LinkedIn engagement pods are not a silver bullet to success

Increasing reach and visibility to grow influence is the name of the game on LinkedIn.   With over 10M Australian members the value proposition and business potential is well acknowledged. Hence the ardent scramble to grab a piece of the very juicy LinkedIn pie of opportunity    But LinkedIn engagement pods are not a silver bullet to success.

Yet over the  last 12 months the scramble to success has created  an explosion of disparate engagement pods on the platform.  Promises of  silver bullets of success have driven the uptake.  The debate on the purpose and value of pods is divisive with ‘for’ and ‘against’ camps driven by divergent agenda’s, expertise and perspectives.  I sit firmly in the ‘against’ camp but understand why a silver bullet is sought.

Melonie Dodaro is one of world’s  LinkedIn training authorities now based in the Europe.     In a recent online chat she gave me permission to publish the following quote on her behalf:

 “I find LinkedIn engagement pods to be a desperate ploy for visibility. If your post cannot get traction on its own (organically) then you should probably start with a new content strategy! ”

LinkedIn now has 610M global members raising the competition for brand authority and content visibility.  But LinkedIn haven’t made life easy with ongoing platform changes and format and feed algorithm weighting challenges.

Harnessing the platforms potential necessitates that members be adroit, curate compelling relevant content with purposeful and powerful connection and marketing strategies.

Further, to LinkedIn’s credit they are re-dressing unfair influencer feed advantages with their creator side optimisation program. Understanding the impact of Perverse Incentives in Metrics & Marketing is important in the debate and puzzle of engagement pods. Essentially:

Essentially   “What is considered a great idea may not only turn out to be a bad idea but can create even more problems”.  LinkedIn engagement pods fit into this reality.

Classifying content for reach passes through a complex system, the classification process takes the process along automation to human views of Spam, Low, Good quality.  It is this system that engagement pods attempt to manipulate and game.

The algorithms are intuitive and machine learning driven showing more of what you have engaged with and dwelled upon, similar to programmatic advertising and retargeting.  Training your feed and your target market is a science and art of organic content strategy and market equity.

What is a LinkedIn engagement pod? 

A ‘pod’ is a group of LinkedIn members who join together to game and hack the LinkedIn algorithm to increase visibility and reach.  The motivation is to grow influence and reach and by virtue generate business and leads.  They may be free (mostly) or fee based and anyone can create them.

Or they may be part of a growth hacking business with pods as a cornerstone of client fee tactics.  Rules and expectations vary from strict army like enforcement to being more relaxed. Most have disparate memberships without much target market synchronicity.

The expectation is to boost members visibility by engaging on everyone’s content within a designated period (generally 1 to 3 hours).  The punishment and derision for not supporting each and every time can be unpleasant.

Instagram has been operating engagements pods for some time and are notorious for fake engagement, inauthentic posts, influencer inducements, paid followers and low quality content that gains massive and vacuous engagement.  Is LinkedIn starting to see this type of tactic? Yes and its having a perverse incentive impact which many are not aware of.

These types of pods are often marketed as ‘accountability groups’ or ‘likeminded support networks’.  This is not quite accurate at best and secret duplicity at worst.

Differences – groups, communities, pods

There is a big difference between pods and aligned LinkedIn Groups supporting and sharing and high value private message threads.  And the value of social communities  on and off LinkedIn is an important discussion.  But pods are not communities per se.   The narrative often from the ‘for’ camp and owners is that pods simply support each other so what is the harm.  And whilst that may be quite fair, the reality is that if you are on LinkedIn to grow your business harm can and is occuring.

Engagement pods are not designed for community engagement but pure and simple reach and algorithm hacking.  So let’s call the elephant out in the room ok.

Now it is illogical to lump every pod in the same boat but by gee the vast majority do fall into the desperate ploy ship.

Why are pods a bad idea?

Before I go into a few key specifics I caveat that I have spent 12 months monitoring pods, the metrics, patterns and content. Similarly I recognise that pods can receive huge initial engagement.  But vanity metrics and resultant hollow self-importance via hacking is not always sustainable   I have never been part of one but invited to many.

I have received a lot of feedback from current and past pod members in my network that:

a/ it often can improves their reach and  visibility  but they don’t believe it has created real new business,

b/ they left as they were uncomfortable with the lack of authenticity and/or they felt bullied and

c/ they see it has valuable, but no real evidence except nice relationships formed within the pod itself. Now c/ clearly forms the reason why you build a community – not a pod.

  1. Trust and personal brand erosion – Given that most pods have disparate memberships trust can be eroded when content engagement is inauthentic and not on brand or relevance. It’s so obvious that it is enforced.   How can you trust people who clearly are engaging because they ‘have to’?  Sycophantic behaviour is easily identified and it is particularly concerning to see highly credentialed industry professionals commenting on vacuous and irrelevant content to their expertise.  People watch how others behave and engage and who they seemingly endorse.  Your personal brand  also has a bearing on who you support.
  1. Time Suck – Pods can range anywhere from 10 to 100 members. And many people have joined several.  You don’t need a mathematics degree to add the minutes and hours up.  They are huge – and especially if you give valued consideration to the engagement.  And therein is the why that you see a plethora of “great post, love it’, ‘you are amazing so agree’ comments. And further the engagement of external profile managers overseas – keeping up with the groundswell and initial piece is too time consuming.
  1. User Agreement – LinkedIn frown upon pods and consider they violate 8.2.q of the User Agreement  prohibiting ‘gaming algorithms’.  Pod members who also use automation plug in tools and overseas 3rd party management can be at particular risk for profile and content penalisation and investigation.
  1. Algorithm Feed Demotion- Remember that the algorithm is intuitive so its becoming evident that content which doesn’t gain additional engagement outside of the pod is starting to be penalised over time.   If pod members own contacts see the content in their feed and don’t  engage (because they don’t find it valuable) the algorithms start to demote all future content. So the same eyes keep seeing the same people posts.
  1. Niche Networks – are the networks in your pod really aligned to your target market and ideal client? If not whilst vanity metrics may be high the real piece – conversions and enquiries are minimal.
  1. Unfollowing Contacts – Your feed is representative of the content you engage and those of your networks. So a strategy which has become critical to cleaning up your feed is to unfollow members whose engagement is of no value.   I personally have Unfollowed 200 connections in the last 6 months (who I enjoy generally reading their content) because of the inane content they have been forced to engage with (especially fluffy videos).  This strategy is commonplace now.  The perverse incentive is that we don’t get to see the content of the people we really want to see because they are part of huge pods of no personal interest or value to us. Not good – you lose brand visibility via association! 
  1. Content quality control– as all posts are deemed wonderful and amazing without real feed testing (i.e. organic non enforced engagement) quality control is compromised. Testing of content that impacts your audience is essential for a LinkedIn marketing strategy.  But a pod will always love it and rarely have the time nor willingness to say something sucked.

There is no silver bullet on LinkedIn unfortunately despite the ploys, automation, plug ins and range of hacks touted.  Integrity, authenticity and real business value takes time and is best served on a plate of organic strategy.

Be strategic, be unique, be clever but don’t try and game – as seriously LinkedIn’s machine learning and engineering is smarter than you think. But the benefits for doing a consistent and valued content and marketing campaign are for the taking.

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