Even if you’re not active on LinkedIn, you probably saw the story of a CEO who published a post crying as he talked about laying off two employees.
This story traveled fast – The Washington Post even wrote about it – and sparked fierce opinions in favor and against the post’s content. But the CEO’s choice to publish his turmoil on LinkedIn raises a bigger question: How do audiences use LinkedIn today? Is there any content too personal for a professional platform? What happens when people perceive others have misused the platform?
Frankly, it all comes down to etiquette – the customary code of polite behavior among members of a group. Here are some thoughts about LinkedIn etiquette and what content marketing professionals should consider as they represent their personal brand in their activity and interactions on the platform.
Every place we go, whether physical or digital, has social norms and constructs. If you walk into a quiet coffee shop where most folks are working on their laptops while wearing headphones, you can assume they’re trying to focus. You wouldn’t start singing at the top of your lungs and tapping people on the shoulder to say hi and pull up a chair for a chat, right? Hopefully not. We all take cues from others around us as well as from our environment, and that’s generally a good thing.
So, consider LinkedIn. It was founded as a digital network connecting professionals (critical word: professionals). It’s a place where people can publicly share their resumes and credentials while networking with other professionals. More recently, it’s become a place where users also share their thoughts, opinions, and advice. But the professional aspect has never changed. It’s still intended to be a place for people to connect, form relationships, and further their careers.
With that in mind, when does sharing become oversharing in such a context? The crying CEO later said he wanted to be vulnerable – to show that it can be hard to lay people off and that executives have feelings too. In a vacuum, that’s a perfectly fair and empathetic statement. But posting his sentiments, along with a photo of his tear-stained face, on LinkedIn drew ire (and ridicule).
The line between professional and personal, appropriate and inappropriate, is not perfectly drawn. But you can ask some important questions to ensure your LinkedIn activity is driven by your purpose within the framework of the platform.
If this CEO wanted to simply show he cared, that’s a nice thing, but the crying photo took the content to the next level. If he wanted sympathy and attention, that could be construed as exploiting his laid-off employees’ misfortune for his own gain. Unfortunately, you can’t know someone else’s intentions, but trying to understand where they might be coming from can help you gain perspective. It also might lead you to pump the brakes before unleashing a comment.
In the crying CEO scenario, brands, business leaders, and influencers aggressively piled on and much of what they wrote was mean-spirited. People who comment on others’ posts should be held to just as much of a professional standard as those who are posting. If you’re trolling someone else’s content, you’re not being vulnerable, being human, or following professional etiquette.
When it comes down to it, perhaps the best lens through which you should view LinkedIn etiquette is recognizing who and what you represent through your digital actions. Given its professional nature, LinkedIn is a place where your behavior represents both your personal brand and your employer’s. With that understanding, are the words and images you share reflective of who you are and the values that matter most to you?
Thinking critically about what you post or comment about on LinkedIn doesn’t mean you should avoid sharing any personal information or feelings. It’s about finding the appropriate balance that fits into the platform’s conventions and norms.
A few months ago, I expressed my feelings on LinkedIn about the death of our cat. I referenced how my company sent us flowers and a kind note, and my wife’s company made a similar gesture.
Losing a pet or loved one is a human experience, and I wanted to convey my gratitude to our companies for caring during a hard time. My post absolutely reflects who I am and who my company is. In my opinion, it passed the test to share on LinkedIn.
A LinkedIn connection of mine posts about his love for his newborn child, as well as his passion for sneakers.
Sure, those are personal and not career-related, but they reflect what matters to him and have helped me get to know him better. It’s just another example of how you can be human and professional at the same time without crossing over into inappropriate or image-damaging territory.
Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to strike a personal-professional balance on LinkedIn, striving to keep it a professional gathering place free from vitriol and mockery and centered on furthering our careers and networks. A little bit of humanity and a lot of self-awareness will serve everybody all the best on this platform.