scorecardI hate posting on LinkedIn. So I asked experts how to get it right.
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I hate posting on LinkedIn. So I asked experts how to get it right.

Emily Stewart   

I hate posting on LinkedIn. So I asked experts how to get it right.
Careers6 min read
Rebecca Zisser/BI

The other day, a friend of mine liked one of my LinkedIn posts. I was mortified. I quickly sent him a text explaining that posting there was a function of my job, not for funsies. While my frantic embarrassment was perhaps a tad of an overcorrection (OK, a lot of an overcorrection), I nonetheless feel deeply self-conscious about what I post on the work-focused website. I don't want to come off as overly earnest, too self-promotional, or dare I say it, cringe.

That LinkedIn is a cringey space is well established. The issue has been dissected on Reddit, in the media, and even by LinkedIn itself. LinkedIn is just a weird place to be in the first place. It's a jobs board with a social network layered on top of it. It's an artificial space where everyone is trying to put on their best face, but one that leaves people feeling quite exposed.

Why does LinkedIn feel so cringe? And is it possible to post there without being cringe yourself? I decided to reach out to some experts to try to find out, which was an embarrassing endeavor on its own.

Why LinkedIn feels so cringe

As much as LinkedIn is a professional platform, something about it feels really personal. Even when you're posting with your real name, other social-media sites like Instagram, Twitter/X, or TikTok have an air of anonymity to them, a sense of removal. A tweet is more fleeting, and Instagram is more private, even if your profile is public. On a lot of these platforms, everyone's sort of doing a bit. On LinkedIn, you wind up putting a lot of yourself out there: your picture, your work history, your education, your professional past, your aspirations. You're there for a specific reason — to advance your career and network. You have a specific audience in mind — prospective employers, potential business leads. That all requires you to be your best, most workiest self.

"The way people position themselves and kind of discuss really anything is filtered through that lens of etiquette and knowing that all eyes are on you all the time," Nathan Allebach, a social-media strategist and creative director, said. "It's just almost like an omni-surveillance state."

On LinkedIn, people face a case of "context collapse," where they communicate with disparate groups of people all at once. In most places, you know exactly who you're talking to — friends in a group chat or your work colleagues on email — but LinkedIn folds all of them together. That leads to a self-presentation conundrum: Which you do you want to be?

"It's hard to think about how to post, what to post, when you have, for example, your bosses there, your former bosses there, maybe your high-school friends are there, with your current colleagues or interns," Sunny Xun Liu, the director of research at the Stanford Social Media Lab, said. "We usually behave differently based on who we talk to. When all those people are there, it's very challenging to find a way that we feel comfortable."

LinkedIn users are trapped in a culture of professionalism and all that comes with it. The person you are with your boss or a client is probably not your truest self. This setting makes posting — or even just creating and maintaining a profile — feel extra high-stakes and, in turn, contrived. On LinkedIn, there is no dancing like no one's watching.

This high-wire performance has helped foster LinkedIn's reputation as a space for content that's a little extra, grimace-inducing, and often insincere. It's known for guys spouting broetry and CEOs crying and wannabe thinkfluencers posing as experts in areas nobody needs their expertise in. There's a reason social-media accounts like Best of LinkedIn, which pokes fun at over-the-top LinkedIn posts, exist. Even the people who run LinkedIn know that when something goes viral there, it's often not a good sign.

LinkedIn has made some efforts to change things — it's adjusted its algorithm to try to elevate more quality content and show people stuff from their networks. And while there are fewer "pure meaningless platitudes" on the platform, as Brendan Gahan, the cofounder of Creator Authority, a LinkedIn influencer marketing agency told me, there's still a "hangover" from how LinkedIn is perceived.

LinkedIn might not be as cringe as it used to be, but it's still awkward. Posting and interacting there, for most people, entails a level of forced positivity and performative professionalism that isn't really matched anywhere else online.

"LinkedIn is an echo chamber," John Hickey, the creator of Best of LinkedIn and a freelance creative director, said. "Everyone's on their best behavior, but in some ways that best behavior is also their worst behavior because they're not being their true selves."

How to be less cringe on LinkedIn

OK, so if LinkedIn comes with a bit of cringe baked in, what's the best way to minimize that impulse as much as possible? LinkedIn declined to comment for this story, but it sent over a couple of links, one to a blog post about how its users want "knowledge-based content" and another to a guide on becoming a LinkedIn creator that includes a fair amount of content but is a little hard to wade through. I am not among the 3,224 people apparently interested in an hourlong webinar on "nailing your niche," nor do I really want to see people share their posts and ask others why they think they underperformed. The goal for most people on LinkedIn is not to be a creator, anyway, it's just to live to fight another day in the working world. Given the weakness of the official advice, I decided to ask a bunch of people for tips on how to post in a non-cringe way on LinkedIn.

Brandon Smithwick, a LinkedIn creator and the head of content at Kickstarter, said it's generally a good idea to keep it short. "A post that's a huge dissertation or paragraphs, I'm scrolling past it, I'm going to bounce, I'm not reading that," he said. Memes do well, but it's also fine to just engage casually — share a blog post you like, comment on other people's posts, or just keep up a decent-looking profile. He schedules his posts and suggests others do the same, especially if it feels daunting to spend a lot of time on LinkedIn and come up with ideas. It may also be helpful for people who dread hitting the "post" button and seeing a message immediately go up.

Natalie Marshall, who goes by Corporate Natalie on social media, told me that since posting anywhere is by its nature cringey, the best approach is just to try to make content that isn't too forced. She tries to add some personal narrative or anecdotes to her posts and will ask followers about their experiences and feedback, but she's cognizant of length. "We're not storytellers here," she told me. She feels like she can "hide behind the written word" on LinkedIn more than on platforms where she's posting videos. It's a tough balancing act — she suggests people use a personal flair on the platform, but at one point in our conversation, she thought I accused her posts of being cringe.

Also, people should remember they can opt out of posting altogether. "If you don't want to post, don't," Marshall said. "Why is there this pressure to build your personal brand and build your LinkedIn and do these things?"

I also asked a pair of social-media managers — one at Business Insider and one at a different company — for their thoughts on LinkedIn posting. They offered up some tips: Try to ask a question at the end of a post, include some extra detail, maybe toss in some hashtags. Both also came to the same conclusion: There's no way to get around the cringe. "I have thought of it as part of the job, but doesn't make it any less cringe!" one told me. "I would say to embrace the cringe," the other said.

None of this is to dunk on LinkedIn as a platform — I like it very much! Of all of the social-media websites, I find it the most useful for my job. I just feel like a complete idiot being there sometimes. A lot of people do. Those are just the rules of the road.

"Eventually, you just kind of give in," Allebach said. "I'll do my best to write this how I would say it in real life, but ultimately I know I'm going to be still using certain line breaks and certain hooks and certain bulleted points or whatever it might be that I know the algorithm and my audience is going to favor, because ultimately I want to get some type of lead through this platform. I'm not just posting for my enjoyment on LinkedIn."

Nor am I. But I'll still be there, posting my stories (including this one), hoping people won't judge me.

Emily Stewart is a senior correspondent at Business Insider, writing about business and the economy.