For years, I’ve been struggling to comprehend the true meaning of LinkedIn.
What purpose does it serve when both Twitter and Facebook, beyond their obvious social functions, are also highly effective promotional and professional tools?
I’ve landed a number of freelance writing jobs and been invited to various business gatherings in Australia and overseas off the back of contacts I’ve made on both platforms. More recently, they’ve also been tremendously useful for getting the word out about a book that I published late last year.
But my LinkedIn profile? For all the action it gets, I might as well post a picture of a lone tumbleweed rolling down a back road in Iowa. A momentous event in my professional life that elicits 100 to 150 likes on Facebook among my 1000-odd ‘friends’, including some influential people I’ve never met, might get one from the 600 ‘connections’ I have on LinkedIn.
The naked truth is that the majority of people you deign to ‘connect’ with on LinkedIn are the ones you really don’t want to ‘friend’ on Facebook.
Who cares if someone you’ve never heard of has congratulated a person you barely remember for a new job? Is it worthy of a red flag? Notifications about every little thing that happens on LinkedIn -- endorsements, birthdays, profile views, connection suggestions and more -- continuously clog my Gmail spam folder.
So much for work opportunities. Messages I send to contacts on LinkedIn rarely get answered because, in my experience, very few people on there actually check their inboxes. And the only messages I seem to get are from Chinese electrical engineers, Nigerian scammers or women looking for a date. It’s not a lie to say LinkedIn (with its ‘People You May Know’ column and the accompanying thumbnail pictures) has become the new RSVP.
How paid dating sites survive while LinkedIn is essentially performing the same service but at no cost (and then factoring in the explosive rise of dating app Tinder) is beyond me. But as a facsimile of the human condition, LinkedIn is almost beyond compare. The pathos generated by reading through a random selection of LinkedIn profiles is enough to power an entire season of The Office. This ‘social network for professionals’ could quite easily be rebranded as ‘the world’s greatest aggregation of people without work or without enough work wasting time and seemingly getting nowhere’.
Consider the fanciful, jargonistic and practically meaningless job titles that are used to dress up or obfuscate the awful truth each day. Workshop leader. Founder. International relations adviser. Business consultant. Brand architect. Engagement planner. Digital strategist. Content strategist. Any sort of strategist. One time, I even spied ‘social media identity’ on one user’s profile that popped up on ‘People You May Know’. Social media identity? Really?
And the biggie: creative director. A job title that two or three decades ago used to denote cocaine-addicted, convertible-driving blow-ins from London who worked in advertising but had somehow migrated into other fields. What does ‘creative director’ even mean when you’re running a bankrupt operation from a MacBook Pro resting on the end of your bed and it’s three in the afternoon and you haven’t even bothered changing out of your underwear?
On LinkedIn it seems everyone is desperately trying to disguise the fact they’re broke, bored, aimless, slightly panicky or desperate, while the people who actually have work and are making money are too busy to even bother registering in the first place.
Yet I’d bet these same underemployed people would collectively snigger at the poor soul who’d dare to be so honest and put a status of ‘unemployed’ or ‘looking for employment’ on their profile. That’s because, fundamentally, a large part of the human condition is to conceal weakness or vulnerability rather than admit to it. The reality I face as a freelance writer -- one of the toughest gigs for anyone wanting to make a buck -- is that all the likes, connections, pokes, shares, follows and recommendations that I can muster on my various social media accounts don’t pay my bills, put food on my table or cover the cost of my daughter’s education.
So, to find more work, I put my CV on LinkedIn, polish it up, parse it for weaknesses and gather references from colleagues under sufferance to put on the best possible face to the world.
LinkedIn is not a redundant social media platform; it serves a very useful function. It’s as good a reminder as any that life for the most part is unremittingly tough, no one owes you anything and if you want to get anywhere professionally in this world, you have to not only work hard and do what you do extremely well, but also obscure, fudge, glamourise and artfully construct along the way, just like everyone else. Anything but say what you really want to say and should be able to say to anyone who will listen: “Hey, I could do with some help.”
Jesse Fink is the author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC (Random House Australia, $34.99) and a journalism lecturer at Macleay College, Sydney. Follow Jesse on Twitter and Instagram @jessefink