The Linguistics of LinkedIn

I have been watching this presentation 20 Tips to Amplify Your Brand on LinkedIn from LinkedIn for Small Business this morning and appreciating how well LinkedIn’s way of thinking about the process of professional self-presentation is aligned with my own WaLK vision for the process of applying linguistics to the job search.

First of all, the metaphor they are using, that of amplification, is in fact the metaphor that I have been using to think about using this tool.   You do the work of presenting yourself professionally, you do the work of building a network and then LinkedIn will amplify it!  I played with the metaphor of a lever, but “leverage” is already so overused, and also amplify feels more linguistic.  It is after all, all about the language!

Story.  Slide 10 talks about “telling your brand story”

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As an analyst of narrative, I am interested to see what they choose to highlight graphically here, but also that the words that are chosen to describe storytelling here: “showcase” and “highlight” are also very visual.  There is a big push to bring the visual into LinkedIn these days, but I would want to remember the power of language here.  The Summary is indeed our best place to tell a story, as it provides the most structural freedom of the sections on the LinkedIn profile.  Interestingly, many people do create structure there.

In a recent pilot project, my team of researchers and I found that the average number of sections created here was three.  And what do people do with these sections?  It varies!

Some people choose to play with timescales, beginning with a section describing the present, then moving to the recent past, and ending with some thoughts about the future (a great formula for “TMAY”).  Others divide the section more conceptually, talking in the first paragraph about interests, then moving to describe tasks that exemplify these, and ending with a description of concrete skills.  Some people do away with structure entirely, using this section to actually tell a story (about the discovery of one’s calling), a poem, or client recommenations.

Further, as someone who advocates for a “resume as narrative” perspective, I was thrilled to see the first job under the Experience section being included in the story.  Following Goffman, I would say that such information is more of a “given off” story than it is a “given” story, but it reflects a crucial understanding of narrative structure.  When we tell a story, we have to decide what we say first, and what we say first carries meaning because it is heard first.  With the description of your current job, you can narrate the future by describing the aspects of your job in the order of duties that you would most like to do more or do again in the next job.

The presentation goes on to say “let your network speak for you” reflecting another crucial understanding of voicing gleaned from literary theorist Bakhtin.  In choosing to present other voices, metaphorically double – voicing them, we are given rhetorical distance from these words and the social implications of bragging “I’m not bragging, I’m just sharing the words of others who brag about me.”

LinkedIn has put their awareness of Speech Act Theory to good practice with the inclusion of new features like “endorsements” and reccommendations” letting your network do for you things that you would never be able to do for yourself.

Next in this LinkedIn series, I will consider how LinkedIn puts theory to practice in talking about their own organization in their Company Pages.

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