Can improving your LinkedIn SSI be harmful?

Can improving your LinkedIn SSI be harmful?

  • By Jeff Molander

improving linkedin social selling index

Time to read: 3.5 minutes. Should you improve your LinkedIn Social Selling Index (SSI)? Should you be measuring your sales team’s effectiveness using it?

I say no. Because a sellers’ broad use of LinkedIn matters less than productivity with it.

Unfortunately, LinkedIn is falling short with its SSI—placing more focus on a seller’s “raw activity” versus results. Beware: The SSI is largely a vanity metric.

“I imagine you can have a high Social Selling Index score and not sell a darn thing,” observes sales copywriter, Jeff Simmons of B2BMarketingPortal.com. Jeff is right!

Here’s what I mean in more detail … and how to exploit the Social Selling Index wisely.

The dangers of LinkedIn’s SSI

Forget about how experienced you are with LinkedIn. As a seller, you only invest time in what matters most—setting more appointments and bringing leads to close, faster. Right? Thus, you want to avoid wasting time with vanity metrics.

LinkedIn’s SSI is one of these dangerous metrics.

Because the SSI encourages sellers to behave in ways most customers don’t respond well to.

One of my clients sums it up nicely. He said, “Is the noise sellers make on LinkedIn helping them set more appointments? As a buyer myself I cannot imagine it is. Yet I see my manager rewarding all the noise-making!”

“The SSI plays on the psychology that people want to compare themselves to others for belonging and get an ego boost out of it,” warns Colin Daymude, Director of Sales at Frontline Selling.

What is the Social Selling Index?

The Social Selling Index is designed, in LinkedIn’s words, “to measure how effective you are at establishing your professional brand, finding the right people, engaging with insights, and building relationships.”

The SSI is composed of four categories.

  1. Establish your brand (be a thought-leader by publishing meaningful posts).
  2. Find the right people (identify prospects faster).
  3. Engage with insights (share “conversation-worthy” updates to grow relationships)
  4. Build relationships (“finding & establishing trust with decision-makers”)

Here’s the rub. Each category is based on a practice vital to your success (on LinkedIn). They are important to your productivity, effectiveness… ultimately, your success rate.

However, each of these areas have a strong quality component. Less quality of communication skill you demonstrate, less success.

Yet each of these four are measured by LinkedIn purely on a quantitative basis.

The problem with LinkedIn’s Social Selling Index

In sales we’re forced to balance. LinkedIn must help us keep this balance. Specifically, you need to make as many new prospecting calls as possible—all while keeping the quality of engagement with prospects high. But is the SSI in support of this goal?

Ignoring this balance produces sellers that fail to get in the door and earn a seat at the table. Productivity suffers.

But LinkedIn is rewarding (purely) sellers’ quantitative use of LinkedIn. The more use, the higher the SSI score. The more updates, the more comments, the more typed into the keyboard the “better” the SSI score.

The direct implication by LinkedIn is increased productivity. Reps with higher SSI’s are getting more done on the platform. But this doesn’t hold water with me and others like Colin Daymude.

“I need to see a direct correlation to sales before I jump on the band wagon, says Colin who feels all of LinkedIn’s claims and statistics are illogical… connecting an observation to a theory without having any real connections.

“I’m not questioning whether having a social profile with great content and regular engagement is likely to help in the sales process. I actually think it will. But there is an opportunity cost associated with that time spent,” he adds.

“Our top sales people know exactly what to do to create opportunities that turn into closed business and that’s where they spend the majority of their time. Social media is something they do because they feel they have to keep up with changing times; it’s professional peer pressure 101.”

An activity indicator, not a productivity measure

Is SSI a potential indicator of productivity? Yes. However, as Yoda would say, “an active user of LinkedIn makes not a productive seller.”

Sales productivity takes more. It takes qualitative behavior and specific business outcomes.

Colin Daymude recommends sales reps focus on activities that have a direct correlation to closed sales. He urges resisting, “the temptation to boost a SSI just to appease the desire to fit in and get some validation.”

Sales managers measure performance based on quantitative numbers—new calls made, appointments booked, emails sent. But the boss also looks at qualitative facts like close ratios. Sellers are measured using both quantitative and qualitative yardsticks.

Bottom line: Earning more appointments and closing more deals takes more than sharing valuable content frequently, commenting frequently, connecting frequently to prospects and having a completed profile.

Don’t be tempted

There are a lot of “LinkedIn experts” claiming LinkedIn’s SSI is a vital measurement tool. I disagree. Don’t be tempted to measure productivity with it. Instead, use it only as an activity indicator.

Digital platforms of all sorts tempt us as sellers. We’re tempted to abuse them—play mostly in the quantitative realm. After all, we’re busy. We don’t have a lot of time. And we see others doing it all the time.

Thus, we often send poorly-written emails out en mass. Some sellers use software to scrape LinkedIn profiles and automatically connect or send mass messages to prospects. This violates LinkedIn’s terms and conditions. Yet many try to “fly below the radar” when using it.

Instead, focus your time on qualitative improvements to your communications approach. Then find ways to scale that quality approach.

In defense of LinkedIn

Many who disagree with my perspective do so on a simple basis.

“Hey, Molander. LinkedIn is encouraging use of the platform. And sellers need to be using the platform. Especially those who are not yet using LinkedIn much—or at all!”

The argument is, “this isn’t doing any harm—it’s encouraging sellers to be active.”

But I disagree. Strongly. Because I don’t have an interest in LinkedIn’s business. I have an interest in mine.

As a responsible business owner, rep or sales manager your job is to judge if LinkedIn can help you sell or not. Assume nothing. LinkedIn may not be a fit for you. Assuming it is, your job is to use it effectively—as the very best, most effective, sellers do.

As a quality-driven tool. Not as a vanity metric measuring usage!

What’s LinkedIn’s motive?

I disagree with anything that encourages spammy use of LinkedIn. As I see it, LinkedIn’s SSI does just that. Not because LinkedIn doesn’t want sellers to succeed. They do. I see LinkedIn wanting to sell more Navigator accounts (to improve your SSI).

This is how they’re positioning the Sales Navigator—as a “fix” to low SSI’s. (which most users have)

Thus, the SSI is truly a vanity metric that is largely mis-understood by sellers … yet simplistic enough to sound good.

In the end, the belief system the SSI supports (just “do it” and success will come) is why 95% of sellers are showing up to regurgitate press releases. Because LinkedIn is rewarding it.

Is the SSI helpful or not?

Measuring your team’s usage of LinkedIn or social media is trivial. It’s a vanity metric. Using quantitative activity data (alone) is not a good basis for helping sellers sell more, faster.

The Social Selling Index measures raw activity—not quality of prospecting activity. This kind of (purely quantitative) measure is less important to today’s most successful sales teams.

Bottom line: Sellers don’t need to be more active on LinkedIn to boost their SSI. The SSI is trivial.

Sellers need to be more productive at generating leads and nurture them to close faster. Yes, on LinkedIn. So be careful when using LinkedIn’s SSI to measure your sales team’s “social selling savvy.”

Photo credit: David Goehring

About Jeff Molander

Jeff Molander is the authority on starting conversations with busy people. As founder of Communications Edge Inc. he teaches a proven, effective communications technique to spark buyers curiosity in sales outreach & marketing messages. He's a sought-after sales communications trainer to individual reps, teams of sellers and small businesses owners across the globe. He's an accomplished entrepreneur, having co-founded the Google Affiliate Network and what is today the Performics division of Publicis Groupe. Jeff served as adjunct digital marketing faculty at Loyola University’s school of business. His book, Off The Hook Marketing: How to Make Social Media Sell for You, is first to offer businesses a clear, practical way to create leads and sales with technology platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogs.

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  • Ian Mothersill says:

    Two things I keep in mind when spending a bit of time on LinkedIn… make sure this is not a distraction from something more productive / meaningful / urgent. And if I post anything, make sure it has value to potential readers, is interesting, well written – not just yet another “buy my stuff” announcement.

    • Agreed, Ian. Better yet your post should be provocative. If not it’s just noise. That’s how I see it. There is limited value in “keeping in touch” or “keeping on the radar” of clients. If you don’t systematically attempt to provoke them — in a way that generates one-on-one discussion — you’re wasting precious time.

  • Mark W: You’re giving them too much credit I’ll bet!! 🙂

    Mark S: Bold statement. I’ve never heard it said that way before. re: your PS. Damn. Yes it would. You should work for the Evil Empire that is LinkedIn 😉

    Doug: Could be anecdotal — or maybe not. Very strange. Thanks for reporting.

    Sandy: Oh. I like you. You encourage a smart form of rebellion. Cool 🙂

    Gang: What about this company? View the video. They claim they can tie social/LinkedIn activity to actual sales being closed. And prompt (automatically) sellers to “touch” prospects (based on???).

    http://peoplelinx.com/#product

  • Mark Stonham says:

    Great article Jeff.
    Quality vs Quantity is vital for sales success. SSI does create an artificial measure that could encourage the wrong behaviour. However, used with care and with knowledge it is a useful indicator of activity, as you say.
    Mark.
    PS. It would be interesting to know if there’s any correlation between SSI score and ranking in search results in LinkedIn for our profiles and posts. That would skew the rules of the game!

  • Doug Ales says:

    UPDATE: Jeff, experimenting on my own LinkedIn profile to provide anecdotal evidence, I made a disturbing discovery.

    Changing who you identify as your current employer will effect your LinkedIn SSI number.

  • Jeff, Doug: Exactly! And here’s what I wrote about LinkedIn’s SSI on my blog in a post about it back in August:

    “Similar to the “How you rank” for profile views statistic (which, IMHO, is meaningless, I advise all my clients to turn off), your SSI ranks you against your network and industry (not sure this is meaningful yet). You can also view a weekly tracking of your score – presumably to provide additional ways to track what is “working.” Something I thought of while writing this is that I can probably improve my score if I change my industry from Management Consulting to something more specific like Marketing & Advertising? (Probably not, though, since I’ll have a lot more direct competition in that classification!)”>

  • Doug Ales says:

    Hi Jeff,

    “Also, Doug, would you mind if I quoted you elsewhere on this?”

    Yes, please feel free. Honored to be cited.

  • Doug Ales says:

    Hi Jeff, I’d like to get your take on utilizing the LinkedIn SSI tool in reverse.

    Comparing your sales team’s performance to the metric could help you identify how to best utilize LinkedIn, and the best use could be less use.

    A company should have metrics that can identify top, average, and bottom business growth performers. So gather LinkedIn SSI statistics from people in all three categories.

    Now you can determine if there is a correlation between the LinkedIn SSI KPI (key performance indicator) and real world key performance. You may be able to further drill down to the four subcategories.

    This will allow you to identify what a key performer does different and may help you coach and develop average and under performers.

    My hunch is this correlation will vary by industry. Industries where growth comes from new clients may get more networking value from LinkedIn then those who need to develop existing clients into larger clients.

    Focusing on the B2B world, I would expect social media trainers to have a strong correlation yet industries with large dollar value items and a small client base such as business jet sales, would have a low SSI to performance ratio.

    Thoughts?

    • YES. Brilliant, Doug. You’re right, “This will allow you to identify what a key performer does different and may help you coach and develop average and under performers.” Also very astute: It likely would vary by industry. The social media trainers vs. business jet sales analogy works with me. Brilliant thinking, man!

    • Also, Doug, would you mind if I quoted you elsewhere on this?

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