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LinkedIn Pulse as the tragedy of the commons

1. Tragedy of the commons

There is a classic tale in game theory describing the usage of shared resources freely accessible to everyone. In the original 19th century example the tale is about ten cattle herders living in a small village. Each herder has one cow, and the pasture of the village is perfectly suited to feed 10 cows. All cows are healthy and well fed, and this setup maximizes the return per cow (milk, meat, etc.).

After a while one of the herders realizes that he can increase his profit by adding a second cow to the pasture. While he is doubling his number of cows he is not doubling his profit – all 11 cows on the field are producing now only at 95% of their maximum. Yet, for the herder this is still a 90% increase in profit. This increase is getting lower and lower with each cow, but for every next herder the financially better decision is to get one more cow. Those who do not participate in this game of cow-addition will be penalized. They just experience the negatives (their cow is also producing less) without the positives (having more cows). This of course inevitably ends in most actors choosing the addition of cows, the pasture getting destroyed and not being able to feed all the cows.  How Floyd summarizes the moral of the story:

If all herders made this individually rational economic decision, the common could be depleted or even destroyed, to the detriment of all.

Tragedy of commons - same thing can happen with LinkedIn Pulse

This example is a time-tested classic still used nowadays to describe the situation and problematics of the „commons”, common goods available to everyone and anyone. It’s very typical to use this analogy in environmental protections with topics like air pollution, fishing in seas or water clarity. When posting on LinkedIn Pulse – and sending a notification to all of your connections – became an option for everyone, it essentially became the pasture or the air in these examples. It’s there, it’s free to use, and for each and every individual contemplating whether to post the vacancy or not, it makes sense to do it.

2. Posting on LinkedIn Pulse

Because the thing is, unfortunately putting your vacancy to a LinkedIn Pulse post works. How could it not? Every half-decent recruiter has a LinkedIn network with potential candidates, and this is a quick method of notifying them. Even with a low percentage of applicants it still generates you an easy pipeline.

Unfortunately everyone else also gets notified – and no LinkedIn network is completely homogeneous, consisting of 100% target audience of one position. The poster also sends notifications to the target audiences of other positions, his colleagues, friends and fellow recruiters. This possibility has been there since almost 2 years now, but in the last couple months the amount of these LinkedIn Pulse “articles” is trending way up. And this is where game theory steps in for the individual cattle herders recruiters: if my competition has even a small number of additional applicants with this method, why wouldn’t I use it as well?

But let’s face it, who would like to wake up to hundreds of LinkedIn notifications telling about random job opportunities. On the receiving end most users receive “notifications” about jobs which are absolutely not noteworthy to them.  This pollutes LinkedIn Pulse for people who would like to use the platform for what it’s meant to be (sharing and reading insights, information and other quality content). As a content consumer, from 10 notifications where 7 is spam I am less likely to pick and read an article. As a content creator, my article gets lost in this spam and fewer people will read it.

3. So what now?

History suggests that these situations are not solving themselves. I do not believe that it’s possible to influence everyone in such a wide spread and diverse industry as recruitment. What was the historical solution for the example with cattle? Taxes and regulation (maximum limit on the amount of cows). What is the environmental solution? Taxes and regulation (maximum limit on emission). Who has such power over LinkedIn Pulse? Obviously that would be LinkedIn.

LinkedIn certainly has the possibility to create regulations around this. I would argue the “ideal number of cows” or “maximum emission” in this case is 0. There are many other ways to market your position; this is simply not the channel for that. Communicate this as a rule, and create a report button so the users can flag it as spam if they still see it happening.

Of course, another route is to commercialize this behavior and create a special type of LinkedIn Pulse article, which can be targeted to just the audience you want to notify. I think that is not necessary (since in essence we have it already, it’s called InMail), but some might feel differently – and LinkedIn needs new money sources anyway.

There are also some things you can do to help and stop the spamstorm:

  1. Tweet this article to @LinkedIn, so they see the users are annoyed by this. They typically need to hear something a LOT in order to do something, otherwise the answer is “yes yes we know and we are working on it”. A click-to-tweet if you fancy: Why @LinkedIn should stop allowing vacancy advertising spam on #LinkedInPulse. Click To Tweet
  2. Show this article to your colleagues, especially the ones who you saw posting vacancies already on LinkedIn Pulse. Raise your voice against spam!
  3. Lead by example. Do not post such “articles” and when you are for any reason educating your colleagues (training, onboarding, etc.), explain the above.

If you see any other route for either LinkedIn or the individual users, don’t hesitate and explain it in the comments section. Let’s stop this together!

Some example job ads posing as LinkedIn Pulse "articles"



  1. Good article, couldn’t agree with you more. Felt compelled to share on Twitter as well… keep up the good work.

  2. Great insight! 100% agree

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