What the hell is going on with LinkedIn?


Ah, the LinkedIn scroll. It’s the social media platform your employer is usually not that upset to see on your screen. It’s the Facebook that you get in order to look professional in 2015...and it persists. Maybe you look at it a few times every day. Maybe you don’t bother with it unless you get one of those blasted notifications. Maybe it’s a job hunting tool. At the end of the day, LinkedIn is simply a social tool aimed at connecting professionals across companies, circles, and fields.

But if you’ve read some of the content on LinkedIn lately, you might find yourself wondering if the “world's largest professional network” is actually a professional space. If, indeed, it is, we’re in serious trouble.

Why the alarm?

LinkedIn has become a breeding ground for trolling and dross. And the professional world should not tolerate it.

This is going to get dangerous...

According to the (sometimes unspoken) rules of workplace culture, there are acceptable topics to broach with coworkers and there are plenty of no-nos. All of us opinionated beings must accept a code of etiquette in order to function as a unit. There are lines between worlds that must be drawn.

We describe our co-workers differently than our other friends. We find ourselves in “professional relationships” and develop “work friends.” Sometimes a “work friend” becomes a regular friend, but making friends isn’t what work is about and nobody is expecting you to be “work friends” with everyone you work with—thankfully.

But not having to be friends with everyone doesn’t mean you get to be disrespectful either.

If HR departments function correctly, inappropriate behavior does not go unnoticed and, if it’s bad enough, someone gets fired. Why? Because bad behavior is bad for the greater whole. If one person looks incompetent or mean, it reflects on everyone else. Bad behavior is bad for business.

At least, that’s the way most of us were taught the world worked.

Outside of work, most of us recognize that our personal choices can have professional implications. Our employers expect us to act as representatives of our workplaces in the real world. Committing a crime outside of work might be a cause for you to lose your job. Getting caught behaving badly in an entirely legal manner might yield the same result.

Enter, Newsfeed

When it comes to professional uses of the Internet, there is a separate set of rules we were (or should have been) taught to abide by. We write “work emails” differently than normal emails. Younger folks are taught to avoid posting controversial photos to their timelines lest a potential employer gain an unwanted perspective on their lives. We are taught (we hope) that the things we say online can have real world consequences—especially in the professional world.

For some reason, when we combine social media and professional communication tools—as is the case with LinkedIn, something is getting lost. People seem to have forgetten what they joined the site for… and who might be watching them.

A simple scroll though the newsfeed reveals a wealth of articles shared by company pages, ads, and, more recently, a selection of trending news stories. Then there’s the comment sections. We’ve written about the treasure trove of trash comments online before. But LinkedIn is different right?

It’s the “world's largest professional network.”

Shouldn’t LinkedIn users treat the LinkedIn space the same way they treat the workplace?

The simple answer is: yes.

And, by extension, shouldn’t employers chastise (or cut ties with) people who don’t follow workplace guidelines to the detriment of others?

Also, yes.

But, wow, there are a lot of people who don’t seem to care...and a lot of HR departments that probably don’t either.

There is no shortage of problematic issues to address, but here’s a quick rundown of what we’re looking at...

1. Bigotry

Yes, that’s right. Not even LinkedIn is safe from hateful statements. Racism, sexism, and general dislike for groups of people is alive and well in society. There are cases where harmful things are written carelessly, but there are also plenty of cases where people with bad ideas decide to promote their bad ideas on LinkedIn.

It is, at once, more difficult and more important than ever to draw a line on this one. One person’s political view might be offensive to someone else. Here’s the deal though: if an opinion means a whole group of people gets excluded from the party, it’s probably not okay.

Employers: it is 2018. You shouldn’t have to ask if an employee’s hateful public comments are bad for your brand—they are.

2. Conspiracies

The unproven and misleading ideas that make up conspiracy theories can be harmful to our cultural perception of reality. They also reveal at least one basic truth about those who share them… they haven’t done their research. Critical thinking is a desirable skill for candidates and employees. Make sure they aren’t fooled by some idiot on YouTube. Imagine meeting with a client and having to walk back your associate’s belief in a hollow moon or flat Earth—nobody wants that.

3. Threats

People get threatened on LinkedIn. People get threatened in the real world. People have strong opinions. Arguments happen in comment sections and over the dinner table, but when lines get crossed and threatening language gets tossed into the mix, that’s a problem. It doesn’t matter if it’s between employees or between strangers, it’s not appropriate and it’s especially not appropriate for LinkedIn.

4. Harassment

Apparently, some users have the perception that that LinkedIn is a dating site and unwarranted advances are acceptable, especially on women. For so many reasons, they are not. LinkedIn is not Tinder. Do not make romantic gestures towards strangers on LinkedIn and do not tolerate employees or connections who do. Make your company a safer space online and offline and drop people who think otherwise.

5. Irrelevancies

LinkedIn is for business. It is not the same thing as Facebook. We think your dog is adorable. Maybe you brought them to work for an event—fine, post a photo. We don’t need a daily lunch update. We don’t need vacation photos. We don’t need a diatribe about something irrelevant to your business life. To be fair, in these times, the line between worklife and homelife is blurrier than the grammatical legitimacy of a compound word (like worklife). Diluting your business brand with personal accounts is not the best strategy.

If you just scrolled to the bottom of this article because you’re on your phone doing that thing where you just thumb through content like your brain is a scanner, here’s what you need to know:

If you’re a professional: you should behave like one online—especially on LinkedIn.

If you’re an employer of professionals: you shouldn’t tolerate anything less than professional behavior from your employees—even on LinkedIn.