What is the difference between a LinkedIn follower and a connection?
Here’s my regular monthly slot on the LinkedIn Sofa – part of the You Are The Media podcast. This episode explains what a LinkedIn follower is and how that differs from a LinkedIn connection:
Your LinkedIn network is made up of the people you connect with. You see their profile or they see yours, and one of you sends an invitation to connect to the other. If that invitation is accepted, you each become first-level connections.
“First-level” means a direct connection. You get to see who else is in each other’s network and you can send each other direct messages for free.
You also see each other’s content in your feed. That means the other person sees your posts and articles (which is good) and that you see theirs (which might not be so good).
About connection levels
The people who are in your first-level connection’s direct network but who you’re not connected with are second-level connections. The people in those people’s direct network are third-level connections.
You can think of this as concentric circles, with the first-level being the smallest circle in the middle. Your second-level network can be much bigger and your third-level network can be potentially huge.
So, what about followers? Well, a follower sees your posts and articles in their feed but you don’t see theirs (unless you also follow them). Followers don’t get to see who you’re connected with and you aren’t able to message each other.
When you connect with someone – creating a first-level connection – you automatically follow each other. That’s the bit that means you see each other’s content in your respective feeds.
Now, you can remain connected with someone even if you unfollow them via their profile page. That means you still get the benefits of being connected – so access to their network plus the ability to message them – but you don’t have to see their content if you don’t want to.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop them doing the same thing to you, and no notifications are generated when you unfollow someone.
The default behaviour for LinkedIn is to present visitors to your profile with a Connect button. That means prompting people to request to become first-level connections.
If you’re a content creator who’s already created a reasonable-sized network of, say, 1000 connections, you might want to consider getting more eyeballs on your content by switching the default Connect button on your profile to a Follow button.
You can do this by editing your Privacy settings on the desktop. In the Blocking and Hiding section, the Followers section lets you make Follow the primary option.
I made this change in mid October 2018 and found that it didn’t reduce the number of connection requests I received (because this is still available via the More menu in my profile). But it did increase my rate of new followers.
The net effect of that is that there are more eyeballs on my content, and that’s great for raising awareness and getting more referrals.
This video shows what happened in the year after I switched to follow first mode:
Following someone first is a good way to learn more about them before you take the next step of connecting.
For example, if you follow a potential client first, that gives you a chance to like and comment on their content. When you later send them a connection request (with a personalised note, of course), they’ll have a much better chance of accepting, because they’ll know who you are.
And if you don’t like their style, you can silently unfollow them (which doesn’t send them a notification) without causing any dramas.
Let’s wrap up
When you connect, you get access to each other’s networks, you can direct message each other and you see each other’s content.
But when you follow, you see only the other person’s content.
There are pros and cons of both, but I recommend the follow first approach for content creators who’ve already built a network, to help them accelerate their growth.
I write the words that go on B2B websites: service pages, expert articles, case studies, you name it. I also offer LinkedIn profile critiquing and rewriting.
I'm a former software tester and quality assurance manager, and have been an independent writer since 2009.
Espirian Towers is nestled in a quiet corner of South Wales 🇬🇧
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