Like all social media platforms for many people it offers them the ability to be someone different. To perhaps portray themselves in a more favourable light, be braver, bolder, or just pretend to be someone else entirely. How true is this of LinkedIn? Have we all checked out a current or former colleague or friends LinkedIn profile and laughed out loud at the absurdity of the on-line presence and the person you actually know? Does it matter that they are so vastly different?
Here are some of my thoughts.
How do we really know that the nice sweet guy who congratulates everyone for every post and agrees with every point of view raised is actually really a nice sweet guy? The fact is we don’t. He may be some kind of sociopath who is just playing a control game, or he may just be pretending to be a very likeable person so that we will do business with him. He may actually be many things in real life that would make us run a mile. He may have hundreds of personality traits and opinions that would make our stomachs churn. He may just be an illusion in many ways.
He may even be a pirate (Mitch Sullivan)!
Across Social Media there are literally thousands of examples of people pretending to be things they are not. This ranges from views expressed by people playing devil’s advocate to the more concerning aspects such as people actually lying about achievements and / or their career. If you do a search for a certain group of professionals for example literally hundreds of them have profile photos emedded into backdrops of CNN, Forbes, Washington Post. This is accompanied on their profiles with claims indicating that they have worked for, been interviewed by or as seen in / on CNN, Forbes, Washington Post and so forth. It looks very credible. What it doesn’t tell you however is that they paid a premium price for an article to be featured on-line and now claim to be a thought leader using that as their provenance. Is this misleading? Yes I think it is.
The Self Aggrandiser
Then we come onto job titles and achievements. I see thousands of CEO’s and Managing Directors of organisations that basically don’t exist. They have no website and no employees. Is this wrong, is this a misrepresentation of the facts. Where does the fine line between personal branding and the truth and exaggeration and misrepresentation stop and start. Who are we to judge? If I set up Darren Ledger Ltd tomorrow, I am for all intents and purposes the Managing Director. Although the title implies more than just managing my own work it isn’t misleading. But in the same event if I titled myself on LinkedIn as CEO I think that could be.
Put your hands up if you think your profile photo is the real you? I meet people who I am connected to on LinkedIn all the time. In the vast majority of cases their profile photo is a genuine reflection of them. But it’s usually them when they were 10 years younger. I’m guilty of this myself. I looked better 5-6 years ago when the photo I use was taken. I’m smiling for a start. I like that photo, I was relaxed, was not aware of the camera and my nose looks remarkably smaller than it actually is.
Should it really matter?
But the real point of writing this blog is that without confusing LinkedIn with Facebook and I know many do, is there actually a line in the sand about how much of our real personality and our beliefs and opinions we should share on line? Does this justify having an alter ego that may be far removed from who we are in real life. Is this a personal assessment of the risks both professionally and personally? I wrote extensively on LinkedIn about my views on the Scottish Independence Referendum, I’m openly an Arsenal FC supporter, I have engaged in discussions about why I think the war in Afghanistan was right. Should be clear and open about our political beliefs, our hobbies and passions on LinkedIn? Is this the place to express these opinions? Am I causing my professional brand problems and alienating people or should those of us who portray ourselves as we really are be applauded?
After all, I am exactly what it says on the tin when it comes to LinkedIn, but are you?
PS: Before anyone jumps up and down and begins berating me for using the term Schizophrenia in this post please don’t. I’m well aware of the serious nature of that condition. But I did not think Social Media Walter Mitty had quite the same ring to it…