– Or: How busting into other peoples conversations stopped being terrifying –

LinkedIn is a very, very, very interesting animal.  It is also a very different animal now than it was at its origin.

Earlier this year I decided that I was going to approach the platform in earnest to see what I could see.  Earnest as in with deliberateness, not as in “Hey Vern.”  But now I’m wondering what “Earnest Goes to LinkedIn” would look like as a feature film.  Someone needs to make that happen.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.  LinkedIn usage for reals.

Admission of guilt: it started out as an endeavor to drum up business.  Cannot and will not lie.  All of the best advice at the time was that the road paved with gold was on LinkedIn and being there was a one-way ticket to glorious something.  And you know what?  For some folks, that is probably absolutely true.  That is their sole purpose, their mission, and it really works for them.

What has happened so far has been dramatically different, as outlined below in this next installment of “WALL OF TEXT.”

How the LinkedIn adventure started

All of the big time content marketing folks have been saying for years that LinkedIn is (well, was) the single best place for “organic reach” where promotion is concerned.  From the top of the heap to the people who take what the people at the top of the heap publish and give out for free, repackage it, and either reword it and give it away for free or sell it: Content, Content, Content.  Not as in the state of being, but publication of STUFF and THINGS.  Preferably at least three stuffs per day without fail.  “There is no other platform where you can make a first post today and have it seen by hundreds of people right out of the gate without paying a single cent for promotion.”

Welp.  The reality is, they’re correct.

LinkedIn gives you the benefit of telling you how many views a post has.  Type a thing, take a video, record something, put it up, release it to the world, and viola, Bob’s yer uncle, it gets viewed.  Depending on the subject and hash tags?  Hundreds of views.  Thousands.  Tens of thousands.

Or at least in my case, hundreds.  Not gonna lie: that was a surprise.

Tell the nice man what you did on LinkedIn

My account was created sixteen years ago.  2005.  Promptly forgotten about.  It wasn’t until this year (2021 at the time of writing) that I thought I would see what all the hubbub was about.  As it turns out, that’s one of those shoulda coulda woulda” things.  Had I been more active there than other social media networks, this might be a very different post.  Written years ago, not minutes.

If the decision to approach LinkedIn took place more along the lines of 6 years ago, the impact on the businesses I represent would have been immense.  As it stands for the time being, it’s probably not awful either.

That first real actual post brought in several hundred views.  Were they views or glances or scroll-throughs?  Dunno.  But that was a surprise given how hilariously tiny my network was at the time.

Actually, the network is hilariously tiny right now compared to some of my peers within my industries and most certainly without. Or withinbetween.  You know, that space that exists between In and Out.  And no, it’s neither Taco Del Mar nor the land of lost socks.

But hey!  I did a post!  It did a thing!  Every journey begins with but a single step.  Of course, many journeys end abruptly after that same single step but that’s not the plan for here.  I started to really pay attention to “The Feed.”  No, not the place where you strap the bag to the horse.  Content presentation.  Started to see what the few connections I had were doing.  Which, to be frank, wasn’t much.  Most of the connections I had made up to that point had long since abandoned the platform for other pastures.

A few however were still active and it was through this feed that I was able to see the things that were interesting to them.  The things they liked, the things they supported, the occasional things they commented on, and that is where the next big step was to come.

Introvert Paralysis

“No way, George!” you’re already going to tell me.  “There is no way on this presently snow-buried Earth that you suffer from crippling introversion.  You function in life!  Talking to people happens  You do stuff!  I SAW YOU SING ON STAGE WITHOUT EXPERIENCING DEATH.” Correctumondo on pretty much all of those things.

The part that you do not see is the recharge phase that takes place after any of those things.  For some folks, being around people and interacting with them regularly is as necessary to their psyche as water is to their vital functions.  For those of us who fall under the more introverted category, it is still possible to be “high functioning” in a socially acceptable manner. Rather than recharging the batteries and providing nourishment like more extroverted folks, being the proverbial “social butterfly” comes with a catch of being completely drained and needing silent alone time to regroup and think about what we’ve done.

We’ll use the “on stage” example since it’s the wildest of the paradox comparisons.  For the three of you who have ever seen me do things on stage in performance groups – be it in live bands, in barbershop quartets, or public speaking – there’s a certain level of … how shall we say … “spastic energy” that comes through in the total surrender to the music and its portrayal.  Also: being a nut-job on stage is a coping mechanism for what would otherwise be the catatonic terror of stage fright.

What does any of that seemingly unrelated confessional have to do with LinkedIn?  Here’s how that plays out.

It took months of observation before finally realizing the following: “If I post something on the platform, I am going to be out-of-my-mind delighted if someone actually says something in response, whether I know them or not.  Why then am I so certain that a comment from me to someone I might not yet know is going to be viewed through the lens of ‘who the devil is this interloper and from whence did he appear and how soon shall he return and bother me never again?”

We’re going to overlook the various levels of “imposter syndrome,” “lack of self-worth recognition,” and other various and sundry for the time being.  Suffice it to say: I eventually got over myself and started to “butt in.”

Where it headed

It started out as being extremely difficult and uncomfortable.  As do most things that are counter-intuitive, really.  Once I realized that the key was to find something I could relate to where commenting was concerned, it all fell into place after that.  The thing that has kept the momentum going is that I am absolutely fascinated about virtually everything ever.  It started to become a euphoric experience to see something interesting, ask questions or share a story or something related, and find out that most people were interested in dialogue on the subject.  That led to conversations about jet propulsion, how copper surfaces reduce in-hospital reinfection rates, copy writing, pandemic-related research, entrepreneurship, content creation, blogging, podcasting, vlogging, and a seemingly endless list of super fascinating stuff.

There was (and still kinda remains) one problem: finding other peoples content to comment on and engage with was one thing.  There were and are two more components that complete the Triforce of LinkedIn: producing content, and *gulp* sending connection requests (read: Making Friends).

The double edged sword that is LinkedIn (and social media in general)

Below are some things that I have found to be either less-than-savory, just plain weird, or downright awful in the experience.

Profiles on LinkedIn do this thing that …. kinda grate on the back of my neck in that not wonderful way.  When I was not paying too much attention, it seemed that most people would list their job title or some key information below their name in their profiles.  At some point, it became overrun with “I <verb> <target demographic> to <buzzword related to growth> <more business buzz words> and <SEO inserts for more productive things>.”  I also see posts regularly promoting that this is what people should be doing regularly because “job titles are boring.  Who cares about job titles?  I want to know what you do.”

My impression had always been that there was a descriptive and narrative section of the work experience that handled that aspect of responsibilities, duties, benefits, and features in the profile.  Having said that, this is the era of Twitter.  If you can cram the elevator speech into 10 words, have at thee I suppose.  It still makes me a bit uncomfortable though.

Then there are the dumpster fires. Disinformation propagation.  Political venomry.  Extremism.  Just …. really bad behavior.  You know, the kind of stuff that you would expect to run rampant on Facebook.  Definitely not the kind of thing that a business platform should be known for, right?  Whoops.

I make absolutely no secret about where I stand on many of those subjects.  But here’s something interesting I observed and have verified through a few new contacts I’ve made.

Keeping content relatively neutral resulted in minimal engagement.  Mostly ho-hum.  Nothing particularly exciting.  Engage in peoples content where it relates to one of the topics above and it’s like you’ve joined the inner circle of enclosed wagons and there are people there.  Those topics seem to serve as beacons and rallying calls and banners to throng to and throng they do!  And maybe that’s why there’s so much of it; it breeds engagement.  It’s the social media version of click bait articles.  Which, by the way, are used in many of those rallying calls.  Which also means that LinkedIn is suffering from the same thing that Facebook continues to do little about: as long as engagement is high, there’s no reason to let that train derail.

It’s like when Howard Stern was on the air in his early days.  People who loved in tuned in for X number of hours per day to find out what he was going to do next.  The people that hated him?  They tuned in for X+1 number of hours per day to find out what he was going to do next.

Engagement.  It is the key and it’s so terribly easy to provide the kind of low-hanging bottom-shelf content that prospers.  Seen any good polls lately?

Me neither.

Where it’s at

Two turntables and a microphone?  Almost.  At least the microphone part.  But that was another blog post about nerdy recording stuff.  Back to LinkedIn.

This story does not have an end at this time.  The project continues. Where it has gone so far is to make some new friends who are incredible people.  Fascinating in their fields, insightful in their perspectives, wildly intelligent beyond my comprehension, and all-around amazing people.

I still see the advice of “Your mission for today is to find 5 people on LinkedIn who would benefit from your services and send them connection requests.  Do this every day for a year.” I just cannot get behind that.  It feels disingenuous and almost deceitful.  If that advice was where I ended up going, there is no way I could have possibly made some of the extremely meaningful connections that I’ve made this last year with some amazing people.

Where it’s going

Would I like to do something to expand business opportunities?  Sure! I struggle with what is considered to be the “correct way” of going about it though.  And honestly: I think I realized very quickly that the method outlined way above might be right for some folks in some industries.  It just isn’t something I can get behind and feel good about.  So what started out as dipping a toe into a highly promoted method of building up a book of business eventually evolved into developing new friendships and making new contacts.

As it stands right now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Some of you reading this are some of those new contacts and I am SO grateful for being part of your circles. Thank you for inviting me in and trusting me to do right by your network and to not be That Guy who alienates everyone in their path with the hopes of making a sale or two.

Until next time!

-= george =-