LinkedIn's future is a joke

LinkedIn’s future is a joke

The professional network has over 850 million users but non-embarrassing content is scarce.

I recently saw one of the most absurd LinkedIn posts – and chances are good you might too.

Alex Cohen, product manager at Carbon Health, told the story of how he saved money for his startup during a business trip. Cohen says that instead of ordering room service, he bought some raw chicken breasts and cooked them using the coffee maker in his hotel room. He posted this photo saying, “It’s the little things that get you promoted.”

It was all a joke, Cohen later admitted. But not before his story went viral on LinkedIn, and then Reddit and Twitter. The post eventually got thousands of responses and millions of impressions.

“The nice part about LinkedIn is that because it’s professional, everyone expects posts to be professional and they take it all at face,” Cohen told me. “You can really promote sarcasm, and while my coffee pot chicken was a joke, I saw even more brutal stories on the catwalk turn out to be true — like a ‘crying CEO’.

In a digital world where interest is the rarest resource, the story of a coffeepot and a chicken is the perfect example of how a skilled practitioner can use humor to attract eyeballs on LinkedIn (and beyond) — and illustrates why LinkedIn represents such a huge opportunity for entrepreneurial content providers.

To start, LinkedIn has 850 million users. The Microsoft-owned site does not separate daily active users, but even a minority of this user base is comparable to traditional social networks such as Snap (347 million) or Twitter (238 million).

Meanwhile, LinkedIn advertising activity exceeded $5 billion annually, which is equivalent to Twitter ($5.1 billion) and more than Snap ($4.1 billion) or Pinterest ($2.6 billion).

Despite the impressive numbers, LinkedIn is probably not your top priority when you think of social content. Or if you do, it’s for the motivating of humble bragging, self-congratulatory messages, and silly inspirational stories (which may or may not include a chicken in a coffee pot).

In fact, LinkedIn’s annoying reputation has spawned several large social media accounts dedicated to documenting this fraud: LinkedIn Flex (65,000 followers on Twitter); r/LinkedInLunatics (153,000 users on Reddit); and LinkedIn (205,000 followers on Twitter).

Why is this neglected content thriving on the platform?

Well, let’s remember who pays the LinkedIn bills. Talent Solutions is the company’s most valuable division, selling recruitment tools and generating more than $6 billion in revenue annually.

Translation: Recruitment and HR departments are the main clients.

As Fadeke Adegbuyi explains in each “LinkedIn’s Alternate Universe” article:

Each platform has proprietary rights. On Instagram, influencers, foodies and photographers. Twitter belongs to founders, journalists, celebrities and comedians. On LinkedIn, hiring managers, recruiters, and business owners are the ones who hold the power on the platform and have people’s ears. The corruption of the platform where HR managers are rock stars speaks for itself.

In this context, humble ostentation and exaggerated inspirational anecdotes make sense in the world. The prevalence of this content may also be due to the LinkedIn homepage feed algorithm, which – according to the engineering company blog – was updated in 2018 to improve the following metrics:

Share with your network: LinkedIn has re-weighted the value of likes or shares. If I post something and my mom (who is in my network) likes it, a single like or reply for her is more valuable to me than a post from someone outside my network, even if that other person is an influencer and has a large following. Therefore, my humble bragging is more likely to be rewarded with a recent achievement because people I know are “congratulating me” (thank you, Mom).

Time spent on a post is a stronger signal than just likes. This scale motivates people to turn normal professional activities into a hero’s journey story with some random lessons at the end.

Add all that up, and LinkedIn clearly has a supply-demand mismatch: a large and valuable user base (demand) combined with a lack of non-volatile content (supply).

One of the people who has benefited from the mismatch is Chris Buck, founder and CEO of Laskie, a job-matching platform in the tech industry. Bakke posts daily commercial-themed jokes on LinkedIn, which were fine for Laskie’s bottom line (full disclosure: I laughed and liked many of Bakke’s sarcastic posts).

“Social content is an important lead driver,” Bakke wrote to me in an email. “Several million dollars in new business have come to us from Twitter and LinkedIn over the past year.”

Over the past few weeks, Bakke has received a number of viral hits including a post with 155,000 likes and another with 56,000 likes.

“There is a huge opportunity to arbitrate content on LinkedIn against other platforms,” Bakke says. After you’ve scrolled through your LinkedIn feed and seen seven promotions for people you don’t quite know, 19 paraphrased arguments about personal versus remote work, and 30 job postings that don’t work for you, it’s nice to laugh.

Daniel Murray – who has more than 500,000 followers on LinkedIn on his personal and business pages (Marketing Millennials) – believes that anyone in a sales or marketing role should use humor on LinkedIn, particularly with the platform’s content push in recent years, including:

Creator Mode: Setting up a new profile changes the default setting on your profile from “Connect” to “Follow” and allows access to more tools and analytics.

Various media: LinkedIn has introduced publishing tools for long-form blogging and newsletter offerings.

LinkedIn News: Rebranded from LinkedIn Editorial, the professional network that employs around 200 journalists around the world to create and sponsor content (including from LinkedIn users).

“People want entertainment, even on professional networking sites,” Murray says. “I love posting memes, which is the language of the internet. It’s great for generating top-of-the-road engagement that you can turn into other business goals.”

So, if you have a funny story about a cup of coffee, you know where to post it.

Trung Phan is the co-host of the Not Investment Advice podcast and writes the SatPost newsletter. He was previously the lead writer for Hustle, a tech news release.

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