When Justin Welsh set out to start a consulting business a few years back, he knew he would need to get potential clients’ attention. A former software executive, he knew he had the bona fides to help early-stage tech companies succeed; what he wasn’t sure of was how to let potential clients know that.
He’d been on Twitter for years, but it seemed too negative a place for what he was trying to do. By comparison, LinkedIn seemed safer, more positive. To boot, Welsh’s potential clients spent significant amounts of time on the site, and there weren’t as many people creating content. That meant less competition.
So in late 2018, he started to publish “practical and tactical” tips for growing startup businesses each morning on the platform, with a dash of an emotional element here and there. (Representative post: “People vastly underestimate the value of their knowledge. Publish yours and let the market pleasantly surprise you.” One thousand and seven hundred likes.)
By this year, he’d gained more than 300,000 followers. Along the way, he noticed a shift in the inquiries he received. No longer were people mostly asking for software advice. “They were asking me about how I was using LinkedIn,” he said. Today, Welsh is a full-blown LinkedIn influencer who teaches other people to use the platform as well as he does, and his one-man LinkedIn-focused business now brings in nearly $2 million annually, he said.
After years of being known as a place to share resumes and search for jobs, LinkedIn has quietly transformed into a center for a different sort of influencer—the ROI-obsessed go-getter. It is, in many ways, ground zero for hustle culture and what some have deemed “toxic positivity,” an aspirational place for people more concerned with self-care and cash flow than wisecracks and unattainable beauty.
“They feel like, ‘Hey that can be me,’” said LinkedIn influencer Tobi Oluwole, who has built a successful career coaching business through his LinkedIn following. Elsewhere, the site has become the butt of the joke and a focus of increased scorn—the perfect example of a try-hard corporate culture where people mistake banal, rote platitudes for authenticity, a puffy Patagonia vest in website form.
In August, when the CEO of a LinkedIn-focused marketing company was roundly mocked and chastised after he published a tearful video announcing layoffs, the derision was fueled as much as anything by how perfectly it represented what LinkedIn has become to bewildered outsiders.
The hatred of such self-absorbed posts on LinkedIn has become so intense that a subreddit dedicated to mocking the platform’s most “insufferable,” “cringeworthy” posts—like business leaders advocating for taking less vacation to prove your worth or rebranding lunch as “JUST EAT PowerHour”—has garnered 175,000 followers. But the disgust doesn’t reckon with why so many people have become unironically attracted to the platform.
“Opportunities just come flooding through your doors,” said Chantel Soumis, a LinkedIn influencer who said she received $1 million in revenue-generating opportunities in three months after she publicly launched her creative side business on LinkedIn. The shift is partially the result of a conscious, years-long push by LinkedIn to increase its standing as a social platform relative to the competition.
LinkedIn has developed new creator-focused tools and programs and hired full-time employees called creator managers who actively help influencers build their audiences. In recent years, the alterations have started to reap dividends as people started to view the platform as the closest thing the internet had to an online watercooler.
“It’s changed people’s behavior,” said Sujan Patel, who has nearly 40,000 followers and is the co-founder of the software company Mailshake. Compared to the rest of the internet, LinkedIn has developed into a positive, almost benign place, slightly less prone to political infighting, which made it the perfect place to do business. The reason for the “toxic positivity,” as Oluwole put it, is that the stakes feel higher with a name, photo, and employer attached to each individual post.
(“People don’t want their jobs and careers threatened,” said Oluwole, who compared the platform to navigating workplace politics. “You’re smiling even though you don’t really care.” Soumis agreed: “There’s money on the line.”) Inoffensive hashtag campaigns like #LetsGetHonest gained traction on the platform as the most positive members of the business world started to see the platform as a respite from the rest of the increasingly ugly internet—a place where being polite still mattered and self-improvement was valued….Read more….