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LinkedIn Really Is the Best Social Network
November 15, 2023

LinkedIn Really Is the Best Social Network

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Somehow it became Twitter, and Twitter became it., LinkedIn isn’t just ‘cool.’ It’s a good social network now.

Since Elon Musk bought Twitter just over a year ago, there’s been an on-and-off scramble, among those who love Twitter but not its new owner, to find refuge elsewhere.

As a Twitter devotee myself, I’ve reconnected with internet friends and professional acquaintances on platforms like Bluesky, Mastodon, and Meta’s alternative, Threads. I’ve seen others try out Post and Hive and Spoutible. One of my favorite lookalikes, a platform called Pebble, shut down earlier this month.

The result of this proliferation of Twitter-like platforms has been a disaggregation of my Twitter network. Some users have fled the social network now called X for a single alternative, while others have spread their posts across various platforms, while others have experimented elsewhere but haven’t been able to shake their Twitter habit—damning themselves to toil away on a platform they love to despise. I’m in the latter camp, and I probably will be until X shuts down, requires me to pay to post at all, or becomes perverted beyond repair. (That last one being subjective, obviously. Plenty of erstwhile Twitter users have already decided it’s reached that threshold.)

After a year of wandering through the digital desert in search of a new home for my thoughts and whims, I have begun to think that there’s only one acceptable replacement for Twitter. I’m not the only one. It’s LinkedIn.

If there was ever a cultural seam between how we use Twitter versus how we use LinkedIn, it’s all but frayed. Despite Twitter’s reputation as a hub for dissidents, weirdos, subcultures, and anonymous accounts, the platform’s most prominent users have often been named individuals associated with a company or organization.

That’s supposed to be LinkedIn’s domain. LinkedIn, which was bought by Microsoft for $26 billion in 2016, has always been a social network in the way that a work happy hour is technically social. LinkedIn allows people to connect with people they know—or want to know—professionally. It’s also a job board, letting job seekers tell recruiters they’re available for a while and giving recruiters tools for finding candidates on the platform. Its business model is also different—in addition to selling ad space, like most social media platforms do, it’s long had a paid subscription called LinkedIn Premium that lets paying users peep other people’s profiles discreetly, send a message to anyone on the platform, and gain access to additional job-seeking or headhunting tools. But above all, LinkedIn once felt extremely gauche—a platform full of thirsty networkers and stale business commentary.

Twitter has long had a similar professional-class air, if a much looser collar: People in finance, academia, marketing, and many other fields post with their employers’ names in their Twitter biographies—and many still use a disclosure that their views don’t represent those of the company or organization they work for. But they’ve also tried to be funny, whereas LinkedIn is a bit more straight-laced: There is no such thing as Weird LinkedIn.

Not only has Twitter always been an extension of our work selves in its particular way, but these days, posts you might charitably called ‘LinkedIn-like’ now run rampant on the platform, having been boosted by Musk-era changes to X’s main news feed. Humblebrags, hustle porn, and motivational threads abound. That thing where LinkedIn posts consist of really … short … paragraphs? That style afflicts viral tweets now too. One of the great Twitter accounts documenting this is called VCs Congratulating Themselves—a collection of venture capitalists posting with mind-blowing obtuseness. The X content it highlights feels straight out of LinkedIn.

Meanwhile, LinkedIn has become slightly more casual. It no longer mostly consists of notifications that your friend is ‘thrilled to announce’ a new promotion followed by inspirational quotes from business leaders; there are personal stories, political commentary, and good-natured venting. LinkedIn has tried to modernize, too—slapping special badges on LinkedInfluencers (kind of like the old Twitter verification system) and giving users new tools for article-writing.

LinkedIn is still centered on its users’ professional lives, but it’s become more honest while much of Twitter has become grossly promotional. Further, Twitter’s algorithm now seems rejiggered to incentivize that kind of clout-farming.

Making a similar argument for Wired last year, Morgan Meaker wrote that LinkedIn feels like the ‘last vestige of the centralized internet of the 2010s.’ I agree. It will never replace the coolest elements of Twitter—the underground sensibility, the casual parlance, or the of-the-moment jokes. Rather, it feels like the Facebook of five or 10 years ago—before it became exclusively baby photos, marriage announcements, and memes from pages you never actually followed; and before reliable news vanished from the site.

Perhaps something is really shifting with LinkedIn: Not only is the platform bringing in more and more revenue for Microsoft each year—$15 billion last year—but Bloomberg reports LinkedIn users posted 41 percent more on the platform in spring 2023 as compared with the same period in 2021. ‘That kind of growth is unusual for a 20-year-old operation and speaks to the turbulence at other major social media services,’ Sarah Frier wrote. Instead of merely flocking to new platforms, perhaps Twitter users are finding new uses, and value, in old ones.

The other day I prompted my LinkedIn network, writing, ‘What if I started posting here like it’s Twitter?’ One connection of mine responded, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if Twitter was Twitter and it still worked well?’ Well, of course. My wife, perplexed by the post, texted me to ask if I posted that in a cold medicine–induced stupor. Yes I did, but that’s neither here nor there.

The problem with the current roster of Twitter alternatives is that there are few differentiating factors—nothing differentiating itself from Twitter, nor from each other. Using one of them may feel like an act of resistance against Twitter’s owner, who has fired most of its staff, rolled back important site rules against hate speech and misinformation, and created a pay-for-play environment so those who pay the most get the most reach.

But scrolling on Bluesky, Mastodon, or Threads still feels like you’re visiting a ghost-town version of the old Twitter. People are missing, but you’re not sure who, exactly. The conversation is thus fragmented—some post on one site, some comment on another, and there’s a cohesion that’s missing. Twitter’s network effects have been partially dismantled but no other site has successfully pieced them back together.

The tone is different, too. These platforms are somehow less snarky and more earnest than Twitter ever was. Despite trying so hard to be Twitter, they’ve failed to capture the essence of Twitter. Plus, many of the posts on these platforms are still about the platforms themselves or about the many controversies with Twitter.

Threads is perhaps the best-looking and algorithmically functional of the alternatives, but its management—namely, Instagram head Adam Mosseri—has stated that he doesn’t want it to become a platform for news. Meanwhile, LinkedIn, which recently passed 1 billion registered users, has embraced news in recent years—with a curated news section, full-time editors, and tools for bloggers.

The beauty of LinkedIn is that it’s not trying to be anything other than what it is. It’s hyperfocused on the capitalistic professional class, but let’s not kid ourselves—so is much of Twitter.

There’s been a dissolution of the line between personal and professional communication. In this era, you can be fired from your job for anything you post on a personal account—and kids are growing up knowing that whatever they post online can be a liability for getting a job in the first place.

With Elon Musk running Twitter into the ground, the scramble to replace Twitter is appropriate, called for, and perhaps necessary. We need a place to post text—not photos, not videos, but text. Shortform, longform. Serious, flippant. Newsy, evergreen.

LinkedIn was once a mess of self-righteous business-speak, but its convergence with Twitter has made it the obvious replacement for the Musk-run app. We can pretend it’s too lame for our social media purposes or embrace the inevitable: All communication is professional and LinkedIn is all that we deserve.


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