I’m doing a PhD in Administration at Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. During the course of my doctoral research about user experiences of LinkedIn I came across the discussion of paid and unpaid work and looked for research groups that could support me in this discussion. In this search, I found Work Futures Research Center (WFRC) that has generated important insights for the development of the thesis.
LinkedIn is also used to advertise products and services, such as those of mentors and coaches, who offer formulas for making a career transition, getting a raise and increasing the audience on the platform. What these posts have in common is to show the positive and sometimes idealized side of the market and work relationships, which has earned the nickname Linkedisney.
It is a space where personal and business brands are built, made visible, and sometimes ruined. To join LinkedIn, you must use your real name. Nicknames and fictitious names are not allowed. Visibility on the platform leads users to deal as imagined surveillance (Duffy; Chan, 2019), from recruiters and audience to their posts.
Considering LinkedIn as a social network in which users-workers always seem to be happy and celebrating achievements, the interest and key research question emerged: how user-worker existences (Latour, 2019; Souriau, 2020) are constituted in LinkedIn from the interactions that occur in the technological interface of the platform-company; and the posts that circulate inside and outside it?
The purpose of my doctoral research is to understand how and what existences of users-workers LinkedIn enables and constrains. To this end, we selected digital ethnography (Hine, 2015) as a strategy for conducting the research such as following connections and content that circulate on the platform.
While conducting our digital ethnography on the platform, we heard the following phrase: “I love LinkedIn, everything is beautiful there, I only read good things”. But this is not the universal experience of the platform. There is, even within LinkedIn, critical content that deviates from the predominant message transmitted on the network and deconstructs the values of management. Studying these deviant voices can also yield good results. With this idea in mind we started following user profiles and participating in a Brazilian Facebook group that performs a critical analysis of the postings on the platform.
Our theoretical approach addresses technology as one of the component elements of human existence. Human beings constitute technologies and these, in turn, act as mediators in the human relationship with the world, participating in the definition of realities and subjectivities.
From immersion in the field, we raised the following research questions:
1) What are the uses and behaviors that LinkedIn’s infrastructure enables and constrains?
2) What are the experiences and practices that permeate the everyday encounter of users with LinkedIn’s algorithms and the negotiations with aspects of imagined surveillance on the platform?
3) What are the affectations promoted by the platform for the professionals who are part of it?
4) What are the contents that most resonate on the platform?
These users who make the critical content were called anti-linkedIn. But exploring this movement allowed us to see that they do not problematize the platform itself, despite some questioning directed to content moderation. Instead, they critique the circulating content, what some LinkedIn users post, like exaggerated or invented stories, the fanfics.
Calling themselves “anti-coaching,” “anti-toxic positivity,” or “social justice” promoters, these users aim to encourage healthier relationships with work, balance with personal life, raise awareness about abusive relationships, and build solidarity networks that worked very well in the pandemic to help with relocations, refer job openings, format resumes, report problematic and abusive postings.
But, after all, what is the importance of this movement? The users who interact with the posts circulating inside and outside LinkedIn, emphasize that reading the posts and participating in the group promotes mental health, because it is a space where they can express their anguishes and feel relieved to realize that they don’t need to seek perfection in their careers. The existences instituted by the Facebook Group and influencers is at the service of metamorphosis and new existences (Latour, 2019; Souriau, 2020). And all this is promoted by sharing content that bothers and mobilizes, through “teasing” and satire, enhanced by the LinkedIn algorithm that spreads posts organically.
And what does the use and behaviors on the LinkedIn platform tell us about the future of work? Narratives of the groups and LinkedIn user profiles allow us to think about ways to transform our relations with work and the way companies approach professionals, how to seek greater balance between personal and professional life, understand that not everyone needs to be happy at work, that transparency in work relationships is the key. About the use of the platform itself, we can think that Linkedin is no longer a mere online resume, but can become a space of tension and protests, criticism, questioning, denunciations and sharing of information, so that users-workers can make professional choices in a conscious and informed way. After all, isn’t LinkedIn a space to establish valuable connections?
Duffy, B. E.; Chan, N. K. (2018). “You never really know who’s looking”: Imagined surveillance across social media plataforms. New media & Society, v. 21, n. 1, p. 119-138.
Hine, C. (2015). Ethnography for the internet: embedded, embodied and everyday. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Latour, B. (2019). Investigação sobre os modos de existência: uma antropologia dos modernos. Petrópolis: Vozes.
Pardim, V. I.; Luis H. C. Pinochet, L. H. C., Souza, C. A.; Viana, A. B. N. (2022). The behavior of young people at the beginning of their career through LinkedIn. RAM, v. 23, n. 3, p. 1-28.
Souriau, E. (2020). Diferentes modos de existência. São Paulo: n-1 edições, 2020.