LinkedIn: followers versus connections.

LinkedIn followers versus connections

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:

Connection levels.

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).
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.

You can have up to 30,000 first-level connections on LinkedIn.

But you can send out only up to 5000 invitations to connect.

If you reach the connection limit, people can still follow you but not connect with you (unless you disconnect with someone else first!).


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. If this apparent messaging limitation puts you off, see Messaging for free on LinkedIn below.

You can have unlimited followers on LinkedIn.

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.

At the end of March 2021, LinkedIn introduced the option to enable creator mode, which automatically switches on the Follow feature on your profile.

However, you don’t need to turn on creator mode if all you want to do is get people to follow you. You can enable follow first mode on its own by doing the next steps.

How to turn on Follow first mode on LinkedIn.

To make the change on desktop:

LinkedIn Make follow primary

To make the change on mobile:

  • Tap the profile photo in the top-left corner of the LinkedIn mobile home screen.
  • Tap Settings.
  • Tap Visibility.
  • Tap Followers.
  • Set the “Make follow primary” slider to Yes.

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 1 year after I switched to follow first mode:

And this graph shows what happened after 2 years of follow first mode:

2 years of follow first mode on LinkedIn
Click to expand

To see whether my follower rate would slow down if I switched back to the classic Connect first mode, I did an experiment on this throughout November 2020. Sure enough, they did slow down. Read about the experiment

Why should I follow someone on LinkedIn?

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.

How do I see how many people follow me on LinkedIn?

To see your current follower count and the names of those following you, go to your Followers page.

The list shown is ordered by who followed you most recently.

How do I unfollow people on LinkedIn?

The easiest way is via the Following page.

This shows all the people you’re following, ordered by the number of posts they’ve made this week.

Click the relevant Following links on everyone you no longer wish to see in your feed. They won’t be notified.

Unfollow people on LinkedIn
Click the “Following” links to quickly unfollow people

If you unfollow someone you’re connected with, you’ll still be able to direct message them. And you unfollowing them won’t mean they unfollow you.

What are the benefits of connecting instead of following on LinkedIn ?

The main differences when connecting are:

  • ability to send free direct messages.
  • access to the person’s network (settings permitting).
  • increased depth of search (the bigger your network, the deeper into LinkedIn you can search).
  • potential increase in SSI.
  • ability to invite people to events, groups and company pages.
  • can endorse, recommend and write a providing services review.

Messaging for free on LinkedIn.

When you’re not connected with someone, you can’t always message each other and some people will see this as a strong reason not to enable follow first mode.

However, there are some good workarounds. Even if you’re a free user, you can send a DM to anyone if:

  • they have a Premium account and have the Open Profile feature enabled (click Message on their profile), or
  • they have the Providing Services featured enabled (click into the box and click Message), or
  • they are part of the same group as you (click See all in the members panel and click Message), or
  • they are attending the same event as you, or
  • they and you have been added to a group chat by a mutual connection, or
  • they reach out to you via an invitation (manage your invitations and click Message), or
  • they reach out to you via an InMail.

Aside from all that, you’d need to interact via public content or send them an invitation to connect and include a message in there.

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.

If you’re a serious content creator, you might want to check out creator mode.

John Espirian.

John Espirian and Espresso+

I'm the relentlessly helpful LinkedIn nerd and author of Content DNA. I teach business owners how to be noticed, remembered and preferred.

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