As the world’s most trusted platform for business networking, LinkedIn represents every brand genre, industry sector and profession. But most importantly, it’s a repository of real humans, their stories and professional challenges.
And by gee did all that come to the fore in 2020.
In January this year, I wrote about the communication shift on LinkedIn due to the horrific bushfire crises. As Australians rallied to support community and business, I observed that self-promotion on LinkedIn was put on hold.
It’s actually surreal reading that article now, as back in January, we had absolutely no idea what would ultimately unfold in 2020.
In March, as the reality of COVID-19 became apparent, I wrote how the LinkedIn community was once again shifting focus in the face of the pandemic.
But it was only the beginning of how LinkedIn would adapt.
As Professor Catherine Bennett, the chair in epidemiology at Deakin University, told me, “LinkedIn has been an important vehicle for my academic and community voice in the COVID-19 crisis”.
“It’s been a safe and less divisive platform to share information in a volatile environment. Content has facilitated conversations, brokered knowledge and built a broad network.”
An overview of LinkedIn in 2020
LinkedIn engagement is reported to have increased by 31% in Q3 2020, with global membership reaching 722 million, while Australian membership officially sits at just above 11 million (as of January).
Further, there has been a 50% year-on-year increase in sharing content.
The fabric of engagement shifted due to working-from-home requirements, lockdowns, extra time online, job losses and business closures. Meanwhile, some businesses and sectors fared well and actually had additional communication needs.
Alongside fear and heartbreak was comfort, knowledge and empowerment. LinkedIn, with all its faults, has done a great job of reflecting workplace, human, community and business moods.
Notably, discussions about mental health and wellbeing on the platform have had huge traction this year.
Graeme Cowan, resilience leader and director at RUOK? told me “content and engagement has significantly increased during 2020, and has been more honest, with less bravado as a result of working from home, job losses and wellbeing issues”.
Inspiring, educating and sharing value was more important than ever this year, and this is reflected in the 50% content increase. But it is still reported that less than 1% of the 722 million members on LinkedIn share content.
Humour and light-hearted posts were also seen among the more sombre and call-to-action content.
Reflecting on the use of humour in commercial content, Scene Change co-owner Ian Whitworth told me “LinkedIn has become more supportive and personal since the pandemic”.
“People respond more to stories and shared their vulnerability, fears and mistakes (which received wider reach and thoughtful comment).”
There was also a raft of new features, free learning and recruitment tools and updates during the year. Some brilliant, others meh.
‘Stories’ were launched, but as they are only available on mobile for 24 hours, and given the split of usage of mobile and desktop, success is to be determined.
Notably, I polled LinkedIn users about their content format preferences earlier this year, and 77% said text and images were preferable. This means engagement on Stories is still questionable.
The recruitment industry took a big hit on and off LinkedIn this year, but for some agencies, there was great engagement.
Reo Group CEO Stella Petrou Concha told me “LinkedIn continued to be super important in 2020 for personal branding and corporate engagement … [through] sharing content that supported the market created created enormous trust and visibility and deeper levels of interaction”.
Interestingly, 2020 saw many users who had been passively reading LinkedIn posts get more active and visible.
Digital Citizen founder Trevor Young told me “I have observed an uptake of people sharing content who had totally disregarded LinkedIn previously”.
“Many who had been lurkers started to participate and engage meaningfully during 2020 regularly and with value.”
A diverse lens
Content on LinkedIn is as diverse as the sectors and goals represented across the 722 million members. The platform represents all levels, from prime ministers, scientists and world leaders, to local businesses, global celebrities, graduates and the unemployed.
The richness of contributions is quite remarkable when you dive in and view it broadly.
Coaching Leadership director Simon Popley told me “humans are enacted by others, meaning we need other people to be able to see ourselves”.
“Without others we become smaller and LinkedIn is an important means to connect and be heard.
“During 2020, I observed a higher and deeper level of content engagement which reduced risks of dissociation and loss of connection with others.
“LinkedIn enables our ‘sense of self’ feeling more supported.”
When it comes to LinkedIn, this year has delivered a reduction in self-aggrandizing fluff and a positive shift in why and how members engage and add content value.
And this bodes well to deliver more of the same in 2021.