Why it's time to retire the LinkedIn hot take

Exciting times loom ahead as far as workplaces are concerned. There is uncertainty, and there are challenges, too. Photo: SolStock
Exciting times loom ahead as far as workplaces are concerned. There is uncertainty, and there are challenges, too. Photo: SolStock


When too many leaders post hot takes online, words go banal and thought leadership turns elusive

Recently, a startup founder-CEO was ‘cancelled’ on social media after the individual advised, via a LinkedIn post, 20-somethings to put in 18 hours a day at work and stop whining. The post was dissed by so many that the founder had to announce a sabbatical from the platform. Even as this incident caught international media attention, another founder put up a LinkedIn post bragging about scheduling hiring interviews at odd hours to test applicants’ determination to get the job. This was widely criticized for various reasons, including its exclusionary disposition towards working women with familial responsibilities.

A fortnight later, you’d think people would have forgotten it all. Far from it. Last week, a unicorn founder put out a Twitter post about being evacuated in a tractor as tony parts of Bengaluru were submerged by a continuous downpour in the country’s startup capital. In reply, some users commented how the ambassador of an 18-hour workday would have swum to work even in this scenario, while the other would have kept interviews for that particular day “to test their hustle".

Online outrage has a shelf life of one-or-two days at most, we often hear. This is partly true, but it’s also a myth. The internet does move on to the next target of outrage at warp speed. However, it never forgets. The trolling is not as intense–it cools off over time, but doesn’t go away. Ghosts of trolls past could keep haunting you, till you’re reduced to a meme format. That’s what seems to have happened with these two founders, whose hot takes on hustling gave netizens a free pass to adjudge them and their workplace culture negatively. For many, they have become a case study on what not to do.

Meanwhile, the CEO of the 18-hour-workday fame took a break from the LinkedIn sabbatical to tell followers that, regardless of the trolling, the episode had earned the company a few crores in free publicity. That’s what it comes down to, isn’t it?

Once upon a digital time, social media was used to build or rebuild connections. Today, it is used to build your own brand. From Twitter’s threadbois to LinkedIn’s thought leaders, everyone harps on hot takes or ramblings packaged as gyaan to be ‘seen’.

It is embarrassingly easy to get ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ on platforms like LinkedIn now to the point that “This would have killed on LinkedIn" or “This is killing on LinkedIn" is a running joke format on tech Twitter. What’s no joke is that last month an Israel-based marketer, Tom Orbach, rolled out a website called LinkedIn Viral Post Generator which uses artificial intelligence to analyse hundreds of thousands of viral posts on the professional networking platform to create a template for more users to produce such ‘cringe posts’ at scale. The tool was even acquired for an undisclosed amount by a US-based LinkedIn-focused startup, Taplio, in little time.

Notwithstanding the means, these ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ do bring people a certain degree of internet clout. Instead of cold-emailing hot startups and tech companies asking for a job, it empowers them to directly message their founders/CEOs online with a confident, “I want to work with you." Often, the founder-CEOs they approach have fewer followers than they do.

It makes you wonder if the current spate of hot takes from multiple startup founders over the last few weeks is attributable to the growing pressure among this cadre to turn from leaders into thought leaders. Because if it’s that easy to gain traction online, you could be faulted for not utilizing the system that has been designed to help you grow your internet currency. The word is that adding hashtags like #LinkedInforCreators or #LinkedInNews increases the chances of your post getting picked up and promoted by the platform’s editorial teams as well.

The benefits of becoming a popular founder-CEO online are obvious: it can help you attract talent and investors faster, especially in an environment where both are hard to come by. Further, it allows you to become your own distribution machine, which means you can diss the media on the occasion they are critical of your business, as you won’t need them to do your public relations anymore.

However, the way these hot takes are being panned en masse also shows that desperate attempts at building social media cred (fast) can somehow boomerang and draw negative attention not just towards them, but also the companies they lead. ‘Any publicity is good publicity’ doesn’t always apply to internet fame.

While it’s reasonable for anyone to want to build an internet persona and gain from it, perhaps those with high-stake jobs need to be more discerning of the kind of discourse they are getting behind at a time when we’re well into the third year of a pandemic and have seen everything from the Great Resignation to the ‘quiet quitting’ wave hit our professional lives. If everyone starts using growth hacks and viral post generators to build personal brands, one wonders if our online brand will hold any value in the real world.

To borrow from Jon Snow of Game of Thrones and contextualise it: When enough leaders post hot takes, words stop meaning anything. Then there are no more thought leaders, only better and better trash talkers.

Shephali Bhatt covers internet culture and the creator economy for Mint

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