The future of LinkedIn is a joke

I recently saw one of the most absurd LinkedIn posts – and chances are you will 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 says, he bought raw chicken breast and cooked it using the coffee maker in the hotel room. He posted this image saying, “It’s the little things that get you promoted.”

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

“The beautiful part of LinkedIn is that because it’s professional, everyone expects posts to be professional and they take it all at face value,” Cohen tells me. “You can really push satire, and while my coffee pot chicken was a joke, I’ve seen crazier stories on the platform come true – like the ‘crying CEO’.”

In a digital world where attention is the scarcest resource, the story of the chicken pot is the perfect example of how a skilled practitioner can use humor to gain attention on LinkedIn (and at beyond) – and illustrates why LinkedIn represents such a great opportunity for entrepreneurial content providers.

For starters, LinkedIn has 850 million users. The Microsoft-owned site doesn’t break down 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 topped $5 billion a year, which is on par with Twitter ($5.1 billion) and more than Snap ($4.1 billion) or Pinterest ( $2.6 billion).

Despite the impressive numbers, LinkedIn is probably not a priority when you think about social content. Or if you do, it’s for the humble bluster, self-congratulatory missives, and ridiculous inspirational stories (which may or may not involve a chicken in a pot).

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

Why is such commendable content thriving on the platform?

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

Translation: Recruiters and human resources departments are the main customers.

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

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

In this context, humble boasting and over-the-top inspirational tales come into their own in the world. The proliferation of this content may also be due to LinkedIn’s homepage feed algorithm, which according to the company’s engineering blog was updated in 2018 to optimize the following metrics:

• Engagement with your network: LinkedIn has reweighted the value of a like or a share. If I post something and my mom (who is in my network) likes it, her simple like or reply is more valuable to me than the engagement of someone outside of my network, even if that other person is an influencer with a large audience. Therefore, a humble brag for a recent accomplishment will likely be rewarded as people I know “congratulate” me (thanks, Mom).

• Dwell time: the time spent on a publication is a stronger signal than a simple like. This metric inspires people to turn mundane work 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-gritty content (supply).

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

“Social content is a big driver of leads,” Bakke wrote to me in an email. “Several million dollars of new business has come to us from Twitter and LinkedIn over the past year.”

Over the past few 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 opportunity for content arbitrage on LinkedIn versus other platforms,” Bakke says. “After scrolling through your LinkedIn feed and seeing seven promotions from people you don’t quite know, 19 repeated arguments about in-person versus remote work, and 30 job postings that aren’t right for you, this is nice to laugh.

Daniel Murray – who has over 500,000 LinkedIn followers on his personal and professional pages (the Marketing Millennials) – thinks anyone in a sales or marketing role should use humor on LinkedIn, especially with the content push of the platform in recent years, including:

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

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

• LinkedIn News: Renamed LinkedIn Editorial, the professional network employs around 200 journalists around the world to create and curate content (including LinkedIn users).

“People want entertainment, even on professional networking sites,” says Murray. “I love posting memes, which are the language of the internet. They’re great for generating high-level engagement that you can convert into other business goals.

So if you have a funny coffee maker story, you know where to post it.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

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• Splatoon shows that Nintendo is more than just nostalgia: Gearoid Reidy and Tim Culpan

• Tech companies are rethinking the addictive power of apps: Parmy Olson

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Trung Phan is co-host of the Not Investment Advice podcast and writes the SatPost newsletter. He was previously the senior editor of Hustle, a tech newsletter.

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