Ten years ago, social media was going to save the world by democratizing the freedom of speech and breaking the mass media’s stranglehold on the dissemination of information. The archetypal example of this was the use of Twitter to organize the “Arab Spring.” What could be more beneficial to society than bringing democracy to dictatorships?
Today, it’s very hard to find anybody who seriously thinks that social media is anything but a double-edged sword, at best. As The New York Times so vividly documented, most social-media platforms are algorithmically tuned to propel people down rabbit holes by bringing increasingly extreme content to their attention, thereby increasing time spent on the platform.
There is one social-media platform, however, where that sort of thing doesn’t seem to happen: LinkedIn. (Full disclosure: LinkedIn hired me as a freelancer several years ago to write some blog posts, but I have no business relationship with them today.) LinkedIn is far from perfect (I personally find it rather clunky), but it’s difficult to find examples where LinkedIn has had a negative impact on anything or anybody.
Search up user complaints about LinkedIn, for example, and most are the standard billing errors that occur with any online service. The remainder are complaints that LinkedIn (gasp!) actually enforced its Terms of Service by freezing non-compliant accounts. LinkedIn doesn’t put up any nonsense, and some people don’t like that. Which is probably a good thing.
The most serious complaint I could find about LinkedIn was that some users (mostly men) were inappropriately flirting with other users (mostly women). As annoying as this no doubt is, trying to use LinkedIn as a workplace Tinder is not in the same ballpark as the misogyny, threats, doxxing, and abuse that women who have strong opinions regularly encounter on other social-media platforms.
Why is LinkedIn mostly free of negative behaviors?
First, LinkedIn is super strict about its terms of service and is pretty quick to give the boot to users who make themselves nuisances.
Second, LinkedIn rips privileges away from users who wish to remain anonymous. When you’re using LinkedIn’s “complete privacy mode,” you’re not allowed to participate in groups, contact other people, or do anything that you’d want to do on LinkedIn, other than anonymously browse other profiles.
Third, LinkedIn’s user culture automatically filters out whack-jobs because on LinkedIn, your credibility depends upon the ability to communicate in complete sentences, which is far beyond the capability of 99.9 percent of the world’s internet trolls.
The LinkedIn environment reminds me of how hard-copy publications used to handle letters to the editor. If a letter wasn’t signed or couldn’t be tracked back to a real person, the editors threw it in the trash, where it belonged. While hard-copy publications sometimes published articles pseudonymously, the editor always knew exactly who wrote the article and why the author needed to remain anonymous.
LinkedIn probably isn’t as big a money machine as the other big social-media platforms. But the major platforms are struggling, with very limited success, to prevent themselves from turning into total toxic waste dumps. By contrast, LinkedIn promotes transparency and job mobility, which enable companies to staff more effectively and create more innovation. LinkedIn is unique among social-media platforms in that strengthens the economy and society at large.
Here’s the takeaway as I see it. If you’re building brand image for your company or yourself, you’ll be judged on the platform on which you choose to focus. For a B2B company, using Facebook to build a community sends the wrong message. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is all business. The same thing is true with the personal brand you create to establish and develop your career. You should define yourself on LinkedIn, and, if anything, only have a pro-forma Facebook presence.