Last week I was sitting at my desk feeling a little frustrated. A client had recently let us know that they were going to pass on an exceptional developer we had sent them. After a brief interview, they said he wasn’t technically strong enough. They had gotten it wrong and I knew it. A couple days later, he had multiple offers from several prestigious tech companies. Unfortunately, none of them were our client.
Programmer interviewing and hiring is so badly broken. I know because I used to be that hiring manager that thought I knew how to judge talent. Out of frustration, I decided to fire off a quick LinkedIn post about one of the many times I had gotten it wrong.
That post has been viewed over 4 million times! It has 40,000 likes, 1,500 comments and has been reshared over 2,000 times. It was the top post on /r/webev, /r/programming and made the front page of Hacker News.
I am incredibly humbled by the response. Many of the LinkedIn comments expressed gratitude for sharing my experience. The kind words really mean a lot to me.
For context, I’m the founder and CEO of a small technology company, Facet. We have just 10 employees. I live in Highland, UT. I have a whopping 35 followers on Twitter and, when I made the post to LinkedIn, I had 1,600 connections.
I’ve never had a LinkedIn post go viral before, so I thought I would share what the experience has been like for me.
Timeline of a Viral Post
LinkedIn doesn’t provide any historical data for post analytics, so the following timeline is taken from updates I posted in our team Slack channel.
Day 1 - Monday, April 29th
10:00am - Views: 0, Likes: 0, Comments: 0, Reshares: 0
I posted the above story to LinkedIn before heading into a team meeting.
5:00pm - Views: ?, Likes: 20, Comments: 2, Reshares: 0
My post has gotten a few likes and comments from friends. This is usually where my post activity dies off.
Day 2: Tuesday, April 30th
5:00pm - Views: 6k, Likes: 97, Comments: 4, Reshares: 2
I had kind of forgotten about my post, but decided to check to see where it had topped out. Oddly, it hadn’t stalled out yet. There were even likes and reshares from people I don’t know! I didn’t think much of it, but 97 likes is more than I’ve ever had before. I was mildly impressed with myself.
9:30pm - Views: 14k, Likes: 220, Comments: 7, Reshares: ?
My post must have crossed some threshold because the likes and reshares start to accelerate. LinkedIn sends me a notification to tell me that my post is trending in #hiring. I tell the team that my post has gone viral. Mission accomplished.
Day 3: Wednesday, May 1st
9:00am - Views: 40k, Likes: 550, Comments: 40, Reshares: 15
I wake up to 100 connection requests on my phone. WTF is going on? My wife and I make bets about where it will top out. She says 1,000 likes.
5:00pm - Views: 130k, Likes: 1,800, Comments: 200, Reshares: ?
Holy cow, what is happening? I’m getting flooded with connection requests on LinkedIn - about 2 connection request per minute. The LinkedIn app is draining my phone battery. I silence my phone and turn it face down so I can actually get some work done.
9:00pm - Views: 260k, Likes: 3,500, Comments: ?, Reshares: ?
Day 4: Thursday, May 2nd
9:00am - Views: 890k, Likes: 10,000, Comments: 449, Reshares: 380
500 new connection requests come in overnight. I get a message from Daniel! “Hey Man!” I’m super nervous that he will be upset. I apologize for sharing his story, but he’s cool with it. He sends me a picture of his profile views chart.
2:00pm - Views: 1.3M, Likes: 14,000, Comments: 600, Reshares: 600
Some friends tell me that my post is on the front page of Hacker News and www.reddit.com/r/webdev.
At this point the connection requests are getting out of hand, so I change the default button on my profile to “Follow”.
Day 5: Friday, May 3rd
4:00pm - Views: 2.1M, Likes: 28,000, Comments: 820, Reshares: 800
Friday morning I head to Moab with my brothers for the weekend and I try and unplug from work. However, that afternoon I’m browsing reddit on my phone and I almost fell out of my chair when I saw my post on my front page. It’s the top post in /r/programming!
Later that night it gets featured on the LinkedIn homepage as a trending news topic.
It’s hard to wrap my head around the size of the audience that has read my story. Initially I felt anxious about all the attention. A lot of people now view me as a thought leader and I was worried that they might be disappointed if my future posts aren’t deep or insightful. I have decided to just act like nothing has changed and if my future posts max out at 20 likes, I’m okay with that.
Social media marketing and content marketing are a big part of our growth strategy, so I was excited to see the impact my viral post had on our website traffic and conversions. My LinkedIn profile views went through the roof.
However, post views and profile views did not translate very well into website traffic. In fact, the bump in website traffic was pretty disappointing.
On our best day, only about 800 people made it to our website. Had I known the post was going to go viral, it would have been much better to include a link to a blog post on our website with the full-story about my experience with Daniel. With just the post by itself, people had to click on my profile, then click on the Facet company page link, then click “Visit Website”. That’s just too many steps.
Compare that to the traffic that my blog post about turning down my Y Combinator interview drove to our website.
Our best day for that blog post drove 11,000 people to the website. That’s almost 14x more website visitors. We had significantly more conversions too. I definitely feel like it was a missed opportunity there.
Lesson Learned: Always include a link to a blog post or some other relevant content on your website just in case your post goes viral.
LinkedIn Audience Growth
Website traffic is definitely good in the short term, but having a larger LinkedIn audience will be helpful for longer term growth. I ended up receiving (and accepting) about 2,000 connection requests. I also gained an additional 1,500 followers. I hope that I can turn LinkedIn into a low-cost, social media marketing platform for Facet. I’ve decided to focus on LinkedIn rather than Twitter because I think I’m just too late to the Twitter game. We’ll see how that works in the future.
Why Did This Post Go Viral?
There were three audiences that seemed to really identify with the experience I shared.
First, almost everyone has been rejected for a job that they think they should have gotten. And, almost everyone has fantasized about making the person who rejected us really regret it. My experience embodied that fantasy and it was 100% real. I received many messages from people saying that my story really resonated with them.
Second, recruiters have been frustrated countless times by the seemingly random acceptance criteria of engineering hiring managers.
Third, deep down every programmer knows that the way we are doing our interviews is pretty bad.
Also, many people seemed to find the honesty of the story refreshing since so much of LinkedIn seems to be filled with bragging about your accomplishments. I’m guilty of this too.
Someone told me recently that hashtags are super important, so, in my recent posts I’ve been sprinkling random hashtags on my posts. Apparently I’ve been doing it wrong. On LinkedIn you can browse popular hashtags. When tagging your post, you should pick hashtags with large audiences that are relevant to your post if you want to increase your potential reach.
Since making this post I’ve compiled a list of hashtags we will use in our future posts.
While we didn’t generate a lot of website traffic, I was hopeful that we had created some brand recognition for Facet. Yesterday, I was meeting with a potential partner to discuss an advertising deal for Facet. The conversation shifted to hiring and interviewing. I casually mentioned that I didn’t have a lot of faith in technical interviews and asked if they had seen my recent LinkedIn post. They both said they hadn’t. I started to recount my experience and as soon as I mentioned “Daniel” they both said - “Oh yeah, that. Yeah we saw that.” :-(
I don’t know how to measure brand recognition, but it doesn’t seem like the viral post did much to increase the Facet brand.
Reconnecting with Daniel
One of my favorite outcomes of my LinkedIn post going viral was reconnecting with Daniel Buchmueller. I’ve spent a grand total of 60 minutes with Daniel and it took place over eight years ago. While I’ve been following his journey from a far over the years, this week gave us a chance to catch up and look back on how far we’ve both come. Daniel is as good as they come and I’m looking forward to meeting up for drinks the next time he’s in Salt Lake or I’m in New York.
So there you go. That’s what you can expect if you have a LinkedIn post go viral. I’d be happy to answer any other questions you might have. You can always find me on our website chat. :-)