The Hidden LinkedIn Algorithm They Don’t Want You to Know About

If you’re like me, you’ve probably spent countless hours trying to understand the LinkedIn algorithm.

How do they decide which posts get seen by the masses and which get relegated to digital obscurity? Well, it turns out it’s a bit more complicated than you might think. I’m going to break it all down for you.

In this post, I’m going to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the LinkedIn algorithm.

Kim Cooper
Director of Marketing, Amazon Alexa

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There’s Manual Filtering in LinkedIn?

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who knows the person who runs LinkedIn’s influencer program. He told me there’s actually a lot more that happens behind the scenes. I have to say: it was surprising, to say the least.

So according to him, the algorithm is totally rigged. The LinkedIn algorithm actually is very manual and criteria-driven, not automated. In fact, the term “manual review” is going to come up more than once in this conversation.

It appears that LinkedIn uses an actual list that’s manually reviewed to curate content. So, imagine posting a picture that goes viral and earns 4,000 likes. That’s what triggers a manual review. I did not know that before this conversation.

So, what do they consider during this manual review? A lot of things, such as:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Educational background

And those are only the categories I was given.

The key takeaway is clear: LinkedIn is steering the type of content they prioritize to what aligns with what is culturally relevant in the time we’re in.

Typical Account Types that Get Down-Ranked and Up-Ranked

Before I go on, I want to emphasize that I’m just telling you what I was told, so please don’t shoot the messenger!

Alright, here’s where the plot thickens. LinkedIn isn’t an equal-opportunity booster. My friend asked his contact what types of accounts are more likely to be down-ranked.

This is what gets down-ranked:

  • Young, white growth hackers
  • Health supplement girls
  • Young, pretty fitness models
  • Get-rich-quick content
  • Rich, white tech bros

My friend then asked his contact what criteria they consider when prioritizing who gets up-ranked in the LinkedIn algorithm.

This is what gets up-ranked:

  • Disabled black immigrant financial professionals
  • Harvard-educated health and fitness content from Asian doctors
  • LGBTQ+ tech manager content

This isn’t a Philip K. Dick novel. It’s LinkedIn’s current modus operandi. The contact even admitted that it is the most manual filtering of any platform.

The key takeaway is clear: Certain demographics carry more weight than others in LinkedIn’s manual algorithm. This explains why certain types of content you post perform worse than others.

How the Criteria Change Per Country and Other Factors that Affect It

Of course LinkedIn’s strategy is global, so their algorithm has to adapt based on geographical location, right?

The LinkedIn contact explained that LinkedIn’s algorithmic criteria are adapted for different countries to align with the needs of corporations using their premium HR products.

Contrary to popular belief, the algorithm doesn’t simply prioritize the best-performing content.

If it did, growth hackers and marketers would dominate the platform. Instead, manual filtering is applied to ensure that the “top” content aligns with broader objectives, such as diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Given all of this, my friend asked his contact what he should talk about on LinkedIn as a white male. The response he got was: “inclusive leadership.”

So he asked, “What if I’m Asian?”

The response was: “health and wellness.”

For the black community, it’s “personal finance.”

So I guess I should switch my focus from marketing over to health and wellness! 🤔

The key takeaway is clear: LinkedIn’s algorithm criteria are highly specific and tailored to curate their current ad inventory to prioritize corporations, diversity and inclusion initiatives. In other words, they adapt their algorithm to make them the most money (which, of course, they all do – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter).

The Four Levels that They Use to Rank Content

And the rabbit hole goes deeper. According to the contact, LinkedIn uses four tiered levels of additional criteria to rank content:

  • Vetted: These are accounts that are hand-picked by LinkedIn. In other words, if you’re a vetted account, it means they’ve chosen your content to rank higher, even if you fall outside of their other criteria priorities.
  • Standards: Meets a specific initiative (like LGBTQ+, for example).
  • Valuable: A valuable account is like a vetted account, except it’s determined by LinkedIn’s internal review team and believed to drive more revenue for LinkedIn.
  • Unique: Brings a new perspective to the table. While young, white tech bros may not be considered unique, an LGBTQ+ tech person talking about product management tools is.

This is as manual as it gets. Take it for what it is. As Charlie Munger always says:

“Show me the incentive, and I’ll show you the outcome.”

LinkedIn, like any other corporation, is driven by incentives. It’s no wonder the platform is designed to serve corporate interests first, even if it means manually filtering content to meet those needs.

The key takeaway is simple: Rules have been made to guide people toward satisfying certain incentives, which are driven by corporate motives. And if you don’t play according to the rules, then you don’t get much visibility on the platform.

Would I Do It Differently?

If I were running LinkedIn, would I do things differently?

To be honest, probably not.

After all, LinkedIn is a business with objectives that primarily serve its bottom line, whether that’s through ads or posts. Microsoft bought them so they’re still a publicly traded company and they have numbers to hit, and of course they want to make the most of this acquisition. So I can’t fault them for doing it.

The lack of transparency might raise some ethical questions, so I would likely try to curb that a bit, but even if I did, revealing too much would only open the floodgates for marketers to game the system.

Remember, a lot of these social networks have posted their algorithms online, like Instagram, and they do it in the spirit of being transparent. But I bet few of them are revealing everything. 

LinkedIn may not be as transparent as Twitter (Elon’s revealing the Twitter files, the code, etc.) when it comes to its algorithm. But at the end of the day, transparency isn’t the end-all-be-all. Sometimes, keeping the cards close to your chest ensures that the platform retains its integrity and isn’t flooded by people trying to manipulate it.

Last Thoughts on the Real LinkedIn Algorithm

So, what have we learned today?

The LinkedIn algorithm is not some enigmatic force — it’s a carefully curated system influenced by a host of variables, from your personal details to global trends, that prioritizes corporate incentives. While the platform champions diversity and unique perspectives, navigating this corporate playground requires adherence to its rules, or users risk facing reduced content reach and engagement.

If you’re ready to amplify your brand’s social media presence, Single Grain’s social media experts can help!👇

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For more insights and lessons about marketing, check out our Marketing School podcast on YouTube.

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