If there’s one social media network right now that deserves an extra level of care and attention, it’s LinkedIn.

Millions of Americans are facing unemployment, and no doubt exploring their options on platforms like LinkedIn.

As a marketer, that puts you in a pickle: To do LinkedIn marketing at the risk of being really tasteless, or not to do LinkedIn marketing, and risk missing out on potential opportunities?

And the answer is complicated.

Marketers have certainly been affected by what’s happening in the world, and for many, their jobs have become casualties. In this sense, marketing on any channel – be it LinkedIn or Facebook – is merely a marketer’s way of trying to weather this storm, same as everyone else.

However, marketing to professionals (or to consumers) on LinkedIn who are struggling is like asking a sinking ship to throw you a lifeline. It’s senseless and insensitive, even if you are just trying to bale out your own business.

Like we said: The answer is complicated.

Our take

Continue marketing on LinkedIn, but do so with a heightened level of empathy.

What does that mean?

  1. Use the platform to sympathize with your audience by posting content to your pages that is genuinely useful, not spamming them. If it’s not something that might help them right now, it’s not worth their time. (More on adjusting your marketing strategy – and how to do content marketing – during a pandemic, here.)
  2. If you use LinkedIn messaging as a form of sales prospecting, be extraordinarily mindful of the industries you target. Some companies are actually experiencing growth right now, but others – like hospitality and food service – are hurting.
  3. Cancel any and all automated LinkedIn campaigns – for now, and forever after.

We’ve already talked at length about the first two things on that list elsewhere on our blog, but it’s worth diving a little deeper into LinkedIn automation.

We’ll start with some of the basics:

What exactly is LinkedIn automation?

LinkedIn automation involves using software to automatically send out connection invites, create and/or distribute messages, post on your account, view profiles and follow certain pages.

This can be achieved using certain native LinkedIn tools, or with third-party automation tools.

Who uses LinkedIn automation and how do they benefit?

Anyone with a personal LinkedIn profile (meaning not a business page, which only lets you post content) can use LinkedIn automation, but marketers, salespeople and job recruiters usually get the most value from it.

About 660 million people use LinkedIn. A LinkedIn search for “cloud engineer in New York” generates more than 100,000 results. Do you have time to sift through that many profiles to figure out which are worth engaging?

Even if you rule out three quarters of those contacts, that leaves you with 25,000 potential people to contact.

Digital marketers, LinkedIn recruiters, sales teams and business development experts can use automation software to efficiently a) whittle down leads into usable lists of contacts and b) engage them.

Is it OK to use LinkedIn automation tools?

There are perhaps thousands of LinkedIn automation tools, but only some of them are allowed under LinkedIn’s user agreement.

In fact, LinkedIn explicitly prohibits using, “bots or other automated methods to access the Services, add or download contacts, send or redirect messages.”

And the platform very actively polices profiles. Do a quick Google search for “LinkedIn Account Restriction, lead generation,” and you’ll find articles with titles like “Help! I’ve Been Put Into LinkedIn Jail”.

via GIPHY

TL;DR: You need to be really, really cautious about LinkedIn automation. That means:

  • Not sending out bulk messages (unless you have a Recruiter Corporate or Recruiter Professional Services LinkedIn Inmail account).
  • Limiting the amount of page views and connection requests you engage in each day.
  • Avoiding unsanctioned, third-party LinkedIn automation tools.

All of these are giveaways that your LinkedIn automation practices are sketchy, and they could lead to a temporary or permanent account restriction.

LinkedIn wants to keep spammers away from its platform. And it doesn’t want its professional network to become a dumping ground for marketers.

If you’re sending more messages, connection requests and viewing more profiles than the average person could in a day, LinkedIn will think you’re a robot and shut you down.

So what LinkedIn automation tools are safe to use?

LinkedIn doesn’t ban apps by name in its user agreement. However, the company has allegedly leveraged user-agreement violations to get certain applications pulled from the Chrome Store.

If you want to be safe – meaning not use tools that could lead to a restriction, or that could be shut down – stick with tools that come directly from LinkedIn. This includes:

  • LinkedIn Inmail: A messaging service that allows up to 15 free group messages to people outside of your network a month, or up to 90 for Premium users.
  • LinkedIn Sales Navigator: A tool that uses advanced algorithms to provide relationship-building insights and help guide your LinkedIn prospecting and marketing campaigns.
  • LinkedIn Lead Gen Forms: An intuitive form builder for LinkedIn Sponsored Content and InMail message ads that helps you with lead generation. This tool is a must if you’re using LinkedIn messaging and advertising to drive leads deeper into the sales funnel.

Applications that are part of the Sales Navigator Application Platform (SNAP) are also in the clear. You can find the full list of those applications here.

The same thing applies to browser plugins. Anything that automates tasks within LinkedIn is best avoided.

Even SalesLoft, a legitimate LinkedIn partner, had its SalesLoft Prospector tool pulled from Chrome in 2017. We don’t know if that was of its own accord by order of LinkedIn, but what we do know is that it’s gone:

The bottom line: Don’t treat LinkedIn marketing automation like email marketing, especially not now

You might have tens of thousands of contacts on your email automation marketing lists.

And you may still be automating campaigns for many of those lists (again, do so with the utmost empathy for your target audience).

But LinkedIn is just not built for mass marketing the way email is. The social channel is about making real connections with businesses and potential customers. Any attempt to use it as a mass marketing platform or a cheap growth hacking resource rather than a professional network could get your profile banned indefinitely.

More importantly, automating high-volume LinkedIn campaigns during this pandemic is just a bad idea.

We’re not saying you have to put a moratorium on all Inmail activity, but whatever you do, curate your LinkedIn groups carefully. Be mindful of your audience and what they may be going through. Empathy is and always has been the key differentiator between lazy marketing and great branding. Not to mention, it’s just the right thing to do at the moment.

So please: Stay healthy, stay safe and stay away from non-sanctioned LinkedIn automation tools.

Dominick Sorrentino is a senior writer in Chicago. He's a wordsmith who endeavors to use language, story-telling and creativity to solve problems. He enjoys pizza, the musical styling of A Tribe Called Quest, traveling, a good conversation and, of course, putting pen to paper.