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Move Over, Twitter, er, X. LinkedIn Is the Cool Place to Be.
September 12, 2023

Move Over, Twitter, er, X. LinkedIn Is the Cool Place to Be.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

LinkedIn Is Glowing Up, LinkedIn is breaking out of its ‘professional’ constraints., Move over, Twitter, er, X. LinkedIn is the cool place to be.

LinkedIn is emerging as a place for regular people to share about their lives—and not just professionally. Can the platform sustain this increase in popularity? And is LinkedIn really cool now?

For our Sept. 1 episode of What Next: TBD, I spoke with Sarah Frier, tech editor at Bloomberg Businessweek, about how LinkedIn became cool. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Lizzie O’Leary: What was your inspiration for your story on LinkedIn?

Sarah Frier: I was really struggling, in my own career, to figure out: ‘Where do I post now? What do I do?’ I was seeing all of these alternatives to Twitter popping up, but people don’t want to build a network from scratch. Places that have existing networks become so much more powerful. Posts on LinkedIn used to go into a black hole, but now when I post something on LinkedIn, I get real conversation out of it. So I started thinking, ‘Is this really happening? Are people really spending their time scrolling on LinkedIn?’

Then, over the summer, we had an intern at our office in San Francisco, and she wrote a devastating newsletter about how she’ll never have a Twitter account, because why would you? I asked her, ‘Where are you posting instead?’ She was like, ‘Oh, LinkedIn and Instagram.’ I was like, ‘Really? A college student thinks that it’s way more acceptable and worthy to post on LinkedIn than any of the places that I think I’m supposed to post?’

What are people writing there? Is this the traditional, ‘Congratulate Sarah on her work anniversary,’ or what?

A lot of people are, for lack of a better term, ‘thinkfluencing.’ They’re posting what’s on their mind and then tying it back to work. I saw someone today post about how she’s been unemployed for 82 days and it’s really been emotional for her and she could tell that it was affecting her kids, and her stress was boiling over into her motherhood. Ultimately, this was her way of saying that she did get a new job, but it was really personal—way more personal than I am used to seeing on LinkedIn.

That feels like an old-school Facebook post.

It really does.

Younger generations grew up posting, building their digital identities. When it comes to work and their professional identities, they’re not keeping the same job for 40 years. Why does that matter?

I think millennial and Gen Z professionals are much more likely to hop from employer to employer every couple of years, maybe even try out an entirely new industry or an entirely new skill set, or have a side hustle. People are realizing that it is beneficial to have an identity outside of their employer. The identity they’re building on LinkedIn is the same kind of identity they’d build anywhere else on social media, but for a targeted purpose.

I was really astonished in reading your story that you talked to a woman who is a LinkedIn influencer, for lack of a better term. I didn’t realize that was something that existed.

It’s something that the company itself has tried to drive. They’re a little slower than some of the other platforms in really getting it, but in 2011 they started trying to get CEOs, news anchors, and people like Arianna Huffington to be LinkedIn influencers.

The way every social network works is that over time, they have celebrities and high-level people using it, but they also end up having these grassroots influencers—people who are striving to be like those celebrities and high-level people. I don’t think that a social network can be culturally powerful until it has people who have become stars because of their content there. Because then the new users can look at that person and say, ‘Oh, I want to be like them, I want to have their success.’

And it becomes self-replicating?

And it can become self-replicating. It can fuel future use of that network. The past couple of years, LinkedIn has added podcasts, newsletters, audio. People made fun of them when they added LinkedIn Stories. But there are some people on LinkedIn who spend their professional efforts there, and have consulting businesses, or mentoring businesses, or advisory businesses because of it.

LinkedIn has clearly gone through a remarkable period of growth, but they seem to capitalize on a very stable structure behind that. Tell me a little bit about the company.

It’s almost easier to explain their success in contrast to the other social networks. What we’re seeing at LinkedIn is a little bit of stability, which is not what we’ve gotten in the advertising industry at large. The advertising industry fuels Meta, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest—they’re all dependent on ads, which means they’re all dependent on attention. So, when a player like TikTok comes in and has a better way to capture attention through short TikTok videos, Facebook makes reels and Instagram makes reels. And then they also copy TikTok’s algorithm to make it less about a social network and more about entertainment.

LinkedIn is different because it doesn’t depend on an advertising business. They have one, but it’s not the main thing that they do. They have a recruiting business where they connect people to jobs. They have what’s called Sales Navigator, where if you’re trying to sell a product, it finds you the right kind of clients, the right decision makers to buy your product. And they charge quite a bit for those premium packages of LinkedIn—in times of economic turbulence, people still need that kind of tool.

LinkedIn doesn’t report average user numbers. But the company, which is owned by Microsoft, says posting is way up—and so is revenue. In 2020, according to data in your story, LinkedIn’s fiscal year revenue was $8.1 billion. By fiscal year 2023, it had jumped to $15.1 billion.

The way LinkedIn explains it is that during the pandemic there was this merging of the professional and personal. People were sharing a lot more personal content on LinkedIn and building that habit, and also using LinkedIn to stay connected to the workplace while they’re working from home and getting familiar with it as more of a social network tool, as opposed to just a digital résumé.

After the pandemic, there were layoffs at Facebook and Google and Amazon, all these companies that people thought were stable, great places to work. It’s not just in the tech industry, right? We’ve seen cuts across the board. People have called this ‘The Summer of Striking.’ There has been a lot of professional angst and reasons for people to post.

The statistic that they provided—the 41 percent growth in content posted between spring of 2021 and spring of 2023—is just crazy growth for a network that’s 20 years old. And it’s not just growth in the user numbers, because I think the user numbers have been steadily growing. It’s growth in the behavior, which is really what I was more interested in for this piece.

Can they keep riding that wave of growth, or is this just a narrow and specific set of circumstances that has given rise to this?

They have to capitalize on it while they can. I don’t know that everyone’s going to want to start a LinkedIn podcast or newsletter, but, like any platform, they need to make it worth it for their users. Maybe they will find ways for people to make money, like really building on that influencer business. They’re doing some ad sharing, but I think they might need to pay a little bit more attention to that monetization tool. People will start using something, build up a following there, and then if they can’t make money off of it, they’ll get bored or they’ll go somewhere else where they can.

LinkedIn is so different—and its importance in your life is so different—depending on who you are. I once had a boss who said she would never hire someone who didn’t have a good LinkedIn page. And I remember thinking that was completely deranged, but after reading your story, I wondered, ‘Do we all have to be on LinkedIn now? Is this another social network that I must tend to?’

You don’t have to if you’re not trying to change your job. But at this point, if you post on LinkedIn, you’re probably going to have a better chance of reaching a large a network of people than if you were to post on another network. The table stakes are having that digital résumé.

If LinkedIn is looking at this data, all of these posts, they’re reading your story, do they think they’re cool now? And if they think they’re cool, does that mess with what they’re doing in the first place?

The response I’ve gotten from  people who are hardcore LinkedIn users is, ‘Hell yeah, we’re cool. We’ve always been cool and somebody finally recognizes it.’ And then the response from everyone else who begrudgingly uses LinkedIn is, ‘Oh my God, no. Never. I wouldn’t be caught dead relying on LinkedIn as my main microphone to the rest of the world.’ And that illustrates LinkedIn’s challenge: They need to maintain it as a utility, while starting to encourage people who are engaging with this content and liking this content in a new way.


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