The Inauthentic Authenticity of LinkedIn

A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on Facebook from a friend who was lamenting the state of their employer, “I need to get out of here for sake of my health” they said. I did a double take. Hadn’t I – that same week – seen them promoting a job opportunity on LinkedIn and saying it was a wonderful place to work? Both posts appeared to be genuine, so what is going on?

Amidst all the talk about about the chaos/decline of the network formerly known as Twitter, hardly anyone is talking about what is happening on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is the world’s top professional social platform, with over 930 million members from 200 countries and regions worldwide. It will soon top one billion users, putting it within touching distance of TikTok. Arguably though, LinkedIn produces more genuinely weird content than the most left-field TikToker.

Rob Price provides an explainer, and outlines how the post-pandemic effect of hybrid working colliding with our personal lives plus a desire for ‘authenticity’, has turned LinkedIn “into one of the world’s strangest social networks.” “The number of LinkedIn posts grew 41% from 2021 to 2023. But it’s the content of the posts that’s shifted the most.”

Back in 2012, LinkedIn used to be the most boring social network – the place for people who couldn’t work out how to tweet.

Today, LinkedIn has seemingly metamorphosed into a service that provides a sort of Instagram filter for your career – where everyone presents an idealised version of the world of work. What would someone make of LinkedIn if encountering it for the first time? Wendy Landsdown captured her moment perfectly: “I’m sure their world isn’t as shiny as they make out”.

Just as your friends lives and relationships on Facebook look vastly more exciting than your own, on LinkedIn everyone’s employer is better than yours, and everybody goes to bed on a Sunday literally teeming with excitement for the week ahead.

So, nothing new. We know social media presents a sanitised version of us, masking our true selves. People curate their profiles meticulously, showcasing only their achievements, skills, and polished professional personas. This is driven by a desire to make a strong impression and maintain a sense of conformity within the professional community. However, this selective self-presentation can lead to a skewed representation of who we truly are, and who our employers really are.

On LinkedIn, the trend of sharing our vulnerabilities, which has arisen due to a legitimate attempt to de-stigmatise mental health issues and to shine a light on social inequalities, operates as as kind of Yin to the Yang of our seemingly perfect work lives. Whilst our work is flawless, we are comfortable sharing the numerous imperfections of our inner selves.

Oversharing our vulnerabilities on social media, under the guise of authenticity, has become a double-edged sword in the digital age. While the intent may be genuine, the consequences are often counterproductive. People risk diluting their true selves in a sea of curated vulnerability. This paradoxical inauthenticity arises from the desire to appear authentic. Moreover, it can lead to a cycle of seeking validation from an online audience. Authenticity should be about meaningful, genuine connections rather than exploiting personal struggles for likes. Whilst sharing our personal struggles is a net positive, it’s rendered meaningless if we accompany it with a work-life fantasy.

Yet for all the calls for people to show their authentic selves, LinkedIn remains the least authentic social network. Everybody’s job is perfect, everyone’s employer is amazing, every colleague is valued and loved, and no team mate or boss is ever a complete pain in the backside.

Does it really matter if LinkedIn and other social networks are filled with corporate guff and motivational platitudes? Actually, it does. We can’t solve problems if we don’t recognise they exist.

There is not one person, not one single person, in my close network who says their job is perfect. Most are struggling with workplace dysfunction in one form or another. That doesn’t mean they hate their jobs. Far from it, many of them truly love them. Exaggerating job satisfaction may enhance personal branding, but it disconnects us from the very real struggles and setbacks that are inherent to any career.

A few weeks ago someone commented on my LinkedIn , jokingly I think, that I was in danger of outing my employer on a post I did about how a lot of our work is just waste.

Well I am outing my employer, I am outing myself. My work is sometimes exciting, sometimes boring, sometimes rewarding, sometimes genuinely maddening. Sometimes we are amazing, sometimes dysfunctional.

We have lots and lots of problems. If we didn’t, why would need to exist? We exist to solve problems. We recruit people to work with us and partners and customers to solve those problems.

Whether it is X, or LinkedIn, or Facebook, pretending that our jobs are always great doesn’t solve any problems or improve our workplaces.

Related: The Abilene Paradox and the Dangers of Assuming People Agree With You