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LinkedIn and Professionalism: Some Unsolicited Advice

In my rookie social media days many years ago, several of my accounts were connected. Yeah, I'll admit that. Such a faux pas, I know. My accounts were all linked so that I could hit publish once, and the post would go everywhere.

Luckily, in the past ten or so years of practicing and preaching healthy social media habits, I've learned better.

There was one instance that stood out to me in that time of cross-promotion madness. During a wild football game, I tweeted support for one of my favorite teams. Do you know what happened next?

It was published to LinkedIn.

Almost immediately, I got a notification that someone commented on my post. It read, "This is LinkedIn. Not Facebook. Try to be a little bit more professional."

I knew the person who wrote it.

It was a man who recently sold me health insurance (because that's how insurance was handled in those days, pre-ACA).

So I decided on two things that day:

  1. I was going to find a new insurance agent.

  2. I was going to separate my social media accounts and manage each one a little bit differently, with content that was better suited for each one. Because, more than anything, I wanted to avoid the LinkedIn Appropriateness Police.

The LinkedIn Appropriateness Police

We've all done it. We've judged people for the trivial things they may have posted on LinkedIn.

"Because LinkedIn is for serious, buttoned-up professionals ONLY."


According to the user agreement for LinkedIn, each user is expected to use LinkedIn in a professional manner yes.

But what constitutes professional these days?

Is it professional to talk about what you ate for breakfast? Possibly, especially when working from your kitchen table early in the morning before your family wakes up.

Should you post about your children? Perhaps, especially when they just learned a new skill, such as how to email their teachers to ask about assignments.

Many workers, entrepreneurs, and individuals make little-to-no distinction between who they are and what they do for a living – especially now – so accusing someone of not being professional on LinkedIn is no longer valid because professionalism takes many forms.

In 2020, when people work from the same table that they celebrate Thanksgiving on, the lines of what constitutes as "professional" are even more blurry than they were just one or two or three years ago.

Some unsolicited (yet older) advice on how to LinkedIn

In 2017, I wrote a similar post, and this was the advice I gave:

  1. Stop commenting or interacting with posts that are "iffy." Did you know that your network is likely to see it when you like or comment on someone's post? Yes, that means when you comment "such a beautiful girl" in a creepy way on a woman's picture or "that's not appropriate!" on a political post, it speaks VOLUMES about who you are to your network (presumably, the people you'd like to do business with someday). Plus, you elevate that post and expose it to a new network of possible fans. The bottom line is that you are the reason why ideas and posts spread, even the ones you disagree with. Be mindful of what you choose to interact with.

  2. Don't get stuck thinking your work should speak for itself. Nope. Organic reach will be more and more challenging to achieve over the next several months, and many people are turning to the fine art of shameless self-promotion. Good. Let them. Don't hate on anyone proud of their hard work and accomplishments. You'll see many of these posts going around from time to time. Selfies in a new office or at a new desk, perhaps. Hey, it's okay for people to share this kind of stuff. They're not breaking any rules by tooting their own horn.

  3. Quit thinking that a professional should look or act a certain way. Many of us (especially in the creative field) have gigs and side gigs that encourage us to be diverse in our thoughts, actions, convictions, and beliefs. And these diverse professionals are going to find more ways of being disruptive on sites like LinkedIn because we're encouraged to be disruptive in our jobs. It's just what we do. We challenge. Many don't work a traditional 9-to-5, and most don't dress formally for our jobs. That informality is undoubtedly going to be reflected in our profiles and posts on this site.

This advice is still valid three years later, but LinkedIn's environment has changed significantly in that time.

What is NOT professional in 2020?

After my insurance agent incident, I still see people not using LinkedIn correctly, but anti-professional definitions have changed.

Rather than posting personal updates or football scores, I see people using LinkedIn in some truly unprofessional ways, such as:

  1. Connecting with people for the sole purposes of cold-selling to them.

  2. Harassing people whom they find attractive.

  3. Expressing super-charged political opinions and hate-filled rhetoric.

Everything you post – trivial or not – is a direct reflection of your job, your company, and your work ethic because LinkedIn has done a h*ck of a job branding itself and carving its niche in the social media universe.

So let's cut some slack on the guy who just shared that his son graduated from college. And let's not give the CEO a hard time because she also happens to be an attractive woman.

Let us rather focus on the behaviors that are damaging:

  • The obsessive, stalkerish selling practices

  • Flirtation via DM

  • Posting political untruths or outright conspiracy theories

Those things have no place in my timeline, my messages, or my eyeballs. And certainly not on LinkedIn.

Speaking of LinkedIn, connect with me here for much more unsolicited advice.


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