LinkedIn as a replacement for academic Twitter: micro-blogs vs Twitter threads

I always found LinkedIn a sterile place in comparison to the vibrancy of academic Twitter. I’ve deleted numerous accounts over the years; establishing new ones because it feel like a sensible thing to do as a freelancer before once more coming to the conclusion the site was pointless and deleting it. This began to change when I left Twitter in December 2019 in frustration at how it tended to blur the boundaries between the personal and the professional. At this point LinkedIn felt like a relief because it was so obviously narrowly professional. It was rare to see anything personal on there, with the downside being that the professional content was rarely intellectually interesting. The more important discovery was how utterly devoid of stickiness the platform was.

While I found it extremely difficult to post on Twitter without immediately getting sucked in (reading tweets, posting more tweets, seeing who responded to my tweets etc) I could quite happily post something on LinkedIn and immediately forget about it. It was in that sense relatively easy to use LinkedIn as social media, rather than live in it, invoking a distinction of Mark Fisher’s which has always captured what I think a healthy relationship to social platforms looks like. In this sense I didn’t care about LinkedIn. It had no affective importance to me, it wasn’t bound up in dynamics of identity and interaction for me in the way that Twitter was. I’ve been thinking about this recently because having commandeered the account of the now retired Post-Pandemic University project in the intention I use it to send occasional tweets, I’ve found myself logging into the damn thing on a near daily basis.

Despite having deleted my (second) personal Twitter account a few months ago, rarely logging in or even thinking about the service in the meantime, the alacrity with which old habits return is really quite startling. This might in part reflect my own propensity towards compulsive behaviour and the depth of my immersion in the platform during the 2010s where I started at least 30 twitter accounts and often maintained 10 at the same time, including some extremely high profile ones such as Sociological Imagination, The Sociological Review and LSE British Politics & Policy. While I think this depth and range of immersion left me particularly vulnerable to the dispositional moulding of what Richard Seymours calls the twittering machine, I nonetheless don’t think it is unique to me. I am an extremely case which reveals a broader tendency. My belief is that many academics have a similarly compulsive relationship to Twitter, albeit less pronounced than my own, with this manifesting in a deeply ambivalent relationship to the platform.

In contrast I find it difficult to see how one could feel compulsively about LinkedIn. The professional sterility is just so baked into our perceptions of the platform that it would be hard to reverse, even if Microsoft go all in on persuasive design. This sterility has diminished in recent months because one suspects a lot of academics have begun to migrate to LinkedIn from Twitter. The level of engagement and quality of discussion on the platform has notably increased in my experience. I’ve found it particularly useful to post what would on Twitter be a thread (the screenshot below is literally a thread turned into a paragraph) on Linkedin as a microblog and found I’ve reliably had more responses of better quality than I received on Twitter. Interestingly, I don’t have the inclination to do this writing on LinkedIn in the same way I do on Twitter. It doesn’t feel like it provides an occasion for writing in the way the Twitter interface does. But the discussions are nonetheless so much better than Twitter now facilitates that I wonder if it makes sense to see the platform as a viable alternative to Musk’s incarnation of the bird site.

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