The 14 Hidden Rules Of LinkedIn: How To Stand Out, Get Hired, And Win New Customers
LinkedIn is a game. Here's how to play it the right way.
LinkedIn is a goldmine, but most people don’t use it to its full potential.
As of writing, I’ve got over 30k followers and connections — but I didn’t get here overnight. It took lots of small interactions to build my audience — and with LinkedIn, you get out what you put in.
The following information is not a LinkedIn 101 guide. I’ll assume you already know how to set up your profile, add photos, and list your accomplishments. If you don’t, many guides online can help you with this.
This post is a collection of my hard-won lessons on standing out from the sea of sameness and gaining connections and opportunities. My goal is to help you level up and get noticed faster.
On to the rules.
The 14 hidden rules of LinkedIn
The rules of LinkedIn are simple:
LinkedIn is not a job site — it’s a networking platform (big difference)
Commenting is more effective than writing your own content
A defined personal brand is better than a split personality
Endorse and recommend people to get more in return
Connection notes lower people’s defenses
Switch up your content topics and formats
You’ve always got something useful to say
’Going viral’ is not a sustainable strategy
Keywords are your keys to success
DMs are where the magic happens
LinkedIn Premium is a cheat code
The search bar is your best friend
Use the Reach & Teach method
Be friendly and approachable
Let’s dive into each one.
#1 LinkedIn is not a job site - it’s a networking platform
If someone told you an iPhone was only good for calls and texts, you’d look at them funny.
Yes, an iPhone can do those things, but it also lets you tweet, calculate math problems, prepare monthly budgets, shoot films, take photos, and play games.
It’s the same with LinkedIn. You'll be disappointed if you only view LinkedIn as a job site.
This is because while you can find jobs on the platform, you can get so much more out of it — such as new professional opportunities (like joining a board), new contacts (like meeting a mentor), and new clients for your book, course, or business.
Expand the definition of what you can do with LinkedIn and you’ll have a much better time on the platform.
#2 Commenting is more effective than writing your own content
On TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, there’s a difference between your feed content (what’s on your wall) and your engagement content (the comments, likes, and shares you leave on other people’s content).
Those two content types aren’t always displayed together. For instance, if you comment on a hundred Instagram posts but never post your own photos, nobody on Instagram will ever know you’re active.
By contrast, your LinkedIn comments and content are given the same weight, and both appear as content on your profile. Because of this, engaging with other people’s comments is often more effective than creating your own content to drive visibility.
Here’s how to leverage this approach:
Find a few big accounts and set up a notification alert 🔔 for each one
Leave thoughtful comments under their posts that advance the conversation
People will see your comments and either follow you or send connection requests
Rinse and repeat for new accounts you come across
It’s easier and more effective to appear on Oprah’s show than to start your own talk show. Even better when you then go on to appear on Ellen, the Daily Show, Dr. Phil, and the Tonight Show.
Apply the same concept to LinkedIn.
#3 A defined personal brand is better than a split personality
Like you, I have lots of interests, so this truth took me a long time to accept.
Sure, you might be a social media manager, photographer, chef, and writer — but by emphasizing all those interests on your LinkedIn profile, you’re confusing people about the type and depth of content they’ll get.
On LinkedIn, pick one overarching persona and stick to it. It’s best to fold related skills, interests, and services into your main persona. Here are some examples:
If you’re a writer, talk about copywriting, content marketing, and SEO
If you're a photographer, focus on personal branding, visual design, and creativity
If you’re a speaker, focus on thought leadership, running a speaking business, and motivation
A defined LinkedIn persona is more memorable than a chaotic one. If you truly want to indulge all your interests, sign up for (and connect with me on) Polywork.
#4 Endorse and recommend people to get more in return
Your LinkedIn connections can ‘endorse’ different skills on your profile. Endorsements mean people think you’re good at a particular skill, which makes recruiters and prospects more likely to find and pick you over others.
Recommendations are written testimonials from people you’ve worked with or worked for. Having lots of recommendations means you’re trusted by other people.
Endorsements + Recommendations = Social proof.
Also, an endorsement by someone skilled in a particular area is worth more than someone who’s not so skilled (as measured by the number of endorsements they have for that skill.
For example, if Mark Zuckerberg endorses you for ‘social media,’ LinkedIn will highlight that endorsement to anybody who comes across your profile.
So, how do you get more endorsements and recommendations? Simple: by endorsing and recommending other people. When you give a lot, you get more in return.
Try it today: endorse any five skills on my LinkedIn profile, and I’ll endorse a few of yours in return. (Note: You must be connected on LinkedIn to endorse someone).
#5 Connection notes lower people’s defenses
Connection notes are messages you add when sending a connection request. They’re meant to help the other person understand why you’re connecting or where they might know you from.
Most LinkedIn users are skeptical of pitch slaps — getting added just to get pitched immediately (here’s how to pitch them back). Connection notes lower this defense and make people more likely to trust you
My standard connection note is simple: “Good to connect with a fellow [mutual role].”
Good to connect with a fellow social media manager
Good to connect with a fellow talk show host
Good to connect with a fellow photographer
Good to connect with a fellow chef
Assuming you have a decent LinkedIn profile, this line works 99% of the time. People love to connect with others in their professional tribe.
I also use connection notes for people I’ve come across on other channels. For example, if I’m watching a Netflix documentary, I’ll often send LinkedIn requests to the people interviewed: “Loved your thoughts on the Netflix show. Good to connect on LinkedIn.”
Ditto with newsletters and articles: “Fully agreed with your take on [x]; good to connect with forward thinkers in that space.”
Everyone loves knowing that others value their thoughts and contributions. Use this to add influential people to your network.
#6 Switch up your content topics and formats
Yes, you can share educational content, but you can also share:
Personal life updates (e.g., relocations, weddings, and newborns)
New trends in your industry and how they affect you
A funny story about a client you’ve worked with
A case study about results you’re proud of
The latest news from your industry
Every once in a while, zoom out of your work and share what’s happening around you. It’ll add flavor and context to your content.
Also, your content doesn’t have to be just text. You can upload videos, share audio clips, draw illustrations, post infographics, and create slides. Experiment with different content formats to see what resonates.
Still stuck on what to write? Grab my 30-day content calendar and beat writer’s block today.
#7 You’ve always got something useful to say
No matter your career level, there’s something you’ve learned that someone else would find useful:
With twenty years of experience, you can help management teams execute strategy
Ten years in, you can reflect on industry trends and how to avoid costly mistakes
Five years in, you can advise new entrants on how to break into your industry
Two years in, you can talk about your early mistakes and what you learned
A recent graduate can teach other students useful hacks
You always have something useful to share — just talk to the younger you.
#8 ‘Going viral’ is not a sustainable strategy
My first newsletter post was about how to go viral on social media, and even back then I warned against seeking virality for its own sake.
It’s easy to see memes and selfies going viral and want to hop on the trend, but virality won’t necessarily bring you new business or land you your next job.
If your content doesn’t tie back to what you do, you might get your 15 minutes of fame — but you’ll start from scratch the next day, looking for your next hit.
Focus on creating good content consistently — so that even if you go viral, it’s merely icing on the cake.
#9 Keywords are your keys to success
All of life is SEO.
People are searching for stuff, and the more those keywords are on your profile or page, the more likely you’ll appear in their search results.
If you’re a content marketer, content writing, SEO, and copywriting should appear somewhere on your profile.
If you run a photography page, put photography, personal branding, and headshot in your bio or description.
Your LinkedIn profile is your online CV — and as we’ve seen in my previous post on CV design, the keywords you use can make or break your chances of landing the job.
#10 DMs are where the magic happens
The key to DM’ing people on LinkedIn is to be friendly, curious, and professional without being creepy, sales-y, or awkward.
Got a resource someone would like? Send them a link with a short note.
Saw a post you enjoyed? DM the author and let them know why it resonated.
Saw a job opening that intrigued you? DM the hiring manager for more clarity.
Reach new people on the feed and befriend them in the DMs.
#11 LinkedIn Premium is a cheat code
If you can afford it, go Premium. Here’s what you get when you upgrade:
Full access to LinkedIn Learning, which you can use to rack up certifications and boost your profile
Access to unlimited search results (limited on the free plan)
A gold badge on your profile that makes recruiters more likely to consider you and customers more likely to take you seriously.
There are many more reasons to go Premium — from getting salary estimates and more InMails to seeing company growth insights and finding more prospects for your business (through Sales Navigator).
LinkedIn Premium is a worthy investment; I’ve used it for 5+ years.
Hint: When you upgrade to Premium, pay for the annual package — it’s significantly cheaper in the long run. Just close your eyes and swipe — it’ll only hurt once.
#12 The search bar is your best friend
You can find anybody on LinkedIn with a granular search. Most people don’t use the search bar as well as they could.
For example, you can find people who went to Wits, currently work in marketing, previously worked at Coke, and currently live in Johannesburg (exactly four people).
Or find engineers who live in London, previously worked at Investec, and went to the University of Cape Town (exactly three people).
LinkedIn's search feature is handy when you’re a solopreneur just starting out or a job seeker looking to connect with hiring managers.
Do with that information what you will.
#13 Use the Reach & Teach method
Business-centric posts are useful but don’t always get seen. Viral posts rack up engagement but don’t always lead to profit. What gives?
Many big accounts got famous on LinkedIn for sharing content with broad appeal — cute cat videos, gurgling babies, and epic skydiving videos.
There’s a place for such content, and if your job depends on keeping people glued to your page (e.g., you work in social media for a consumer brand or are a radio presenter or comedian), this is the way to go.
But if you sell financial products for Gen Z professionals or corporate cooking classes for blue chip companies, posting content with broad appeal does little to sell your offering.
You may get a bunch of likes and maybe even go viral, but when it’s time to pick a service provider, customers will choose a vendor who answers their core questions with educational content.
The most effective approach is the ‘Reach & Teach’ method — 80% ‘teach,’ 20% ‘reach.’ Share content with broad appeal to drive traffic to your profile, then serve educational content to those who stick around.
The cute videos are the hook. Your business content is the net. Use them both to fish. 🎣
#14 Be friendly and approachable
LinkedIn is a professional platform where image matters.
People want to work with and do business with those who look friendly, so smile in your profile picture, use conversational language when writing, and be helpful.
Nobody can force you to smile in your profile picture, but don’t frown, scowl, or refuse to have a Profile picture. First impressions last, and people make snap decisions that affect your job or business prospects.
LinkedIn is a game
The sooner you accept that LinkedIn is one big playground, the faster you can learn the rules to win.
At its core, the game boils down to giving out more than you ask for, being cool to chat with, and having a great profile people can resonate with.
Everything else is icing.
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(P.S. All the digital art in this post was generated by AI.)