LinkedIn’s adaption of Facebook-style functionality is driving new user behaviours which may be diluting the site’s appeal and usefulness. Tym Yee would like to see LinkedIn get back to business.
I’m a firm believer that social media inherently gives us the permission to post useless crap on the internet.
It’s a widely understood tenet of networked cultures – the more you put in the more you get out. That’s why I retweet commentary from my favourite V8 Supercar drivers, double-tap those pictures of your brunch on Instagram and have no beef with those who choose to post their baby’s every milestone on Facebook.
These deeds are examples of my personal investment in social media – time and energy which I believe is relatively well spent.
In turn, the information I receive and the interactions I partake in add value to my life in the form of meaning, identity, distraction and entertainment.
Without getting all existential here, it seems like a fair trade-off – a little bit of labour for a whole lot of life.
Unlike the above-mentioned social networks, however, I’ve historically considered LinkedIn in a different light.
LinkedIn has been the network I’ve relied on to get the sneaky scoop on new colleagues, archive my career achievements and advertise my skills to prospective employers.
The input required has always been relatively minimal and my use of the service is primarily utilitarian.
This is why for years my profile just sat there on autopilot connecting with people I believe I must have emailed once but probably wouldn’t recognise in the street (and a big ‘hello’ to the many hundreds of you out there).
But in recent times I’ve seen a shift in the LinkedIn narrative away from strictly business-related interactions towards the more social and personal kind.
Inspirational quotes, quizzes and irrelevant clutter now litter my feed in many forms. Although I personally consider these types of posts out of place here, seeing them in this context is unsurprising, for two reasons.
Firstly, like all social platforms, LinkedIn needs us to give it more. More information about who we are, more indication about what we’re into, more insight into how we behave and what type of messages we might be receptive to; it needs this data in order to effectively monetise us, which comes as no shock to all the marketers reading this.
To make building a marketable-to-profile appear more seamless we can do ancillary tasks such as share an update, upload a photo or publish a post.
We’ve been encouraged to do these types of things on Facebook for a lot longer than we’ve had the capabilities to do them on LinkedIn, so the transfer of these conventions is pretty clear.
Users are treating LinkedIn like Facebook because the tools are now pretty similar, and this gives the platform a better idea of who its users are.
But the other trend making our LinkedIn feeds appear like a hot mess is the fact that we’re not necessarily in control of how what we do appears in other peoples’ feeds. And there are risks here.
At some point during your career you will have had a water-cooler conversation with a co-worker about the importance of ‘building a personal brand’ for yourself.
You know the trope: dress for the job you want not the job you have; network; actively listen to others; ask questions; have an opinion; stand out.
This now happens online, too. LinkedIn was great for this in the early days because you were limited with what you could do – update your job title, send a request or write a quirky bio for example.
Back then, constructing a distinct work-related persona was a conscious effort. But as the network has grown and advanced, the way you construct your personal brand is inherent to the way you’re required to use the service.
You might scratch your head when your feed is populated with comments from distant connections on posts from random people half way around the world, but in the same way, you’re probably popping up elsewhere in the network without realising it.
Think about that. How many people are you annoying by simply doing something on LinkedIn? How irrelevant must you appear to those people?
Most importantly, think about how little control you have over this; where you appear, to whom and in what context. You might just be considered part of that clutter to someone else.
It’s a difficult line to walk. We need to engage with the network as a marketable user base but we can’t fall into the trap of applying Facebook conventions to a professional environment.
We need to be conscious of the fact that when we do choose to be active on LinkedIn that we have no idea how this will shape our professional image because we don’t control where we appear and to whom.
There’s no silver bullet solution and some may even argue that it’s all gone to the dogs already; however, I’d like to suggest we champion a new mindset moving forward: Let’s get back to business.
Tym Yee is a marketer and writer at Optus.