I love LinkedIn. Literally love it. It is my go-to social media first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and pretty much all the way through the day.
Like many people I joined because it seemed like a very handy way to keep abreast of all my contacts. Twenty-something years of professorial life mean that more than 10,000 MBA students have endured me for one course or another. Staying in touch with this growing army was almost impossible until LinkedIn came along.
But very soon it became apparent that LinkedIn was not just a digital Rolodex. I started to post things there. Not only were these posts read but they often sparked debates that proved to be far more interesting and illuminating than my original post. And as I broadened my LinkedIn usage it became a gateway to several very important business relationships and a couple of friendships too. Rather than use the site to store the details of people that I met, I began meeting up with the people I had first encountered on LinkedIn.
And then I started to use the site not only for connections and for posting my stuff, but also to get insights from others. After Marketing Week and the Wall Street Journal, I’d say LinkedIn is my go to place to learn stuff. It’s not always perfect knowledge and sometimes it can be infuriatingly counter to my own thinking, but it’s on point and it’s always useful.
Yes, I love LinkedIn.
But it is not a perfect love. Despite, or perhaps because of, my deep and enduring relationship with the app there are a few aspects that drive me potty. I am not talking about UX, I mean the people on the site and how they present themselves. Over a beer we professors will often observe that the only thing wrong with a university are “all the fucking students”. Well, it is the same thing with LinkedIn. Its users are its attraction, but they can also be its greatest repellent.
LinkedIn is very liberal about what you can post and how you present yourself on the site. You have to work really hard to get even a temporary ban (ask Tom Goodwin, another friend I first met on LinkedIn). So, I am going to try a different route and appeal to users directly to stop all the annoying profiles that bedevil the otherwise perfect LinkedIn experience and also make them look pretty silly. Here are my 10 most annoying profile sins, help me eradicate them from LinkedIn. Together we can be the change we are looking for.
Who do you think is the worst offender? Place your vote at the bottom of this article.
You know the sort. Not content with a simple job title Mr Backslash is a vocational jack-of-all-trades. He liberally uses that little sloping line to squeeze in as many possible functions as he possibly can. These roles rarely have any commonality or apparent logic, indeed they look suspiciously like they have been pulled at random from the latest digital nonsense or consulting wank.
Bitcoin backslashes into employer branding which backslashes into fashion which backslashes into AI which backslashes into digital transformation.
Rather than a vocation, Mr Backslash looks suspiciously like a man who cannot make his mind up and probably someone that spends his life saying what he does rather than actually doing it.
It’s particularly entertaining when one of the “specialities” between the little lines is positioning or strategy. Positioning is the art of capturing the essence of an offer so anyone that can’t even communicate what they do without six or seven partitions is not going cut the mustard. Strategy is best thought of as what you are not going to do which, based on Mr Backslash’s resume, is nothing.
To be fair to the Adjective Addict, she actually does list what she does on her LinkedIn page. Bur rather than end it there she also feels a compulsion to embellish her title with an adjective. It’s not enough to be a direct marketer, for example, she needs to be an “enthusiastic direct marketer”. Not content with the one adjective she usually then embellishes further and describes herself as an “experienced and enthusiastic direct marketer”.
Occasionally you encounter a serial Adjective Addict who uses an adjective on top of an adjective (I believe in grammatical circles this is called a double back flip adjective) and claims to be a “passionately driven direct marketer”.
Fortunately, there is a handy method for dealing with these kind of people when you encounter them on LinkedIn. Just reverse the adjective and work out the antonym to get a more accurate read of their vocational talents. If they say “experienced”, you can assume they are wet behind the ears. Why else would they feel the need to over claim it? If they say “driven” you can expect them to completely lack any direction. If they say “responsible” you should lock up the petty cash and give the receptionist the afternoon off. If they say “motivated” you can accurately assume they won’t give two fucks about anything.
A strange one this. Someone presents themselves on LinkedIn with a perfectly straightforward biography and often quite impressive list of experiences and skills. But for some bizarre reason their headshot features the individual standing next to their partner.
It’s fair to assume that these people do also possess photographs just showing their headshot. So the weird, and slightly annoying question, is why the compunction to add Mrs Married to your profile? I’m sure you love her but I’m looking for a sales manager not someone to adopt my kids.
I’m still totally lost as to the motivations behind Mr Marriage and his conjoined photo. Is he saying: “Look at how beautiful my wife is… now hire me as a copywriter?”. Is it an attempt to look normal and hide some kind of strange, sociopathy: “Here is my wife. I am married to a fellow human. I am not in the least bit dangerous”.
Unfortunately, all Mr Marriage communicates with his family photo is a relatively low EQ and the strong possibility that he is unlikely to work overtime or go on the road when the job requires it. Maybe his wife would be a better hire? Does she have him on her LinkedIn profile too? Does she use the same photo? The questions are endless.
Spend any amount of time on LinkedIn and the first big question most people ask is just how many keynote speakers and professional conference presenters there are out there. It feels like about 10% of the working population is exclusively employed giving presentations to executives. There must be a lot of fucking conferences going on because these guys are everywhere. I’ve done my fair bit of keynoting over the years and I can tell you, with total certainty, that there is not enough money in this to fund even a slightly ostentatious lifestyle – and I charge a small fortune for doing them.
So how are these people making a living? And isn’t the whole point of delivering a keynote that you are talking about something you do for a living? When a company wants someone to talk about pricing at their annual conference they don’t look for an “international keynote speaker” and then ask them if they know anything about pricing. They hire a pricing expert to give a speech.
Unless these people are giving keynotes about giving keynotes (presumably to wannabe keynote speakers) what are they actually talking about? I’ve been lucky enough to speak at conferences with proper, world class, big name, heavy hitting, main stage keynote speakers. You know: the Arielys, Galloways, Aakers and Hoffmans of the big leagues. None of these people have “keynote speaker” on their LinkedIn page. So why do these guys?
LinkedIn gives you a limited amount of characters to explain your job. Ideally you put your title under your name and then, in the bigger space down below, you story-tell your way to career success with information about what you have done and where you have been.
That’s not how Ms Loquacious does it. Oh no. Instead she hammers out a long, fact-filled narrative about what motivates her and how she works and what she does and more and more and more. The problem, which even a small child could work out, is that you only have about fifty characters for the job description bit. By the time Ms Loquacious has taken her long run up and just started to wax lyrically about her personal mantra and way of working the wordage is up and she is appended with the punctuation equivalent of a custard pie – the dreaded three full stops. Dot. Dot. Dot. The irony is that because Ms Loquacious wants to say so much about herself she achieves the exact opposite. “I’ve spent the last 20 years working on the…” Railroad? Chain gang? Assumption that the world is a beautiful place? We will never know.
By using 400 characters when there is only room for 50 Ms Loquacious communicates she cannot focus, follow instructions or understand how she appears to the rest of the world. Not necessarily the ideal positioning for someone who wants to work in marketing.
There are some good looking marketers out there. The first thought any sane person has when they walk into a London advertising agency is: “Weren’t there any ugly people who wanted to work in advertising?”. I accept that the old, grizzled fuckers that stare back at you from the pages of Marketing Week are not necessarily the most attractive chops the discipline has to offer. But some marketers go a little too far in presenting an attractive profile to the world of work.
Any LinkedIn photo that does not include a shirt or does feature flexing muscles or a clear and deliberate attempt to highlight cleavage is a sure sign that we might have crossed the line. I might add that most of the Mr I. A. M. Hot’s I have connected with on LinkedIn and then later met in real life were not half as hot as their image might have suggested. That prompts an existential question for these people. Would you rather appear to be hot online and then disappoint in person? Or underplay it and look plain online and hotter in the flesh?
You could even follow your humble columnist and my approach to this conundrum. I underwhelm both in my photographic form and later in person. That takes skill and a lifetime of solid drinking. But it’s been working well for me. “We did not hire him for his looks” is not the worst thing you can hear from a client. That’s what I keep telling myself anyway.
This is such a big error it almost deserves a column of its own. If I could achieve one thing, just one thing, with this written plea it would be to wipe this kind of profile from the planet.
Let me be clear from the outset, there are certain titles that you cannot give yourself, they must be bestowed upon you by others. And even if they have been bestowed on you, you still can’t refer to yourself using that title.
If I walk into a room and announce to everyone that I am “hot” you should correctly deduce that I am a dickhead, even if (back in 1984 in a brief moment of madness behind the cricket pavilion) someone (Tracy Cummings) did call me that.
My point is that none of the following titles should ever be something you claim either in person or on your LinkedIn profile: guru, visionary, ninja, provocateur, disruptor, expert, leader, challenger, thought leader. The Self-Appointed Ninja misses this point completely and claims one, often two, of these titles from themselves with the ignorance and arrogance of someone who is not quite getting it.
It’s a personal question but if you asked me I’d say that the gurus who I follow are Scott Galloway, Drayton Bird, Roger Martin and AG Lafley. I call these people gurus but I am 900% certain that none of them have ever referred to themselves on LinkedIn or any other occasion as a guru. If they don’t claim it, you cannot claim it. Except of course the significant number of Indians who are literally called Guru, including my mate Guru Atmakuru, you can still call yourself Guru – because it’s your name. But the rest of you should erase the word and explain what you actually do for a living. Try that instead of making big claims that make you look small. Serious advice.
A special category. There is nothing wrong with the profile of The Facebook Transplant. They are professional, well-qualified executives with a lot of followers. The problem with these people is the content they post is entirely unsuitable for a professional, vocational site like LinkedIn.
Inspirational videos of people who have overcome hardship. Morality tales in which good triumphs over evil. Patronising stories about determination. Anything with puppies or children. People have advised me to simply stop following the Facebook Transplants who post this crap. I’ve done that but all it takes is for another of my LinkedIn contacts to like this crap and it appears in my feed again.
Pretend LinkedIn is a meeting room at work, not a bad Walt Disney fun park. This stuff is for Facebook or even Twitter, LinkedIn is where we all do our work. And while we are in this syrupy, gag-inducing place can I also add Will Smith and all his “motivational” content too. Dude, your movies are OK but your video blogs blow so much I feel bad for you. Inspiring me with your personal thoughts about overcoming challenges while you pad about your million-dollar home in your $800 underwear is the opposite of motivation.
I’ll be generous and assume you just haven’t had time to get a new headshot. But as you age and your LinkedIn profile does not and it starts to get embarrassing.
There are three phases you gradually move through when you do not update your profile picture. First, it starts to deviate just a little from reality around the edges. Then people actually comment when they meet you in person that “you really don’t look like your LinkedIn profile”. They do not mean that in a good way. Finally, you get people just staring at you and then looking at your profile on their phone and then staring back at you with this confused, uncertain look.
There are a couple of people – Keith Weed, Cindy Gallop and our editor Russell Parsons that literally do not get old. In the latter case, Russell is probably ageing but no-one really knows what is going on under that hirsute hood. These three people do not need to change their photo. Everyone else does. Let it go. It’s time.
Just for being Gary Vee.