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All LinkedIn with Nowhere to Go | Ann Friedman | The Baffler


Stashed in: LinkedIn, Decisions, Problem?, Business Advice, Management, Awesome, Jobs, @richardbranson, Content is king.

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Isabelle Roughol, one of LinkedIn’s editors, wrote me in an email. “The average professional won’t chat at the coffee machine with someone like [Virgin Group founder] Richard Branson, but we still want to know how he got his start in business, how he manages his team or why he thinks private space travel is the future. That’s the space our ‘Influencers’ program fills.”

The worst of the advice reads like management-speak Mad Libs.

Still, there’s a distinctly perfunctory quality to the offerings of the charmed circle of “influencers.” They often simply repost things on LinkedIn that they’ve written (or had ghostwritten, in some cases) for their personal sites. Their advice—on LinkedIn, “thoughts” almost always equal “advice”—ranges from the semipractical (embrace three digital media trends; get all of your employees on social media) to the lofty (be on a mission that doesn’t suck; search for a noble purpose) to the downright confusing (how to create time; how do careers really work?). The worst of the bunch reads like management-speak Mad Libs, such as this bit of gobbledygook about the career success ladder: “Failure to make a decision is often worse than making the wrong one. This ability is developed and honed over time based on both successes and failures,” writes one thought leader, who includes a complicated chart that is in no way ladder-like. Cue the vacuous, grammar-challenged sloganeering: “High-level thinking, problem-solving and critical decision-making is the cornerstone of long-term success.”

The criticisms are fair -- there IS a lot of reblogging and vacuous advice -- but now that the platform exists it represents an interesting opportunity.

Still, most of the thought-leading counsel on offer at LinkedIn boils down to search-engine-friendly, evergreen nuggets of business advice. An article titled “Three Pieces of Career Advice That Changed My Life” is illustrated with stock photos showing street signs at the corner of “Opportunity Blvd.” and “Career Dr.” At this very promising intersection, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner explains that readers can do anything they put their minds to, that technology will come to rule everything, and that changing lives is a better goal than merely pushing paper around. This set of warmed-over management nostrums is one of the all-time top five “influencer posts” on the site. Sure, the post’s author is the site’s CEO. But the appeal runs deeper than that. Listicles take the LinkedIn promise of a cleaner, neater networking experience and apply it to your entire career. Their reassuring, vague steps provide comfort and the illusion of control, in just the same way that we call on carnival fortunetellers or syndicated astrologists to dispense useless vagaries that sound concrete, helpful, and familiar.

a chilling moral—you can achieve unparalleled likeability on LinkedIn’s mammoth media platform, but at the considerable cost of surrendering anything that might remotely resemble a coherent or challenging message to the LinkedIn masses.

In the same vein, actual business acumen and leadership skills usually take a back seat in the LinkedIn system to simple digital renown. Some of the best-known gurus on the site have had the most success in the realm of . . . thinking about stuff.

“In only 15 years we’ve managed to dumb down the idea of thought leadership from someone who has changed their area of business to someone who can create a marketing plan that implants the idea that they are a thought leader,” wrote sales guru Paul McCord in 2009. “When everybody’s one, nobody is one.”

Still, there's no denying that the platform has created an audience for some of the most thoughtful leaders in business.

As much (or more of) an indictment of the undiscerning masses than the "thought leaders" who beguile them. 

And perhaps this is a necessary first step to figure out what this forum is best for.

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