Are we in danger of becoming LinkedIn bores?

For years we’ve been told to be careful with our social media profiles, for fear that some humourless individual somewhere will use it as a stick to beat us with in a work scenario.But does being risk averse mean we’re projecting an equally counter-productive sanitised view of ourselves?

We want to show ourselves as effective, intelligent and experienced employable individuals. We also want to show ourselves as human beings. None of us are cold corporate robots.

But, somewhere in the middle – where the slippery slope begins – we unwittingly succumb to projecting a counter-productive image of ourselves, in part because we’re not marketers, PR experts, writers, or photographers.

Wesley Crusher, Star Trek, Next Generation. Earnest. Bore.

What results is something earnest, boring, and counter-productive. Nice enough, but no real rapport. No energy. No spirit. Generally speaking, a pain in the arse.

LinkedIn is a personal PR platform. We all forget that sometimes. And some people are, unwittingly perhaps, coming across like LinkedIn bores.

Bore-spotting

Not you, obviously.

I’m not a complete idiot. I’m not going to insult you, the reader. That would be dumb.

Inevitably, my view risks alienating quite a lot of people. It’s nuanced, distinctive, and personal. Social media doesn’t do nuance. LinkedIn isn’t home to the personal.

But, our professional selves should be distinctive, shouldn’t they?

How will others unknown to us have any real sense whether they’d like to work with us? In a world where choice is made easier, distinctiveness is ever more important.

So, here’s a few things I’ve noticed that annoy the hell out of me. Things that make me think I wouldn’t want to work with those people – the perpetrators of some personal PR crimes. Things, I think should be avoided at all costs.

If we have to be wary of such behaviour in the workplace, shouldn’t we be the same way online?

If we don’t have the benefit of a PR expert challenging us on what we’re saying and what we mean, do we need to be hyper-aware of how we’re projecting ourselves professionally?

Jargonistas

Siobhan Sharpe, W1A. Supposed expert masking lack of knowledge with nonsense. Bore.

She trots out jargon which leaves everyone around her wondering what on earth she’s actually saying.

She’s using language to obscure meaning, in a desperate attempt to self-aggrandise, but also because she lacks the confidence to know her subject, or to communicate that knowledge cleanly.

Her strategy is flawed. Her implementation – a mixture of nonsensical phrases and industry jargon – distances her from the very people she’s trying to impress.

I see people doing a similar thing on LinkedIn (with considerably less humour). Industry jargon used to self-aggrandise or obfuscate.

Everyone else piling in with similarly bewilderingly complex responses reinforcing, legitimising, and clouding meaning. It’s a circle which needs breaking. It’s not doing anyone any good whatsoever.

This strategy is intended to play to the group of professionals they’re striving to feel a part of. The digital equivalent of climbing the slippery pole, ignoring all of those holding the pole upright who have to date helped them get that far already.

Boasters

Lord Flasheart. Show-off. Boaster. 
People do this a lot on LinkedIn – boasting about their appointments.

Some I’ve seen have created a third-person PR moment – writing and issuing a press release about their own career development.

A weird dissonance emerges. In trying to create that PR moment, the individual in question ends up distancing me (the audience) from them, because their action has elevated them far higher than I’ve ever known them (that’s regardless of them having acquired an elevated role in terms of status, by the way – I have no real beef with that).

It’s an inauthentic move. It alienates me from them.

Others go further on Twitter, masking their achievement with an obsequious turn of phrase like “I’m humbled to be able participate in X” or “I’m super-excited to be able to announce Y”.

Or, the ultimate statement to bring me out in hives: “I feel privileged to be a part of Z.”

You’re talking about your career, for crying out loud. You are not collecting a Nobel Peace Prize.

Positioning yourself in relation to the achievement you’re posting about only brings the boasting more to the fore. It is a similarly inauthentic move. It also shows that the author of the post isn’t really thinking about the audience. Would you do the same if you were making the same announcement at a party?


Solution-Providers

Supernanny USA. Brilliant programme. Reductive messaging.

This one’s more difficult to convey because it’s primarily about imagery.

The most obvious example (above – SuperNanny USA) is the trope used by marketers (in particular for TV programmes) of adding a pair of glasses to an already intelligent woman, thereby characterising her as can-do/will-do/don’t-fuck-with-me/got-it-all-sorted kind of person.

The underlying narrative for me is “Take notice of me because I’ve solved all the problems you think you’re facing right now, and you can tell that because I’m wearing glasses.”

There is an underlying and destructive link lurking beneath. The photographer responsible for asking the individual to pose in the way they have, poses which are themselves reflections of the photographer’s interpretation of the individual, based on a limited time spent in one another’s company.

This isn’t limited to glasses or pouts, but a pose much-favoured by photographers – the positioning of the hands on the chin to indicate thoughtfulness, poise, energy, savviness or clarity of thinking.

And it’s not limited in any way to women – men, just recently introduced to the joys of wireless mics and public presentations are just as vulnerable to an ill-thought-out photographic trope.

You’ll see it in their copy too: snappy, one-size fits all sound-bites intended to hone in on your insecurities at the same time as promising the world in an easy-to-swallow pill-sized solution.

It’s shiny. It’s elevating. It’s self-aggrandising. It’s not very real. It doesn’t represent the complexities of the daily experience. It overlooks what the positive outcomes that emerge by embracing those complexities too.

 

 

Authorities

Headmaster Brian Stimpson (John Cleese) in Clockwise. Bore ultimately saved by his character flaw. 

For authorities, also read serial facilitators, arbiters, and, my personal bugbear, ‘thought-leaders’.

In the spirit of transparency, authenticity, and all the things I’m advocating on LinkedIn, it’s worth noting that I suppose I do fall into this category. Or at least I might be perceived to fall into this category.

After all, I’m writing a blog post on a social media platform proselytizing about this and that.

Who made me the expert? Who made me the arbiter? Who the fuck do I think I am?

Indeed.

In my defence, I channel my utterings with modest amounts of self-deprecation wherever I can. There is also an implicit assumption that I don’t consider myself to be the last word on anything, because I seek out others to share their thoughts and feelings so I can constantly revise my own.

The reality is that you’re only really an authority if peers, readers, contemporaries or associates consider you as such. And if they’re a thoughtful bunch, they’ll resist telling you they regard you as an authority too.

I see evidence of self-proclaimed authorities in Twitter biographies, LinkedIn by-lines (which means I see those by-lines every time that person posts something into my feed), and personal statements.

If PR people worth their salt were paid to revise these content areas on people’s LinkedIn profiles, they’d make a mint.

The potentially entertaining thing about self-proclaimed authorities is that they are sometimes forced to confront the reality of their actions, like the character Brian Stimpson (above) in the marvellously painful, painfully funny, and reassuringly authentic Clockwise.

For me there’s a sweet spot on a LinkedIn profile for example – a meta-narrative/sub-text/underlying narrative – between the profile picture, biog and the content of a posting. Get the combination of the three just right and the resulting impact is pleasingly authentic.

 

Be like Louis Theroux

Theroux. Hero.

For every shitty photograph, awkward inauthentic pose, or poorly planned-out sign-off process, there’s a strong narrative that tells a clear story and leaves a certain amount unsaid.

That’s what I like about Louis Theroux. Aside from the picture I’ve used here for illustrative purposes there’s a lot not made explicit about documentary maker Louis Theroux.

The role he plays in his documentaries is part-facilitator, part-mediator, and part-journalist. Even when questioning people at the fringes of society, or abhorrent criminals, he appears to maintain a neutral position that allows the individual he’s interacting with to express themselves.

Louis is also (apparently) fearless, unlikely to get ruffled, modest, assertive, self-confident, well-read, informed, and your best mate who’ll do anything for you.

I don’t know that to be the case, of course. And I’m not advocating people being like Louis. Of course not. That would be silly.

I’m saying that there’s something about the way in which Louis doesn’t say things about himself that makes him more compelling. Inside that particular observation lays the key to the door where all the LinkedIn bores can be locked away?

The successful people I know of in the digital space are those who capture their true selves and present an authentic representation online. And on LinkedIn where there’s much more to be gained, I think people are overlooking the less talked about stumbling blocks.

What are the key points?

  • Creating, shaping, and maintaining any social media profile is a miraculous, specialist, and demanding piece of digital PR. Nobody should overlook that.
  • Just because it’s easy to publish things on the internet, doesn’t make the process of creating the content easy.
  • Avoiding coming across like a complete tool on LinkedIn.
  • Aim for authenticity. Always.
  • Don’t talk the corporate language. It’s bollocks.
  • Draft it. Edit it. Have a cup of tea. Re-edit it. Be brutal. Be more authentic.
  • Jon Jacob is a BBC-trained and ICF Accredited Coach, specialising in management, executive, and leadership coaching.
  • He currently works with people in the arts, media, and higher education.
  • Contact him on 07768 864655 or at jon.jacob@thoroughlygood.me