LinkedIn Network Statistics. Do You Believe Them?

How often do you look at your LinkedIn Network Statistics?  You can access them directly from navigating over to “Contacts” and then selecting Network Statistics.  Everybody loves to look at these statistics as this is where you start to see the power of your network.  If you were curious as to what the numbers of a LinkedIn power user like myself are, these are the latest statistics for my network:

This post is not about my network, though: It’s about the whole mechanism of these statistics.  I have seen my total numbers drop on occasion.  In fact, I distinctly remember when I had over 20 million users I could contact through an Introduction when LinkedIn had 40+ million users.  Now that LinkedIn has 65 million members, wouldn’t you assume that this total number would grow somewhat in proportion with overall growth of the network?

Look at your network statistics over time and then think about it: Do you believe these network statistics now?  If you don’t believe them, why would LinkedIn be tinkering with these numbers?

It was an email from someone in my network that gave me the inspiration to write this post, so I wanted to point out that these numbers (and the below wording) come directly from someone in my LinkedIn network who provides us some more proof that these numbers are not to be believed:

I have a question that is greatly puzzling me and it is not addressed in your [LinkedIn] book.

I am beginning to question the validity of LI’s networking statistics. At best, the system is broken, at worst it bears no relation to actuality and may be just a lot of fictitious hype. I track my progress daily in Excel and LI’s statistics are not believable.

I’ve observed strange, unexplainable statistics almost daily (a 5,000 drop when it should have increased by say 5000) but the numbers seemed to come back in a day or two. I assumed it was latency – the data base lagged reality. No problem.

On April 10 my stats were: 747 Dir/ 506,00 Level 2 / 16,153,800 Level 3 and 16,655,147.

When I reached 755 contacts, my total suddenly dropped by 2.44 million to 14,213,000.

Even at 910 / 616,300 / 15,648,700 / 16,266,000. This is still down by 375,000 even though I’ve added 153 direct – almost all of whom are big networkers 500+. Even today with 964 direct contacts, my total is still 44,600 lower than on April 10.

Neal, what is going on here? There is no validity tied to the LI Statistics. Have you or your readers experienced this before? Who might I contact to find out what is going on?

I sincerely thank my contact for providing us the data to prove that these numbers may be fictitious.  But why would LI do this and what explains this behavior?  I have a few theories:

1) LinkedIn Network Statistics Calculations are Not Scalable

When I became a power user back in 2008, I remember that after I hit 500 connections the Network Statistics themselves often didn’t appear.  It was almost as if it became impossible for LinkedIn to calculate.  Guess what?  I believe that to be able to calculate all of our connections in realtime, deleting out common 2nd and 3rd degree connections, it would require significant database, network and server resources.  Considering that LI has never been known to be a fast-performing site (although the performance has improved with the new LinkedIn user interface), I do think it really may be impossible to calculate these numbers accurately in realtime all the time.  That being said, the network statistics that are provided are a nice guide as to the potential reach of our networks.  Maybe this is the best way to look at them.

2) Drops in Your Network Statistics Happen When Fake LinkedIn Profiles are Deleted

This is really the only thing that could explain why your network statistics would ever drop.  Yes, there are some people who disconnect from others on LinkedIn, but I don’t think that it happens on a daily basis and at the scale that would affect your statistics.  That being said, there are some fake LinkedIn profiles who amass large networks that, if deleted all at once, could affect your overall statistics.  You’ll have to be the judge as to how often this happens…based on my experience, fake profiles seem to always be lurking on LinkedIn and in Groups, so I sincerely doubt that this sort of mass deletion is happening on a daily basis.

3) Limiting Your Network Reach is Part of LinkedIn Monetizing Its Network

It is interesting that right under your Network Statistics, you should be seeing the same thing that I see:

This is an advertisement, in essence, for LinkedIn to sell you on a paid account with InMail privileges that would allow you to contact any of the 65 million members.  Even at the number of connections that I have, I am still only able to contact through an Introduction less than 1/3 of the total networked population.  But guess what?  Before there was a limitation on how many LinkedIn connections that you can have, I remember these Network Statistics, when they worked, showing that I could be in contact with more than 50% of the entire network.

If my theory is true, limiting the display of your LinkedIn network as shown through the Network Statistics serves the same purpose as limiting the size of your network: If you want to be able to search and/or contact the entire network, LI wants you to buy a paid account.

There is nothing wrong with LinkedIn wanting to monetize its network.  In fact, every LI user would agree that a financially healthy LinkedIn is a good thing and keeps us safely and confidently using the social networking platform.  But perhaps there should be a disclaimer above those Network Statistics that states that it is only an approximate calculation?  Or, if it is accurate, maybe someone from LinkedIn can answer Richard’s question?

More importantly, what do you, the average user of the professional social networking site, think about this?

About the Author:

Neal Schaffer, Founder and Editor-In-Chief

The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professional strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer
The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, Neal Schaffer is a leader in helping businesses and professional strategically maximize their use of social media. Neal is the author of three social media books, including the recently published definitive social media strategy book Maximize Your Social. Forbes lists him as a Top 35 Social Media Power Influencer and AdAge lists his blog, Maximize Social Business (formerly known as Windmill Networking), as a top 100 global marketing blog. Neal provides social media strategy consulting and coaching, having worked with Fortune 500 companies and a Grammy-award winning musician. He has presented worldwide on social media at more than 150 events and also teaches social media marketing at Rutgers University. +Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

@nealschaffer

Author, @MaxYourSocial | Founder @msocialbusiness | Trilingual Social Media Strategy Consultant, Coach, and Speaker | 日米ソーシャルメディア専門家|G+: https://t.co/BqaJvubiP8
Coming clean on Facebook reach http://t.co/jTeG7OUnGp via @markwschaefer - 2 hours ago
Neal Schaffer
Social Fresh West

Comments

  1. rudolfkriens says

    Good point, Neal! I, too, have been intrigued by these statistics. I can hardly imagine that LinkedIn would take the effort of continuously updating precise statistics for each of its 65+ million members. If one wants to rigorously filter out all duplicate connections of higher degrees the required effort might be prohibitive.

  2. says

    Thanks Rudolf! Glad that you agree with my point. Regardless of the accuracy, they are still useful as a good guide as to the potential of the reach of your LinkedIn network…

    @NealSchaffer

  3. Rick says

    Hey Neal , Your point is correct but to some extent as these stats always helps us to calculate a rough figure of our connections & again I do agree these are not accurate atleast.

  4. drbrucehoag says

    Some time ago, I read that LinkedIn actually penalizes people who admit to being open networkers. That said, you have to wonder how much effort most people are putting into developing real relationships with their first level contacts. If they're doing nothing but collecting names, then the numbers beyond that are just a form of vanity.

  5. Anonymous says

    This is an interesting topic, but even more interesting is whether these statistics are right, wrong, or indifferent; would you change your LinkedIn tactics? Would you throw up your hands and quit LinkedIn on the spot? I don’t think so or else you shouldn’t be there in the first place.

    Even if these statistics are only estimates or someone’s best guess; so what? It’s more than we have ever had before and they do help us define and measure our potential reach or sphere of influence.

  6. lindadayharrison says

    Hi Neal,
    Hope you are doing great. I tend to agree that the numbers are in essence a dramatic representation of the potential of networking. The numbers are really meaningless to the average human being to even begin to deal with, but they do illustrate the power of the social media and how it can work. I do not know how many people have just stumbled into this phenonmenon as I have, but it truly is one of the most powerful aspects of combining technology and effective efficiency that I have ever encountered. I would truly miss this particular technological tool if it were to end. I would not miss Facebook and have only used it out of peer pressure, which is another mind boggling matter in itself.
    I truly enjoy your enthusiasm and passion for what we are all doing here each day.
    Thanks,
    [email protected]

  7. says

    Tom,

    Thanks for your comment and valid points. I agree that the numbers themselves don't have much meaning but have value in providing an estimate reach. That being said, a lot of people look at these statistics, especially when you are new to LinkedIn, and I get asked this question on many occasions, so I wanted to set the record straight from my perspective.

    @NealSchaffer

  8. says

    Greetings Dr. Hoag!

    I believe that open networkers are penalized because the limitations that LinkedIn imposes restrict them more than anyone else. That being said, I have had many people ask me about these Network Statistics, not just LIONs. I think people are truly fascinated by the compelling numbers that show the potential reach of their network. I just wanted to set the record straight on whether or not these numbers could be truly accurate or not, nothing more and nothing less.

    @NealSchaffer

  9. says

    Thanks for the comment Linda. I agree that the numbers ARE a good visualization of the potential reaches of our network and display the power of networking on LinkedIn…and if we all view them as such we shouldn't have to dwell on the mechanics of those numbers. That being said, I really do get asked the question a lot, and I thought it brought up some interesting points, thus I wrote that post. Hope you enjoyed it!

    @NealSchaffer

  10. drbrucehoag says

    Some time ago, I read that LinkedIn actually penalizes people who admit to being open networkers. That said, you have to wonder how much effort most people are putting into developing real relationships with their first level contacts. If they're doing nothing but collecting names, then the numbers beyond that are just a form of vanity.

  11. lindadayharrison says

    Hi Neal,
    Hope you are doing great. I tend to agree that the numbers are in essence a dramatic representation of the potential of networking. The numbers are really meaningless to the average human being to even begin to deal with, but they do illustrate the power of the social media and how it can work. I do not know how many people have just stumbled into this phenonmenon as I have, but it truly is one of the most powerful aspects of combining technology and effective efficiency that I have ever encountered. I would truly miss this particular technological tool if it were to end. I would not miss Facebook and have only used it out of peer pressure, which is another mind boggling matter in itself.
    I truly enjoy your enthusiasm and passion for what we are all doing here each day.
    Thanks,
    [email protected]

  12. says

    Tom,

    Thanks for your comment and valid points. I agree that the numbers themselves don't have much meaning but have value in providing an estimate reach. That being said, a lot of people look at these statistics, especially when you are new to LinkedIn, and I get asked this question on many occasions, so I wanted to set the record straight from my perspective.

    @NealSchaffer

  13. says

    Greetings Dr. Hoag!

    I believe that open networkers are penalized because the limitations that LinkedIn imposes restrict them more than anyone else. That being said, I have had many people ask me about these Network Statistics, not just LIONs. I think people are truly fascinated by the compelling numbers that show the potential reach of their network. I just wanted to set the record straight on whether or not these numbers could be truly accurate or not, nothing more and nothing less.

    @NealSchaffer

  14. says

    Thanks for the comment Linda. I agree that the numbers ARE a good visualization of the potential reaches of our network and display the power of networking on LinkedIn…and if we all view them as such we shouldn't have to dwell on the mechanics of those numbers. That being said, I really do get asked the question a lot, and I thought it brought up some interesting points, thus I wrote that post. Hope you enjoyed it!

    @NealSchaffer

  15. Dave says

    I know this is an old post, but I recently am wondering the same thing. I’m new to linked in and have been tracking how my network grows. Earlier in the week, i had 248 1st level connections, and 54,100+ 2nd lvl. This grew to 263 1st lvl connections, and 221,500+ 2nd level connections. Today, i have 275 1st lvl connections, and only 54,100+ 2nd lvl connections. 

    So my question is, is this not accurate? or did some of my new connections realize i wasn’t “sharing” my connections and blocked the sharing of theirs? 

    In my mind, it has to be one or the other.Does anyone know the answer?

    • says

      Dave, my short answer for you is, it is not accurate and only an estimate that is recalculated occasionally, which leads to the issues that you face. That is an unofficial answer, of course.

  16. Guest says

    I have noticed the same problem with the LinkedIn stats.  My 2nd/3rd degree connections vary daily from 129K/5M to 400k/14M and then back to 129k/5M. (So a swing of over 300%,, which happens several times a day!!!) I contacted LinkedIn because I thought there was a problem.  They said they would work on it, but I never heard back.  So I waited about a month and contacted them again - only this time I started insisting on answers.  They told me to send screen shots of the problem, which I have done over and over and over again.  They tell me my situation is unique and they are working on it.  Suddenly I noticed that the numbers in the stats in my screen shots started to repeat from time to time. It is almost like LinkedIn has several screen shots that they use for stats and just rotate through them.  That is when I began to suspect that these numbers were bogus.  I have contacted them again and asked to be updated daily on the progress they were making fixing my problem.  They refused.  I have come to the conclusion that the network stats are just ads, which is misleading at a minimum.  So why do I care??   The real shame of this is that it affects the number of hits I get when I do a search.  I am unemployed, so the number of hits I get is important when I am trying to get a contact at a certain company.  I think this coulc ruin LinkedIn’s reputation if this ever gets out and people may stop using it, which will be sad, since networking is such so important in so many areas of daily life – especially to those using it that would like (and need) to get re-employed again.

    • says

      It’s definitely an interesting topic. On the one hand I see how LinkedIn would want to promote its service by showing these stats, but on the other hand I can only imagine how technically difficult it gets to do so over time. With more people complaining about this, you wonder at what point they will merely stop showing these stats…

    • Dfff says

      I also contacted LinkedIn about the same problem. According to them my situation was unique, too :). Today I found that they’ve removed Network Statistics from the pages. The problem still remains on the front page. I’ve noticed that every time I add a new contact the total number in my network is reduced by about 2000.

  17. Zock says

    Hey,
    The answer is trivial to me. The LI is a network. I mean technical network of many servers located in many part around the glode. There is no united network statistics for each user. So LI tries to calculate the netwrok statistic based on the information that serves you at particular moment and available servers around. I suppose LI doesn’t call all servers to calculate the statistics exactly due to the time delay. They prefer to show smaller amount but instantly rather then spend seconds and calculate it exactly. Exactness means additional workload for servers and additional cost. Should LI be happy with the exact statistic and more costs? I think no. So the reason is technical and economical. Nothing personal,  just business and servers workload.

  18. says

    Thank you so much for the technical perspective on the issue! Yes, I agree, it’s nothing personal – so hard to calculate! I think LinkedIn is better off leaving it off the site – or at least adding a disclaimer saying it’s an “approximate” calculation. Don’t you think that’s the appropriate thing to do?

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