LinkedIn influencer draws backlash for smiling selfie on a post about firing his employee A cringey post on LinkedIn is yet another reminder to read the room before sharing your ‘career expertise’ on social media.

 


The photo in a recent LinkedIn post features a smiley guy in a backward baseball cap and 36-hour stubble, seated at his podcasting workspace; AirPods in, cold brew at hand’s length. So far, so LinkedIn.

Then there’s the text leading up to the photo. It turns out that this smiling selfie is the image in a post about the author’s illuminating experience firing an employee for the first time ever, which he details in a four-pronged business lesson, followed by a solicitation for feedback. This post suggests a lack of self-awareness epic in scope, even for a LinkedIn influencer. More cringe than cruel, it’s a flub that could serve as an object lesson for would-be business influencers about the perils of main character syndrome, and treating other people as props in your life.

Several responses to the author, Matthew Baltzell, an entrepreneur LinkedIn has deemed a “top real estate voice,” are complimentary. “Hats off to you for treating your former employee with nothing but respect,” one reads. This flavor of reply is vastly overshadowed, however, by the many commenters dragging the author to hell for centering himself in the story of another person losing their job, and literally putting a smiling face on it. 

The firing selfie went on to have a life beyond LinkedIn, with posts about it going semi-viral on Threads and getting some attention on X (formerly Twitter). A typical response reads, “Imagine getting fired, heading over to LinkedIn, and seeing this.” 

Indeed, it is the author’s apparent failure to imagine that this fairly likely, now-all-but-assured scenario is what makes the matter so galling. (Baltzell did not respond to a request for comment.)

People have a lot of reasons for being annoyed with certain LinkedIn influencers, even while remaining in thrall to others. There are the overly emphatic folks who react to sampled products and experiences with the biblical ecstasy of a person communing with God. The ones who seem performatively dramatic, like the man who became known as “the crying CEO” following a misguided LinkedIn post from 2022. And then there are the ones who turn any occurrence in their lives into an inspirational post that often seems suspiciously exaggerated or stage-managed. This last habit is so common and cookie-cutter, that it’s rightly become the subject of much mockery. It’s no wonder that the subreddit LinkedInLunatics, which has been tracking these kinds of posts since 2019, has over 555,000 members.

But perhaps the most broadly annoying of all influencer behaviors is “appearing to view one’s self as the sole protagonist of reality.” It’s endemic to TikTokers who treat everyone else like Non-Player Characters in a video game starring theirs truly, say, by orchestrating flash mob dance videos in public spaces, then getting upset when employees who are just trying to pay their rent don’t automatically drop everything to help make the content more compelling.

When lifestyle influencers treat others—even their own children—this way, it’s just kind of sad. When business influencers do it, though, it’s a different level of exploitation. In cases like this most recent LinkedIn example, it can rob another person of dignity and agency by turning their unfortunate experience into content fodder.

Doing so right now seems even more ill-advised than usual. Despite a recent sunny jobs report, hundreds of thousands have spent 2024 reeling from mass layoffs amid sweeping industry shifts and are now worried about their future employability. In this economic climate, posting a chipper life lesson about firing an employee is not merely tone-deaf, it’s a forehead-slapping failure to read the room. It’s like a smaller-scale version of Pepsi and Kendall Jenner using Black Lives Matter iconography to suggest that carbonated beverages could heal America’s wounds in 2017, or when Ellen DeGeneres recorded her first pandemic-era show from her gorgeous home in 2020 and described quarantining there as akin to “being in jail.”

Oftentimes, all it takes to avoid embarrassment is considering other people’s perspectives—whether it’s how actual protesters might feel seeing a Kardashian as their avatar or how terrified people stuck in tiny apartments might feel upon hearing a multimillionaire complain about having to endure her tony surroundings. In the case of the recent LinkedIn influencer, simply imagining how that smiling selfie might look to anyone who has been fired recently (let alone the person he just fired!) might have dissuaded him from including it.

Hopefully, incurring the wrath of social media will end up being an experience he mines for actual reflection—and not just more content.

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