The “follow” feature is one of the hardest to understand and one that most people may not recognize until too late. I was just helping someone who thought they had their activity feed turned off and their boss saw one of the activity updates. I don’t know what it was, but I’m guessing it wasn’t something that they wanted them to see.

Essentially, with the wrong setting, anyone can now follow you and possibly without you knowing. This could be competitors, your boss, HR directors, colleagues that don’t like you, etc. However, you can somewhat control if they can see anything. There are 2 privacy settings that have to be tweaked to prevent this.

The first is “activity broadcasts” which are updates to your profile, recommendations that you give, and companies you follow. This is either on or off. If you turn it off, that means that your Connections don’t get to see it either.

The second is “activity feed.” This can be set to your connections and everyone. There used to be an option for “only you” which allowed you to put your feed in lock down, but that option is now gone. Therefore, if it is set to your everyone, then anyone who follows you will pull your activity feed into their news feed. AND you cannot prevent anyone you’re connect to from seeing your network – which could be colleagues and supervisors – so be careful who you connect with if that’s a concern for you.

Therefore, if you are being open, you have to be certain that what you are doing on LinkedIn is something you don’t mind everyone knowing – especially competitors, employers and potential employers.

For those of you that are in a supervisory position, this can also be an interesting way to keep tabs on your employees and you may be able to figure out if there is a problem or someone is ready to fly the coup before it happens and possibly prevent it – if you want to.

I definitely follow and keep track of competitors and prospects that I’m not connected to. The competitors, in order to know what they’re doing so I can more effectively strategize for my business. For prospects, to find an opportunity where it would make sense for me to connect or get referred in. I don’t have any employees, but if I did and they didn’t want to connect to me, then I would definitely want to follow them if possible.

How can people follow you?

Follow Person Profile Drop DownYour connections automatically follow you. There’s nothing you can do about that. People who aren’t connecting to you can follow you in two different ways. First, directly from your profile, they will find a drop down that gives them the option to follow it if you HAVEN’T changed it in your Privacy Settings. By default, anyone can follow you.

The second place that people can follow you is if you’re writing the long form, Publisher Posts. There is a follow button on every article so that people can continue to get your new articles – of course, they get everything else, too.

How can you tell who is following you?

LinkedIn has recently made a change to the follower function after putting it on hiatus for a while. With the creation of Pulse and allowing anyone to use the long form Publisher, LinkedIn is now encouraging the following of people who are publishing. As a result, if you are using that feature you get analytics about the performance in addition to accessing the full list of everyone following you. I have not found a way yet to review followers if you are not using this feature.

Can you make someone stop following you?Block Person from Profile Drop Down

Yes, if you fully block them from any access to your profile, so if they are a connection, this action will disconnect them from you. This is a nuclear option that forbids them from viewing your profile and communicating with you in anyway, so you do want to use it judiciously. You find the Block or Report feature in the same drop down menu as the Follow. You can Unblock someone in the Privacy Settings, if you should change your mind. If they were a connection, you will need to re-invite them to connect.

There is one other limitation in the Privacy Settings and that is to only allow connections to follow you. You have only two options – Connection or Everyone (except people you block).

How can you use it to your advantage?

If you’re using Publisher, see who is following you. If appropriate, consider inviting them to connect. Chances are, if it’s not a competitor or employer then it is someone who is interested in what you have to say or the products/services you offer, or possibly hiring you. Just be certain you personalize that invitation to connect to let them know that since they are following you, you would be open to connecting with them. Who knows, you just may find your next client this way!

These settings can be tricky and can have some serious repercussions so give serious thought as to how you want to use them.

Need some more LinkedIn help? Several times per month we offer a FREE webinar called the Seven LinkedIn Mistakes that Kill Sales and What to Do Instead. Click Here to check out and register for the next sessions. If they don’t fit with your schedule, register any way and we’ll send you the replay!