After Tony J. Hughes, an Australia-based speaker and author, turned 50, he decided it was time to get serious about LinkedIn.
“I went on a journey, of insanity really,” he told me in a LinkedIn message. “I published a longform article on LinkedIn every day for seven months, even when I was on a three-week vacation with my family up in Vietnam. My family was very gracious in allowing me to do that.”
Hughes’s articles touch on trends — “Millennials Will NOT End Cold Calling by 2025! Preposterous!” — as well as offer advice for how to avoid burnout, build pipeline, and supercharge growth. His articles are optimistic, short and snappy, and usually contain at least one numbered or bulleted list.
“In a three year period I’ve published about 420 articles (nice) and I’ve found it to be transformative,” he told me.
Hughes is typical of what I’ve started to think of as the LinkedIn Thought Leader: a type of blogger personality that seems native to LinkedIn. LinkedIn Thought Leaders are typically in sales, and the time they spent on LinkedIn is considered “social selling,” which LinkedIn defines as establishing a professional brand, finding potential customers, sharing relevant content with those potential customers, and building trusting relationships that eventually turn into sales. Hughes is selling sales training. He offers a two-day workshop for corporate sales teams across the world at $10,000 for a team of 15 people or less.
Hughes has more than 220,000 followers on LinkedIn, and they often comment on his posts to thank him and add their own insights. “Very On-Point relevant piece!” read one typical comment on a post about combining sales and customer service. “Sales without Trust is like Fish without Chips, they are both intrinsically linked to each other to provide a sense of real value, without each other it just becomes a transactional experience.” “One has no value without the other, an important lesson for every professional.”
“Sales without Trust is like Fish without Chips...”
As someone who comes from a technology and marketing background, my LinkedIn feed is filled with this stuff — what seems to be a bustling community of sales professionals participating in a circular, performative dance, writing blog posts with generic tales about working hard, being persistent, and closing deals. These posts typically get comments like “Good read!” or “Well done!” Other posts take the form of “broems,” a term coined by BuzzFeed News to describe posts made as a series of terse sentences with a line break after each, like a Bukowski business school poem.
On one hand, it's nice to see so many like-minded people being so overly positive and enthusiastic with each other. On the other, it makes me feel like I am surrounded by #business stock images that have come to life. This is the kind of capitalist schmoozing that leads people to call the Microsoft-owned site the worst social network, and LinkedIn encourages it. LinkedIn even sells a product aimed at companies that want to boost their salespeople’s Social Selling Index, or SSI, which measures how well people are sharing, liking, and commenting on LinkedIn content. This SSI metric seems to incentivize both creating and sharing easily-digestible and scrollable content like broetry.
I wanted to know if this content generation actually helps people get jobs or be more successful at the jobs they have, and whether it is really as phony as it seems. I asked Jonathan Horowitz, a clinical psychologist and the Founder and Director of the SF Stress and Anxiety Center, why these bland messages seem to resonate. “Broadly speaking, in the United States, there’s a culture of work where people brag about working a lot, and working late, and that’s seen as a badge of honor,” he told me. “People certainly overestimate the number of hours they’ve worked. It's possible that when people posts these things, they're looking for adulation, and then when people are responding to those posts, liking and re-sharing those posts, they’re sending a signal that they share those values.”
It’s unclear if anyone outside of the sales thought leader community is engaging with these posts. The posts would generally considered “top of funnel” (TOFU if you’re really nasty) by marketing and sales folks. The “funnel” is the sales process, and top level activities have very broad goals, such as driving newsletter signups. By these measurements, clickbait-y articles and productivity parables make the most sense to create.
Sales is a high-pressure, individualistic field, and LinkedIn is a place where these professionals can find solidarity and motivation. It’s also not a bad way to advertise your skills if you happen to be, as many folks on LinkedIn are, looking for a new job.
It’s also handy if your clients are salespeople, and the product you are selling is advice on how to use LinkedIn. Christine Hueber is a marketing consultant who joined LinkedIn in 2006 and now has more than 15,000 followers. She now specializes in selling lessons on how to do social selling on LinkedIn. Hueber’s LinkedIn headline — where most people just put their name — is CHRISTINE HUEBER 🔷 SOCIAL SELLING SPEAKER🚀COACH🚀TRAINER🚀. It’s important to maximize this headline, she told me, but many users just put their job title. Hueber offers LinkedIn coaching as a core part of her sales and marketing training business, in which she teaches her clients how to maximize their profile, messaging style, and social selling strategy. Her prices range from free (for individuals getting a consultation) to over $10,000 (for large enterprise trainings), she told me.
When I asked Patricia Wallace, a psychologist and technology author whose books include The Psychology of the Internet, why generic, sales-y posts might be so popular, she made a similar remark to Horowitz. “This is a kind of one-upmanship game, which can, in some cases, attract more attention, and possible job offers,” she said. “People are not impressed with those who brag how little they work and are still successful. That simply suggests luck, or even deception. It's more effective to connect hard work with success, which also helps motivate other sales people.”
This is the kind of support that salespeople may not be able to get in their daily work lives, she told me. “Inside a company, salespeople are in competition with one another, so knowledge sharing is less likely and hoarding more common. But on LinkedIn, a salesperson can connect with people outside his/her company, especially people in various industries whose own sales people are not competitive, but more interested in reciprocity.”
My favorite post from a salesman is only three paragraphs long, and it’s about getting out of the sales game. It’s called “Life is short, but dead is a long time,” written by Jay Jensen, a car salesman from South Dakota. Jensen started using LinkedIn in February of this year, because he was contemplating a move to the Philippines and wanted to scope out the market. Unlike most of the LinkedIn Sales Thought Leaders, he’s not currently working in the field.
“Since all (I) have done was sales in my life and not sure what I could do there, i just started writing posts of my experiences in sales,” he told me in a LinkedIn message. Jensen now has over 13,000 followers on the platform. It “was accidental,” he told me. “Just happened. I started in February not knowing a single person, just wrote my posts and it took off from there… I like to say I am just a washed up car salesman from middle of nowhere South Dakota and people still follow me lol.”
Though he didn’t land a job to move to the Philippines, Jensen is still grateful for LinkedIn, which he said brought him friends and opportunities. He might write a book, he told me. “Never thought of that before. So it’s all great,” he told me, via inMail. Reading posts from salespeople on LinkedIn can feel like eavesdropping at a sales networking cocktail hour, but for Jensen, this odd community of like-minded professionals is a “blessing.” And there isn’t really any reason to expect LinkedIn bloggers to be anything but blandly positive. After all, this isn’t Twitter. It’s work.