IBM has nearly 200,000 Phantom Employees on LinkedIn, and it's not alone

7 months ago by Joshua Fruhlinger in Features

According to its 2017 Annual Report, IBM employs 366,600 people. According to LinkedIn, there are 563,107 people on its site who claim to work for IBM. That's a difference of 196,507 people. When you consider the notion that it's likely some IBM empoyees aren't even members of LinkedIn, it's clear that many people are claiming to work for IBM who do not.

As long ago as 2013, The Financial Times published an article titled, "LinkedIn: The curse of the phantom online employees". It brings up the issue of LinkedIn "Phantom Employees", people who say they work for a company, but don't. The reason one would do this is numerous, and it's not always nefarious.

In some cases, an individual may claim to work for a company because he or she did some contact work for the employer. It's a legitimate claim, because if a company has written someone a check for work done, that person worked for that company.

But then what happens when that person is being considered for a job, and a recruiter sees that employment and considers it legitimate, full-time experience?

Sales and marketing pitches are common on LinkedIn. That's a good thing: The site was designed to enable business networking. But when someone sends a pitch as a representative of a company he or she doesn't legitimately work for, trust in LinkedIn ultimately erodes.

Here are the top-20 companies on LinkedIn in terms of people claiming to work for them:

Company Name

Employees on Linkedin

IBM

563,107

Walmart

376,730

Accenture

369,531

Deloitte

274,086

Bank of America

257,564

EY

254,532

JPMorgan Chase & Co.

254,122

Siemens

252,042

Amazon

242,774

Wells Fargo

238,228

GE

233,883

PwC

233,215

Hewlett Packard Enterprise

226,500

Cognizant

225,801

AT&T

225,619

Capgemini

209,810

McDonald's

207,701

Infosys

204,729

Citi

203,687

HSBC

203,528

It's also possible that people who worked for a company, but no longer do, simply haven't gotten around to changing their LinkedIn profiles to reflect that.

But then consider WalMart, which employs 2.3 million people worldwide. On LinkedIn, only 376,730 people claim to work for WalMart. Similarly, while Amazon employs 566,000 people, only 242,774 list it as an employer on LinkedIn.

It's likely that many people who work in stores as clerks and in warehouses aren't interested in the professional networking opportunities that LinkedIn offers, but this stark difference points to the notion that many people are claiming they work for a company when they don't.

In fact, when it comes to highly influential companies that may get someone's attention on LinkedIn, evidence of phantom employees is consistent. Apple, according to 2017 filings, employs 123,000 people. On LinkedIn, however, there are 180,180 people claiming for work for the computing giant.

Similarly, Google (AKA Alphabet), arguably the most influential digital company on the planet, claimed 73,992 employees in its 2017 annual report. On LinkedIn, however, 133,440 people say they work for Google.

But influence doesn't always explain a large number of phantom LinkedIn accounts. Nor does proclivity for hiring contractors who may not be considered employees on annual reports. In fact, the differential for some of the world's more influential companies leads to more head scratches, as seen below.

Company

Employees

LinkedIn Profiles

Differential

% Differential

IBM

366,600

563,107

196,507

53.60%

Google

73,992

133,400

59,408

80.29%

Apple

123,000

180,180

57,180

46.49%

Microsoft

124,000

149,130

25,130

20.27%

Deloitte

263,900

274,086

10,186

3.86%

Facebook

25,105

29,120

4,015

15.99%

GE

313,000

233,883

-79,117

-25.28%

Capgemini

193,077

14,077

-179,000

-92.71%

Amazon

566,000

242,774

-323,226

-57.11%

Walmart

2,300,000

376,730

-1,923,270

-83.62%

It's possible that some companies are more dilligent when it comes to reporting inaccurate profiles as a measure to control who is acting on their behalf on LinkedIn. It could also be an artifact of the global - or not-so global - nature of particular companies, where LinkedIn is more or less popular. Or, it could all just be the nature of the phantom profile on LinkedIn.

Having worked at the same company as someone else makes adding that person as a connection on LinkedIn a relatively simple two-step process (add and be accepted), as opposed to a multi-step process when cold-connecting someone. It's possible that those looking for an in on a job, a pitch, or similar, are exploiting the fact that LinkedIn doesn't verify employment in most situations.

UPDATE: We reached out to LinkedIn for comment on how they manage phantom profiles and company employee counts on its platform. A spokesperson pointed us to this article, which explains:

We collect, organize, and develop insights on companies based on profile information of LinkedIn members. At times, actual employee counts may differ from what we have computed. This can be due to a variety of reasons, including but not limited to, a company's industry, the frequency with which the company updates its self-reported numbers on LinkedIn, as well as differences between what a company counts as an employee and how an employee represents him/herself on LinkedIn. Any page with less than 30 employee profiles on LinkedIn will not have Premium Insights displayed.

Joshua Fruhlinger

Joshua has been writing about technology, lifestyle, and business for over 20 years. He's one of the original writers and editors for Engadget, and still writes a...

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