:

Our online and nearline classifiers label every image, text, or long form post as “spam,” “low-quality,” or “clear” in near real time.

Once the content goes through this initial filter, it’s met by an initial sample of users who influence the likelihood of the contents’ reach with likes, views, hides and flags. At that point, the content is then scored from a quality perspective before being passed along to human editors who determine whether or not the content should continue to be displayed or be demoted.

That’s right!

Your content is essentially being served up to a SMALL batch of people who you’re connect to as a test and if those people ENGAGE, it’s then passed along to Editors (Real People) to determine whether it should continue to be shown to the masses.

This is the process referenced on the LinkedIn engineering blog:

Summarized, the process for determining what shows up in the LinkedIn feed is this:

  1. Content is classified as Image/Text/Video/Long Form/Link.
  2. Depending on the classification, content is then distributed to a sample size of people.
  3. Once placed in front of these people, different actions have different weights to determine whether the post should be either (1) demoted because it’s low quality or (2) shown to more people because it’s high quality.
  4. Editors review the content to see if it’s worth distributing beyond that users’ network.

Understanding this framework should help you understand why so many people who once had thousands of likes on their posts are now complaining that they are only generating a handful. It’s because the tactics and strategies that they were using are now being classified as low quality content.

So how can you create content for LinkedIn that actually generates results?

I’d love to hearing some of the experiences you’ve had on LinkedIn and whether or not you’re seeing any trends leading to better content. Drop a comment and while you’re at it, let’s connect on LinkedIn!

About Ross Simmonds

Ross Simmonds is a digital marketing strategist who has worked with everything from Fortune 500 companies to startups to drive results using digital marketing and technology.


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  • Mark Lindquist says:

    The easiest way to pick up some traction on LinkedIn has been to directly ask some people in your network to like and comment on the post. This seems to suggest that those likes/comments mean nothing, or at least mean significantly, less, than the engagement you get from that small batch of people. What are your thoughts on that?

  • Chris Cloney says:

    I’ve noticed anecdotally that my content gets many more views when I am active in other areas of Linked in. For example, if I stop making connection requests for a week or two, the number of views on my daily “news” post goes down. Same thing with creating linked in articles.

    From this I have found that adding a few requests each day and creating an article every two weeks (or so), keeps my daily “news” post view high (which also keeps the views high when I post links to my own content).

    From your article and this experience, it would seem that the post “spam score” and maybe the in-person review are influence by your overall level of activity on LI (which I think makes sense!)

  • I think one of the factors that override all is engagement. If a post is generating lots of engagement, it’s going to be sent to editors for review making this tactic a pretty good one. At that point though, the editors will determine whether or not they think it’s a post generating ‘fake love’ or if it’s a post worthy getting real engagement. If it’s the latter, that content starts to reach the masses and if it’s the former, it’s demoted to mutual connections.

    The best indicator I’ve seen for what content has gone beyond the initial sample size is the # of interactions with 2nd and 3rd degree connections.

  • Definitely makes sense! I think activity on LinkedIn is the biggest driver. If you’re not doing anything on the platform, it’s not going to show your account. You have to have a presence – Whether it’s sending requests or sharing new content, the key is being there.

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  • James Shaw says:

    So, I had a winner earlier this year, with a Pulse article that received over 5k views in the first few days (I had 1000 connections at the time). It’s leveled off to around 10k now, but that of course boosted everything up. I’m seeing about 10X views on most of my stuff now – perhaps because I curated (stalked?) the article, and have gotten about 150 connections/MQL’s out of it. Pulse also threw me up to #1 in Google Organic for the keywords, but it took a month or two. That’s my favorite part about Pulse, is the “free SEO ranking”, which can drive traffic outside of the platform. Just like the others, I think the content needs to be manually babysat right after it is published, maybe up to a week? Perhaps author interaction with the content is part of the algorithm as well? I just wish Linkedin let us scrub more data through the API. Would love to see trends over time, so we can dial in our “curating”. Thanks for the article Ross, very insightful!

  • Ollie Law says:

    My clients most successful LinkedIn post (we run 2 every month) was on the 2016 New Zealand Earth Quakes that he was a part of. Being a Senior Business Continuity Consultant, he already had credibility, but it was the images I used that were tailored from popular news images, key wording and he added a personal video of his experiences. We kept it personal while continuously providing advice on how this relates to what businesses go through. Within a week it had gone semi-viral and he was generating a lot of discussion.

    The success was down to our timing, when I realized it, and the relevance to trends…and maybe a handful of luck! What I wish I’d done is get Pulse involved better, but perhaps they didn’t see the relevance in the article as it only really sat well in NZ.

  • Future_Vision says:

    I’m a bit weary in putting weight behind the concept that sending requests is big influence of views. At least in the way you are thinking. Could be that sending out new connection requests is mitigating attrition instead of being used as a signal. Maybe it is both.

  • Gary Hickman says:

    I have found that if you want to show an image or include a link the best way to do this is to write the body of the post and then add the image/link in the first comment. To confirm this I will got to my linkedin account now and re-post this post doing exactly that. I will report the reach in the comments after one day.

  • Gary Hickman says:

    Hi everyone, just to let you know, by doing what I said gave me more reach in 1 hour than the identical post I posted earlier this morning. Please try it on your profiles and report back.

  • Gary Hickman says:

    Thanks James, I didn’t know Pulse gave you SEO. I will try it myself.

  • Pavan says:

    Outstanding article buddy. Recently I am playing a lot on LinkedIn. Thanks for this info

  • Chris Cloney says:

    I don’t think the request does, but many of them get accepted. This obviously has direct influence (number of connections), but from my (non-expert!) experience also seems to have an indirect one as well.

    Back when my following was less (I am connecting with around 50 people/week now), my views would go way down if I didn’t make sure I was making at least a few new connections a week or otherwise being active on the platform.

  • Great to hear Pavan. Let me know if you find anything interesting while you play!

  • Very interesting idea Gary! I’ll give this a shot. To clarify:
    Post 1: Share text with the link in comments
    Post 2: Share text with the link in main post

    The first post will likely see the most engagement?

  • Great ideas and insights James! I’ve never thought about Pulse as an SEO opportunity but can totally see how it could work well. The challenge I’ve had with it is that I’d always prefer my own site rank vs. LinkedIn BUT — If you can get 150 connections/MQLs from a single post… I can see the value!

    Thanks for sharing your success here – This is a great takeaway!

  • Pavan says:

    Sure thing Ross. Will let you know. I am also connected to you on Facebook:)

  • James Shaw says:

    How well did the post do to drive new business?

  • Jurjen Nouhet says:

    Really nice artikel Ross, great insights.

    Now I was wondering what if my post is distributed among the sample group (let’s say 20 people) but now other people outside that sample group will like and share my post. Will that affect the results of my post?

  • […] it’s most likely due (in large part) to the LinkedIn algorithm, which intends to distribute the most relevant content to your audience and also keep users on the […]

  • Best strategy: Be the first to report on a news item or a trend. 2nd best: write a commentary on an industry trend pertaining to your work.

  • Shefeeq says:

    What I have experienced that the quality of content does not matter.

    When a handful of Indians like my posts, it remains that way. Liked by those few friends in my network.

    When a Westerners likes my post, the reach is often wider.

    When an Indian with high number of followers likes my post, it hasn’t generated much traction.

    The only massive reach I’ve gotten for my posts is when a Westerner with high number of followers likes my post.

    All other attempts have yielded little result.

  • […] the age of the algorithm, the more traction your post gets in its early stages, the more love it’s going to get from the […]

  • Dave says:

    Helpful post Ross, thanks for sharing your insights and writing this up. I find that LinkedIn keeps getting better every few months. I appreciate that you are helping us stay up to date on what’s going on. Thanks again!

  • […] studying and using LinkedIn over the last few months. From breaking down the ins and outs of the LinkedIn algorithm to running content experiments, I’ve been trying anything and everything to better understand […]

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