Why and How to Use LinkedIn Private Mode

Why and How to Use LinkedIn Private Mode

One of the challenges of social media is that the information we share frequently spreads beyond where we originally posted it. While this phenomenon is beneficial if you want something to go viral, sometimes there are situations when your social media activity should remain concealed.

Because of its business focus, LinkedIn is one place where user privacy is especially important. After all, you may not want your boss to know that you’re looking for another job. Similarly, recruiters and those doing market research often need to browse the site discreetly.

LinkedIn has various ways to help ensure discretion on its site. For instance, the difficulty of building a network is well-known due to connection restrictions. Less famous, however, is the LinkedIn private mode feature. This lets you conceal some activities even within your network.

What is LinkedIn Private Mode?

LinkedIn Private Mode

LinkedIn private mode is a platform function that lets you view other people’s profiles without their knowing your identity. They still know that somebody has viewed their profile, just not who — this is why some people refer to this feature as “LinkedIn Anonymous Mode.” In other words, in private mode, you can browse anonymously.

But how does this work exactly? As you likely know, LinkedIn users receive a notification whenever someone views their profile. They can also see a list of people who have visited in the last 90 days. If the person visiting a profile has their account in public mode at the time of a visit, the profile owner can see the name, title, and organization.

On the other hand, if you visit someone’s profile using LinkedIn private mode, they won’t know who you are. Instead, you will be listed as “LinkedIn member.” The third option is semi-private mode, where members can see your title and company but not your name. However, I will focus on private mode for the rest of this article.

Why Use LinkedIn Private Mode? Key Benefits Explained

There’s no question that networking efforts are highly effective when people know who you are on LinkedIn. However, full disclosure is not always advisable. We all have times when a little privacy and discretion are beneficial — even required.

Maintain Privacy While Browsing LinkedIn Profiles

Simply put, LinkedIn privacy mode prevents profile owners from seeing that you viewed their profile. Sometimes, you’re simply checking up on an old classmate or colleague from decades ago. Or it could be that you are concerned about what the other person will think if you look them up on LinkedIn. Think that crazy boss from a toxic workplace, for example.

Other situations may arise if you need to do discrete research into someone’s background. For example, you might be trying to verify a job candidate’s credentials or discover who is in charge of product development at your key competitor.

Avoid Unwanted Attention or Awkward Situations

Often, using LinkedIn’s privacy mode will help you avoid unwanted attention or awkward situations. The business world is rife with misunderstandings, political situations, and cutthroat competition. There are situations where letting someone see you’ve viewed their profile can cause more harm than good.

Recruiters and job candidates frequently benefit from keeping their browsing private. For instance, someone who’s looking for work may want to do a reverse background check on a company they’ve considered applying to. Viewing information about key leaders and current or former employees can help someone decide if they’d like to work there. And, of course, if the candidate needs to be discrete about their job search, private mode delivers.

Similarly, recruiters look for potential employees constantly. Many of the profiles they view are suitable for their company’s job openings. But just as many potential candidates, if not more, aren’t what the company’s looking for. By using LinkedIn private mode, recruiters can avoid being messaged by candidates they’ve ruled out.

Another reason to keep your profile views private is to avoid questions from others about why you visited. If I want to find out what another marketer is doing so that I can cut into their market share, it’s best that they do not realize I stopped by.

Limit the Information Available to LinkedIn and Third Parties

With the surge in data breaches and overall marketing fatigue, it might make sense to limit how much information people can gather about you. I’ve talked at length about the importance of targeting ads for specific audiences based on their web behavior, and social media habits are one way I can identify potential customers.

Since privacy is such a major concern on LinkedIn, many of us would rather limit the information the platform has about us. This way, we will see fewer connection suggestions. If I use private mode, I can also avoid getting ads from a company just because I viewed their CEO’s profile. While those ads may be welcome if I work in the same industry, such ads can merely add to the noise if I am merely curious about someone I know who now works in a different industry.

As an added bonus, any information about me that LinkedIn does not have is information that can’t be exposed in a breach, sold, or inappropriately exploited. If the recent trouble with Change Healthcare taught us nothing else, it’s the ease with which data privacy measures can be defeated.

Drawbacks and Limitations of LinkedIn Private Mode

Clearly, there are advantages to using LinkedIn private mode. However, like so many other things on social media, this platform feature is imperfect. There are disadvantages to remaining anonymous — and some trade-offs to consider.

Inability to See Who Viewed Your Profile

LinkedIn hides information about who viewed your profile when you’re in private mode. The theory is that if you don’t want people to see you’ve viewed their account, then you shouldn’t get that information from others.

Depending on your current goals, you may want to avoid using private mode full-time. Missing out on the “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” feature makes it harder to identify potential leads, recruiters, or networking opportunities. You also won’t benefit from the valuable insights you can obtain by knowing about your profile views. Essentially, denying other users information about your visit to their profile forfeits your ability to receive the same data from them — even if they are not in private mode.

Further Reading: 12 Killer LinkedIn Profile Examples to Inspire You to Update Your Own

Restricted Access to Certain LinkedIn Features

Besides data, there are other things you will lose by browsing anonymously. Some LinkedIn features, like Profile Viewing History, are unavailable in private mode. You also may not be able to access the full list of “People Also Viewed” profiles. Your ability to gather data can be limited because you can get valuable insight by seeing the “Also Viewed” list.

Certain other premium features or insights may be limited or disabled. For example, it’s hard to imagine sending an InMail to someone while you’re anonymous. Of course, if you’re going to send those messages, then you probably don’t want to be anonymous anymore.

Potential Impact on LinkedIn Algorithm and Engagement

Like all other social media networks, LinkedIn uses an algorithm to show its members relevant content and important people. These algorithms work by analyzing your activity on each social network. However, LinkedIn’s algorithm may interpret private mode activity differently than public activity. As a result, your profile may appear less frequently in search results or connection suggestions if you spend a lot of time using LinkedIn private mode.

While anonymity is beneficial in many situations, the reduced visibility of your profile could impact your ability to grow your network and engage with others. Therefore, I recommend that you only use private mode when it’s truly necessary. This is simple to do because switching between profile modes is a quick and easy process that you can do several times a day.

Further Reading: The Two Easy Ways to Disconnect and Delete a LinkedIn Connection

Step-by-Step Guide: How to Enable LinkedIn Private Mode

Now that you understand the advantages and disadvantages of LinkedIn private mode, let’s talk about how to enable it. Like many other things on LinkedIn, the process is uncomplicated. But you still need to know which steps. This ensures that you are anonymous when it matters most.

Accessing LinkedIn Privacy Settings

Your LinkedIn account has a wide variety of privacy. These govern factors like your browsing mode and what information gets shared with visitors.

Accessing your privacy settings is easy. First, you must log in to your LinkedIn account using your password. Then, click on the “me” icon at the top of your LinkedIn home page. This will offer you various options for customizing your profile. Finally, select “Settings & Privacy” from the dropdown menu.

Privacy Settings in LinkedIn

Navigating to Profile Viewing Options

LinkedIn has many different profile options that you can access. To find your Viewing mode, click on the “Visibility” tab on the left side of the Settings page. Then, scroll down to the “Visibility of your profile & network” section, which contains many of the privacy-related options. To become anonymous, locate the “Profile viewing options” subsection.

LinkedIn visibility settings

Choosing Your Profile Viewing Mode

Once you have found the relevant section, click on the “Change” link next to “Profile viewing options.” You will see three Visibility options. Select “Private mode,” then choose whether you want LinkedIn private mode to be permanent or temporary. Finally, save your changes. I suggest that you log out and back in before Viewing profiles to ensure you will be truly anonymous.

selecting private mode in LinkedIn

Further Reading: The 11 LinkedIn Privacy Settings You MUST Understand and Manage

Tips for Using LinkedIn Private Mode Effectively

As I already mentioned, LinkedIn private mode provides a trade-off for members. On the one hand, anonymity is often valuable for information gathering and to manage privacy concerns. Yet, there are drawbacks to withholding your information. To get the best of both worlds, you need to know when and how to be anonymous.

Be Selective About When to Use Private Mode

My most important tip is simple: Use private mode strategically, not as a default setting. As it is elsewhere on social media, showing a level of public activity is beneficial on LinkedIn.

Enable private mode when researching competitors, job candidates, or sensitive topics. Doing this allows you to avoid awkward situations, generate the wrong kind of attention, or betray confidential company information. For job candidates, being anonymous can also help them bag the new job before the old boss fires them.

However, there are plenty of advantages to browsing LinkedIn publicly. Switch back to public mode when you want to be visible and engage with your network. Public browsing also helps you expand your network and be visible to people who bring opportunities.

Combine Private Mode with Other Privacy Settings

Perhaps more than any other platform, LinkedIn provides numerous ways to customize your experience and control data. Beyond using private mode, you should review and adjust your LinkedIn privacy settings regularly.

By leveraging various settings, it’s easy to control who can see your connections, email address, and other personal information. Many business leaders camouflage their email addresses to minimize the number of sales pitches they receive daily. Other people may wish to hide their education information — especially if they’ve undergone a career change.

Be mindful of what information you share in your profile and posts. Anything you post publicly on LinkedIn can be misused off of the platform. Despite LinkedIn’s restrictions on data scraping and other techniques, some people still manage to gather information inappropriately.

Use Private Mode in Conjunction with Other Research Tools

Fortunately, you don’t have to use private mode as the only way to gather needed information. Utilize LinkedIn’s search filters and advanced search options to find relevant profiles. Then, you can hover over a search result to see if you want to view the whole profile. Private mode can then let you peruse the profiles you’re most interested in.

Especially when you’re looking at corporate entities, there are plenty of options besides LinkedIn. Leverage other sources like company websites, news articles, and industry databases. This can give you lots of insight into your competition. When it’s time to view a few profiles confidentially, you can spend minimal time using LinkedIn’s private mode before returning to public browsing.

Cross-reference information from multiple sources to gain a comprehensive understanding. I would recommend this anyway since companies typically do not say everything you want to know on social media. Especially if you’re a job candidate or trying to analyze key information about a company, LinkedIn is just the tip of the iceberg.

Alternatives to LinkedIn Private Mode

Regardless of why you use LinkedIn, there are alternatives to private mode that let you safeguard information and get the data you need. Some of these are on the platform, while others utilize third-party tools. Let’s take a look.

Upgrading to LinkedIn Premium

YouTube video

Users who are looking for work, do recruiting, or are business leaders frequently benefit from having a premium account. That’s because LinkedIn Premium offers features like InMail, advanced search filters, and insights. Such features let you zero in on the right people and then make contact as appropriate.

Some Premium plans include the ability to view profiles anonymously. You also have more flexibility in determining who sees what on your profile. If used properly, these features can reduce your need for LinkedIn privacy mode and maximize your overall visibility to the algorithm.

That said, LinkedIn Premium can be expensive. There are different subscription options that let you get the right features for your needs. However, you should still carefully consider whether the high cost aligns with your LinkedIn goals and budget. Overspending is rarely worthwhile.

Further Reading: These are the Best 11 LinkedIn Premium Features You Should Check Out

Using Third-Party Tools or Browser Extensions

LinkedIn’s focus on user privacy has led to the creation of many third-party tools. For instance, there are several options to help sales professionals and marketers find key decision-makers in target companies. Similarly, some browser extensions or third-party tools claim to offer anonymous LinkedIn browsing.

Be cautious when using these tools, as they may violate LinkedIn’s terms of service. LinkedIn has very strict rules about what you can and cannot do with its platform and its data. To protect your account, research the tool’s legitimacy, privacy policies, and user reviews before using.

Further Reading: The Top 11 LinkedIn Tools to Grow Your Business in 2024

Creating a Secondary LinkedIn Account

Some users create a separate LinkedIn account for anonymous browsing or research, often with a completely different pseudonym and email address. This approach allows you to maintain privacy without sacrificing functionality on your main account, especially if there’s no link between accounts.

However, having multiple accounts is not risk-free because it may violate LinkedIn’s user agreement. When I wrote this article, it was widely accepted that LinkedIn only allows one account per person. Using the multiple account approach is definitely at your own risk.

Conclusion

Especially in the current climate where employers are sensitive about employee use of social media, there are plenty of advantages to using LinkedIn’s private mode. It’s a highly effective tool for protecting your privacy, whether specifically on the job, networking, or trying to find a new role.

However, private mode’s usefulness is limited. Overuse can reduce your profile’s visibility over time and sacrifice networking opportunities. To mitigate these hazards, use public mode when anonymity is not required.

Hero photo by Clint Patterson on Unsplash

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Neal Schaffer
Neal Schaffer

Neal Schaffer is a leading authority on helping businesses through their digital transformation of sales and marketing through consulting, training, and helping enterprises large and small develop and execute on social media marketing strategy, influencer marketing, and social selling initiatives. President of the social media agency PDCA Social, Neal also teaches digital media to executives at Rutgers University, the Irish Management Institute (Ireland), and the University of Jyvaskyla (Finland). Fluent in Japanese and Mandarin Chinese, Neal is a popular keynote speaker and has been invited to speak about digital media on four continents in a dozen countries. He is also the author of 3 books on social media, including Maximize Your Social (Wiley), and in late 2019 will publish his 4th book, The Business of Influence (HarperCollins), on educating the market on the why and how every business should leverage the potential of influencer marketing. Neal resides in Irvine, California but also frequently travels to Japan.

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