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The future of LinkedIn is a joke

The professional network has more than 850 million users, but a lack of non-cringey content.

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

Alex Cohen, product manager for Carbon Health, shared how he saved money for his startup while on a business trip. Instead of ordering room service, Cohen said, he bought some raw chicken breast and cooked it in the hotel room’s coffee pot. He posted this image saying, “It’s the little things that get you promoted.”

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

“The great thing about LinkedIn is that because it’s professional, everyone expects posts to be professional and take it all in their stride,” Cohen says. “You can really push satire, and while my coffee pot chicken was a joke, I’ve had wilder stories on the platform turn out to be true — like the ‘crying CEO’.”

In a digital world where attention is the scarcest resource, the coffeepot chicken story is the perfect example of how a veteran practitioner can use humor to draw eyeballs on LinkedIn (and beyond) — illustrating why LinkedIn represents such a huge opportunity for business content providers.

For starters, LinkedIn has 850 million users. The Microsoft site has no daily active users, but even a minority of that user base is comparable to traditional social networks like Snap (347 million) or Twitter (238 million).

Meanwhile, LinkedIn’s ad business has surpassed $5 billion a year, which is comparable 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 top of mind when you think of social content. Or if you do, it’s for cringing humility, self-congratulatory letters, and ridiculous inspirational stories (which may or may not involve a coffee pot chicken).

In fact, LinkedIn’s downsizing reputation has spawned several major social media accounts devoted to documenting the downsizing: LinkedIn Flex (65,000 Twitter followers); r/LinkedInLunatics (153,000 Reddit users); and The State of LinkedIn (205,000 Twitter followers).

Why does such crappy content thrive on the platform?

Let’s remember who pays the bills for LinkedIn. The company’s most valuable division is Talent Solutions, which sells recruiting tools and generates more than $6 billion in annual revenue.

Translation: Recruiters and human resources departments are the most important customers.

As Fadeke Adegbuyi explains in an article in Every, “LinkedIn’s Alternate Universe”:

Each platform has its royalty. On Instagram these are influencers, foodies and photographers. Twitter belongs to the founders, journalists, celebrities and comedians. On LinkedIn, it’s hiring managers, recruiters, and business owners who hold the power on the platform and have the ear of the people. The depravity of a platform where HR executives are the rockstars speaks for itself.

With this context, humility and overly inspiring stories make sense in the world. The proliferation of such content may also be due to LinkedIn’s homepage algorithm, which – according to the company’s tech blog – was updated in 2018 to optimize the following metrics:

Engagement with your network: LinkedIn has reweighted the value of a like or share. If I post something and my mom (who’s in my network) likes it, her single-like or reply is more valuable to me than the involvement of someone outside of my network, even if that other person is an influencer with a large following. Therefore, a humble braggart for a recent achievement will likely be rewarded when people I know “congratulate” me (thanks, Mom).

Dwell time: Time spent on a post is a stronger signal than just a like. This statistic encourages people to turn everyday professional activities into a hero’s journey story with a random lesson at the end.

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

One person who has benefited from the mismatch is Chris Bakke, the founder and CEO of Laskie, a job matching platform for the tech industry. Bakke posts business jokes on LinkedIn daily, which has been good for Laskie’s bottom line (full disclosure: I’ve laughed and liked many of Bakke’s satirical posts).

“Social content is a key driver of customer leads,” Bakke wrote to me in an email. “Over the past year, we have had several million dollars of new business coming to us through Twitter and LinkedIn.”

In recent weeks, Bakke has had a number of viral hits, including a post with 155,000 likes and another with 56,000 likes.

“There is a huge potential for content arbitrage on LinkedIn compared to other platforms,” says Bakke. “After scrolling through your LinkedIn feed and seeing seven promotions from people you don’t quite know, 19 rehashed arguments about personal versus remote work, and 30 job openings that aren’t a good fit for you, it’s nice to have a laugh.”

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

Creator Mode: A new profile setting that changes the default in your profile from “connect” to “follow” and gives access to more tools and analytics.

Media: LinkedIn has rolled out publishing tools for long-form blogs and newsletter offerings.

LinkedIn News: The professional network has been renamed from LinkedIn Editorial and employs approximately 200 journalists around the world to create and curate content (including from LinkedIn users).

“People want entertainment, even on professional networking sites,” Murray says. “I like posting memes, the language of the internet. They are great for generating top-of-funnel engagement that you can turn into other business goals.”

So if you have a funny coffee pot story, 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 the Hustle, a tech newsletter.

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