Sorry, But LinkedIn Is Cool Now

 ( Bloomberg) The biggest social media platforms all have their niches. Twitter is for arguing with strangers. Instagram is for showing off the best of your 500 selfies. Facebook is for learning too much about an acquaintance from college. And LinkedIn is for updating the obligatory professional profile when you’re looking for a job, then receiving constant emails prompting you to congratulate someone on their “work anniversary.”

Or at least that’s how it used to be. As other networks stagnate, shift their algorithms, or burn themselves to the ground, LinkedIn is becoming a site where regular people actually want to hang out and post their thoughts. It might even be cool.

LinkedIn Revenue

By fiscal year

Source: Compiled by Bloomberg

LinkedIn, which Microsoft Corp. bought for $26.2 billion in 2016, doesn’t report its number of daily or monthly average users, a common metric for usage on social media sites. But the company says that in the spring of this year, users shared 41% more content on the network than they did in the same period in 2021. That kind of growth is unusual for a 20-year-old operation and speaks to the turbulence at other major social media services.

“Other social media platforms were changing their algorithms or operating rules,” says Selena Rezvani, an influencer with 100,000 LinkedIn subscribers, who offers tips on how to be more confident. X, Elon Musk’s new name for Twitter, is becoming a site that rewards those who either post memes or pay the billionaire $8 a month. Meta Platforms Inc.’s Instagram and Facebook worried that TikTok is eating their lunch, have become all about Reels—short-form videos from people users aren’t friends with, touting kitchen renovations and fitness hacks.

For social media users looking to engage in some old-fashioned self-promotional posting, LinkedIn is the only place left. “On Instagram or TikTok there’s more frustration because what worked more than a year ago, or even six months ago, that got success and got tons of eyeballs doesn’t today,” says Rezvani. “There’s more of a steadiness with LinkedIn.”

The shift is prompting cries of “Do I have to?” “Lost social media users are now congregating in the weirdest places,” Kate Lindsay, an internet culture commentator, wrote in her newsletter, Embedded. When people started abandoning X, she wrote, they couldn’t agree on whether to huddle around Bluesky, Mastodon, Threads, or any of the numerous apps aiming to reinvent social media, dooming them to socialize in the same place where they “endorse” someone for leadership. “If you see me posting this on LinkedIn … mind your business,” Lindsay added.

The ties to work do make LinkedIn more of a mainstay. Students and new grads have an incentive to try to use the site to get a job, even as they may have little reason to use X, which they associate with anger and political chaos. Those who are still using X notes how strange it is to see vacation pictures and emotional stories on LinkedIn, captioned with a halfhearted mention of something work-related—a supportive employer! A work-from-anywhere policy!—in case the boss sees.

Meanwhile, a generation that came of age posting about their lives on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, building their identities with dispatches from weekends and nights out, are starting to see some utility in wishing one another a happy work anniversary. Over time they learned that, on the internet, everything they post ends up reflecting not just their personality but also their “personal brand.” Writing earnestly on LinkedIn was once derided as awkward and professionally desperate—as in the 2017 “broetry” era when the site’s feed was populated by self-described gurus and growth hackers. Now, trying to become a so-called thinkfluencer seems strategic and at least marginally socially acceptable.

LinkedIn’s product team is fueling the new vibe. In recent years it’s added tools for newslettering, podcasting, and creating video and audio for all its ambitious careerists, building on the influencer program that started in 2011 by training corporate leaders to post.

Unlike Instagram and Facebook, LinkedIn doesn’t dramatically tweak its algorithm when new products go live. “We’re totally agnostic about what media form people share,” says Dan Roth, the site’s editor-in-chief. And while Meta and X distance themselves from the news industry, downplaying article links, LinkedIn is beefing up its curation efforts and partnerships with content creators and publishers. The company says users like seeing “knowledge-based” content and, as a result, are more satisfied; in June the site saw an 80% reduction from a year earlier in the number of people who said they wished they were seeing different posts.

According to Roth, people became more comfortable posting about their personal lives during the pandemic, when many were blurring the lines between work and play while doing their jobs from home and balancing responsibilities such as child care. The pandemic was also an awakening for workers who realized they needed professional identities separate from their employers, to open the door to new financial opportunities and even side hustles.

“It’s more common in Gen Z and millennials that they are willing to switch industries and switch roles than any previous generation,” Roth says. “There’s this constant demand to learn and to market themselves and talk about what they’ve learned.”

Rezvani’s success led her to write a bestselling book about confidence. As the pandemic inspired people to switch roles at work or take on entirely new careers, posting started to seem more necessary, too. Companies where employment was famously stable and highly paid, such as Meta, Alphabet, and Amazon, recently cut thousands of workers, including longtimers and managers. This gave them a fresh excuse to turn to LinkedIn, and perhaps even to append a green #opentowork badge to their profile pictures.

Public personal sharing on other platforms is receding. Meta’s fear of TikTok has altered not just the kind of content it prioritizes on its services—short video—but also the algorithmic priorities for its main feed: interests, not friends. Personal sharing has moved to ephemeral or semi-private spaces, such as Stories—posts that disappear within 24 hours—or direct messages.

Meanwhile, X has become entirely unpredictable. The company changes its rules based on the late-night whims of its new owner. At one point, Musk altered the algorithm so his own posts would be more popular; at another time he limited his nonpaying users to seeing only 600 posts a day. The blue badge, which once stood for the verification of a well-established public figure on Twitter, now only means the user agreed to pay $8 a month.

LinkedIn’s business model relies on selling subscriptions to salespeople and recruiters looking to find partners or job candidates. This gives it a tendency toward stability because it doesn’t need to rely so heavily on the constant attention that helps ad-supported networks make money. It’s a model that seems to be working: LinkedIn’s revenue rose to $15 billion in Microsoft’s most recent fiscal year, almost triple what it had been five years earlier.

A knock on LinkedIn is that it’s a never-ending stream of semi-personalized and direct messages from cheery strangers angling for professional advantage. Such transparent self-promotion is preferable, perhaps, to the posturing that’s common on services such as Instagram, where perfect curation is supposed to appear effortless and authentic. And most normal people would certainly prefer a bit of corporate blandness to the unsolicited hate, racism, and harassment that’s been on the rise on X since Musk loosened its content rules—the largest reason people cite for fleeing. You may not be your most interesting self at work, but at least you’ll be on your best behavior. “On LinkedIn you see people framing things with a little more tact when they disagree,” Rezvani says. “Their employer might see it.”

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