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?