If you work in sales and marketing, I’ll bet you think a company’s employee count on LinkedIn is the absolute best way to determine how many employees work at that company.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: It’s not the best way.

I would know. I’ve been optimizing DiscoverOrg’s process for gathering firmographic data since 2016. I’ve looked at everything from Glassdoor employee ranges, how many people are on a company’s benefit plan, and of course, the employee count on LinkedIn.

None of these numbers touch the level accuracy that we expect at DiscoverOrg.

Why is employee count important for sales?

Sales and marketing professionals use employee counts to understand a company’s size. It is a crucial data point for many common sales and marketing activities: segmentation, lead routing, outbound outreach, territory planning, and more.

The larger the company, the larger the budget (usually). Size is also important because companies of certain sizes need certain tools. A company with 100 employees probably doesn’t need an applicant tracking system. But a company with 300 certainly does.

Read it: How to Calculate Total Addressable Market

Larger companies, typically, have more complex buying cycles, more sophisticated internal processes, and more specialization throughout their org. All of these nuances require a different approach to your outreach – whether that be who you target or what you say. Some sales and marketing professionals excel in prospecting to companies of a certain size too – so ensuring that the right target account or inbound lead makes it to the appropriate person or team could make or break a deal.

Now that we understand why company size is important, let’s look at why relying on LinkedIn employee counts is a bad idea. I fully appreciate that this seems counterintuitive.

How can a LinkedIn employee count not be an accurate representation of how many employees a company has?

Let me show you:

  • Facebook’s website says they have 33,606 employees, but there are 45,105 on LinkedIn.
  • Home Depot’s website says they have 413,000 employees. They have 83,000 on LinkedIn.

I’m guessing that you’re thinking, “Sure, LinkedIn might not be good for really large companies. But it’s great for smaller companies.”

At DiscoverOrg, as of January 15th, we have 556 full-time employees. We don’t have any part-time employees or contractors. According to LinkedIn, we have 658. Even more confusing is the fact that most of our research analysts aren’t even on LinkedIn. A difference of 100 isn’t that troublesome, but it begs the question: Who are these 658 people? How many of these 658 people are actually on DiscoverOrg’s payroll?

Contently made Inc.’s 5000 list and submitted their employee count as 83. LinkedIn says they have 204 employees. If you think they may have grown quickly since that list was published, LinkedIn Premium Insights indicates 0% growth in headcount at Contently over the past two years.

Here’s one more: K2 Energy’s website says they have over 100 employees, yet they’ve only got 26 on LinkedIn.

I probably have your attention now.

Why isn’t LinkedIn’s Employee Count very accurate?

Why shouldn’t LinkedIn employee numbers be trusted as gospel? There’s a long list of reasons why.

1. Subsidiaries and divisions

We know that Excelligence Learning has 1,200+ employees; it says so on their About Us page on their website. But according to LinkedIn, they only have 188.

Why? Excelligence operates the companies Really Good Stuff (169 LI employees), Educational Products, Inc. (91), Children’s Factory (48), and Discount School Supply (31). You wouldn’t know that looking at LinkedIn.

2. Industry

Certain types of companies have a large blue-collar contingent of workers who do not have much use for a professional social network. Yes – believe it or not, some people with jobs do not sign up for LinkedIn. (In fact, 25% of C-level execs aren’t on the networking site, either.) There’s a reason that Foxconn, the manufacturer of iPhones, has 873,000 employees and just 72,000 on LinkedIn. A lot of hard-working people on the factory floors aren’t exactly looking forward to InMail. (Who is, right?)

3. Consultants

Other types of companies have way too many people claiming to work there. Mary Kay Cosmetics has 5,000 employees, as reported to Forbes as a Top Company for Diversity in 2019.

On LinkedIn, they have 61,725 employees! In this instance, the number of “Independent Beauty Consultants” on LinkedIn inflates the number significantly.

4. Inactive users

People often make accounts and never login again, even after they’ve left a company. Before LinkedIn went public, it was reported that only 25% of all users logged in during a given month. This means that 75% of all LinkedIn users don’t login in regularly.

A good number of those LinkedIn profiles that push the employee count far beyond the actual count are former employees who have left the company and abandoned their profiles.

5. Locked-out users

There’s no mechanism to delete inactive or dead accounts. If you register for a LinkedIn account with your work email and lose access to that inbox, the only way to get into your account is verify your identity with a picture of your ID.

This hassle is not worth it to most professionals, and many create a second account for their new role.

6. International companies

At international companies, other social media networks, like XING, are more prevalent than LinkedIn. Business professionals working outside of North America sign up for LinkedIn at a much lower rate. For example, Poczta Polska S.A. has at least 75,000 employees according to the United Nations Global Compact and 86,000 according to Wikipedia. But they only have 2,668 on LinkedIn.

I bet I can guess your next argument: “Ok yeah, I can see how these issues can create inaccurate numbers. But that’s not most of the companies.”

Most companies have employee-count issues like this

Actually…this is the issue at most companies. Here’s a little experiment I did with our in-house data QA team:

  1. In late 2018, I chose 100 random companies in DiscoverOrg and asked our firmographics team to scour the web for confirmed employee counts: on company websites, published lists, and public filings.
  2. I then asked our research team call the HR departments for each company and ask how many people were employed there. In all, 84 of the 100 different companies had super-accurate employee count numbers.
  3. I then compared the real number to what we had in DiscoverOrg and to LinkedIn; LinkedIn had company pages for 81 of them.

Here’s how it shook out: DiscoverOrg’s number was more accurate 51 times, LinkedIn’s number was more accurate 28 times, and LinkedIn and DiscoverOrg’s numbers matched twice.

Simply taking a LinkedIn employee count as the sole source of truth for firmographic data is a flawed practice if you’re trying to understand the overall size of a company.

Our customers occasionally point out the number of employees on LinkedIn as a comparison point to our data.. While such a number may sometimes be instructive in estimating an employee count, sales and marketing professionals must realize that the true size of a company is often very different from what they find on LinkedIn.

Gathering firmographic data is hard.

Let’s go back to the Home Depot example. Today, five different data providers have five drastically different employee counts. This ranges from 4,600 to 28,000 with their annual report stating their employee count number is 413,000. Which one is right?

Relying on social media as your sole sizing mechanism for employee count can screen good accounts out of your workflows while also pulling in accounts that aren’t in your target market.

If you don’t have a tool like DiscoverOrg, at least spot check the source of your firmographic data before adding that data into your marketing and sales systems.

It takes good old-fashioned hard work to find accurate numbers, and that’s something not many have time to do.

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Derek Smith
About the author

Derek Smith

Derek was DiscoverOrg’s first researcher in 2007 and now a decade later he’s responsible for the processes and technologies that DiscoverOrg’s research team uses to create and update the data in our industry-leading sales intelligence platform.