We have a duty to preserve the integrity and value of social media platforms like LinkedIn, says Sarah Spivey, managing director at Modulift.
More than other social media platforms, LinkedIn puts a company's reputation in the hands of its employees. And it's worth looking at the consequences of that nuance.
First, I'll explain why I feel LinkedIn is different to, say, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, for example. On most of the aforementioned sites or apps, an individual's content is taken as their opinion. Users don't typically comment on a Facebook post, read a tweet, or like a photo on Instagram and immediately know where the poster of the content works. It might be apparent, and a business can post content in its own name, but words and photos are generally attributed in our conscience to the individual alone.
LinkedIn, by contrast, is built for, and used by, professionals. A person's job title and employer are clearly visible under their name, which sits above the content they've posted. Users automatically associate content not only with the individual, but also their company. It's a potential headache for owners and managers at large companies. Picture a stressful morning at the end of a financial year and 500 staffers logging onto LinkedIn over their lunch. They're not all going to post, "I hate this place," but at that moment the image of the business is in their hands.
That's just one scenario—an example of why employers and employees alike need to constantly review the way LinkedIn is being used and regularly check the bearings on their moral compasses. There are three particular areas of questionable practice that I've detected on the platform and it's worth tabling them for debate:
- voyeurism / predation;
- piggybacking on competitors' content;
- and recruiters tapping up people already in employment.
Let's look at each in more detail:
Voyeurism / predation
I was recently showed a screenshot by a fellow female professional in a senior position at a company, not of a dissimilar size to my own. It was a series of four messages, none of which my peer had replied to. Each included what I would consider inappropriate references to her appearance and their future relationship. I'm not going to get into a debate about sexual harassment but it was clear to me that these approaches were unprofessional. I've seen and heard of other examples too and would be lying if I hadn't questioned the motives of some of the messages I've received.
While it's troubling from a moral perspective, such behaviour is hugely damaging to the employers of individuals who abuse the platform and the brands they represent. Those on the receiving end of such approaches, and others they share them with, automatically haul into question the ethics of the company where they work. Fairly or not, questions are asked about the type of people they employ and the education / training that is made available so they understand the way such professional networking sites should be used. If a person is of suspect intent online, how might they behave after a few drinks at a networking function?
Honestly, I'm not sure where responsibility lies, and my intent in this blog isn't really to decide. Needless to say individuals should consider carefully the nature of their connection requests, messages, and posts. Employers, meanwhile, should make it clear to new and long-serving employees what is expected of them when they post anything that can trace back to the company. I'm sure LinkedIn also have their own policies about the use of their site.
In all instances, I'd encourage those on the receiving end of inappropriate content to report it so further investigation can take place. Nobody should feel obligated to acknowledge or reply to anything they're unsure about.
Many companies actively encourage their staff to post more readily to LinkedIn, but I wonder what percentage of those actually guide those employees on how to do so. Therein lies another talking point in the extent to which it's the employer's place to interfere. As far as I'm concerned if someone is on a platform beside their job title and company name, that employer has a right to say how they should be represented. Likewise, they should be able to put parameters in place about using social media on company time.
Anyway, I digress, somewhat…
My point is that this heightened activity has resulted in salespeople in particular piggybacking on competitors' and other people's content. Say, a car wrapping company has posted a picture of a customer's vehicle with a positive post about the colour, body kit, and client's satisfaction. The owner of the car might even have posted a response saying how pleased they are, praising the customer service. Then, another wrapping firm posts underneath that they could have done the job better and at cheaper cost. There's nothing illegal about the practice but I question it morally and don't believe it's part of the social media highway code.
I don't have any problem with a salesperson identifying buying decision makers in a sector and building a relationship with them but I'd never suggest that any of my staff find posts from employees at alternative spreader beam providers and hijack the dialogue. It's a shame because I fear companies will stop posting good content, promoting their relationships, if the sector's opportunists jump in and cheapen it.
There are days when I wonder whether LinkedIn is truly a business networking platform or a glorified recruitment site. Its powers that be wouldn't thank me for saying that but I've become increasingly aware of my staff and those that work for peers and contacts, in my sector and others, being hounded by recruitment companies and agents. Ok, if a company is doing the right things and looking after its personnel, why would they want to leave? But constant approaches are a distraction that nobody really needs.
I'm no fence-sitter but at the risk of getting creosote on my backside, I'm not sure exactly where I stand on this matter. Part of me feels that it's a free and open market, and anyone can talk to whomever they wish about presenting a new opportunity to someone or taking one themselves. However, I'll admit to being somewhat galled when a person has been paid by a company to build relationships and understand a sector, only to be located on a keyword search and be offered the world by a recruitment agent representing a competitor—all on the time and money of their existing employer.
What do you think?
Thank you for reading.