Controversial changes to LinkedIn’s algorithms will prevent viral posts and famous personalities from dominating users’ news feeds, instead elevating well-considered posts that promote engagement and interaction.

The changes, which were announced by LinkedIn last October and rolling out now, have been designed to level the playing field for the professional-focused social-media site’s more than 575 million global users – which includes more than 10 million Australians.

The problem with popularity

Although the network has become the de facto site for building and extending professional networks, a small community of power users had proven particularly effective at expanding their networks – which would, in turn, give their posts more clout in the eyes of the existing algorithms.

LinkedIn users add more than one million posts, videos and articles every day, and determining which of these to show users had become a numbers game – creating a social-media ‘echo chamber’ that allowed particular posts to ‘go viral’ and push out less-popular content that might actually be more interesting to particular users.

The effect, as revealed by LinkedIn’s Power Profiles list, was to weight news feeds towards power marketers and high-profile individuals such as Westpac Group CEO Brian Hartzer, Hey Influencers founder Gretta van Riel, Australia Post head of performance and rewards Jayne Ward, and Trinity Consulting Services head of strategy, innovation and growth Anthony J James.

LinkedIn was proving valuable for such people – the top 1 percent of power users, by one company estimate – to broadcast messages to large numbers of people.

“The distribution was already skewed to start with, which occurs naturally in any system where virality propagates,” LinkedIn data science manager Bonnie Barrilleaux wrote in explaining the problems with the previous system.

“We saw that the number of creators who got zero feedback when they post was actually increasing.”

However, low reverse engagement had produced a situation where “news feeds that were fundamentally built to connect one voice to many are struggling to deliver on value as communication trends move to more personal and ephemeral conversations,” Axios media reporter Sarah Fischer noted in explaining the algorithm changes.

In other words, LinkedIn believes its users are getting tired of being marketed to and shouted at – and the company’s new algorithms address that by focusing on niche professional interests instead.

Finding your bearings on the new LinkedIn

The revised algorithms have been designed to further LinkedIn’s philosophy – explained by senior director of product management Pete Davies as “people you know, talking about things you care about”.

They prioritise posts from people that you have interacted with directly, for example by commenting and reacting to other posts; posts from people with similar interests and experiences; and “explicit signals” such as people who work at the same company as you.

“We also consider who would benefit from hearing from you and may rank a connection’s post higher if their post needs more engagement” in a process called creator side optimisation, Davies added.

LinkedIn will now “elevate content that you’re more likely to join in,” Fischer wrote, to get people to engage more with social-media content “instead of just passively scrolling through the app and website.”

If you’re a casual user or one with few connections, the new algorithms could turn down the amount of noise in your LinkedIn feed – allowing you to meaningfully connect with peers who are posting less, but more relevant, content.

If you use LinkedIn to promote yourself or your ideas, however, the move may force you to change tactics because you won’t be able to make content go viral just because you have a lot of followers.

Engaging with many people – using mentions and hashtags, or responding to commenters in a way that encourages a response – will push your posts up further in readers’ LinkedIn feeds than simply having a lot of followers.

Not everybody is thrilled with the new arrangements, however: “whether I like it or not, Richard Branson’s posts are seen by more people than mine,” noted Digital Leadership Associates co-founder Adam Gray, who warned LinkedIn entrepreneurs not to change their strategies too dramatically in response so the new algorithms.

“Algorithms are subject to change and re-tooling your behaviour to suit an algorithm change today may need re-tooling again tomorrow, and may leave you with a less impressive footprint than you might later want,” he noted.

LinkedIn’s changes follow in the footsteps of rivals like Facebook – which last year changed its News Feed algorithms to favour posts from close friends – and Snapchat, which in 2017 separated social and media content to maintain close communications between friends.

Twitter has also been flagged for issues with its algorithms, which were changed last year and have been inserting questionable content in a process that some warn has “amplified” factually questionable posts.