For a sardonic blockbuster franchise that flagrantly tosses bullets and off-colour (or simply, blue) humour in the air, Deadpool is a dispensary of countless life lessons. An amoral hired gun, this acerbically witty, hedonist “bro” in red spandex just wants to heal his disfigured looks to keep his love and turn some bad boys into good men. In this story of redemption loaded with pranks, exaggerated winks and regular breaking of the fourth wall, the anti-hero has inspired many others in real life, including the wisecracking actor who plays him, Ryan Reynolds, to push themselves in unexpected directions.
After the flunker that was DC Comics’ Green Lantern, Reynolds caught lightning in a bottle with the success of his Marvel outing. These days, he is trending for a different reason, growing an enterprising empire comprising a flurry of portfolios such as the co-owner of Welsh football club Wrexham, a financial backer of Renault’s Alpine F1 team and a big player in the telecommunications start-up scene. These ventures all point to a common achievement: a serial investor. The formula? Purchase a stake in a business with potential and deploy one’s considerable marketing chops. His weapon of choice? A most unusual online tool that capitalises on his quick verbal synapses and swaggering persona: LinkedIn.
You probably have chanced upon at least one of the following on the Microsoft-owned social network: The posturing, cringe-inducing humblebrag of a CEO’s son pulling himself up by his “bootstraps” or a life hack no one asked for that may or may not involve an American businessman who went viral for joking about cooking chicken fillets in a hotel room’s coffee pot. Naggier than Twitter and less impersonal than Facebook, LinkedIn — stultified by résumés manicured like a public relations fact sheet and incessant pings for endorsements to boost one’s ego — is essentially a networking brunch that has been transported to the virtual realm and made available virtually to the entire world.
So far, the career-building site has amassed nearly 930 million members in 200 countries, offering a running feed of job advice, industry news and a steady flow of deep industry insights. But here is the kicker: It is not just seasoned professionals flocking to this decidedly smug corner of the internet. Alongside your over-achieving former university mates, crazy ex-bosses and recruiters who keep pitching you the wrong job, famous names such as Barack Obama, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Lopez, Bill Gates and Reynolds are actively on it too.
Most of us spend the bulk of our time sharing articles, obsessing over our headshot to see if it nails that first impression or dodging unwanted connection requests. Surely, the former US president or Silicon Valley magnate has no interest in or need to do any of that. So why have acting bigwigs, musicians and politicians — the most popular of whom have millions of followers — taken their careers to a platform that has always played a minor character in major narratives of championing the digital frontier?
Daniel Roth, editor-in-chief of LinkedIn, who (according to his Experience page, of course) hung out with Nike co-founder Phil Knight and travelled cross-country with Donald Trump, revealed that celebrities are also buffing the sheen on their life feats, connecting with talents who work in their industry and showcasing their interests, just like any ordinary jobseeker. These stars leverage their candid posts to create new content marketing businesses, highlight other profitable side hustles and usher in activism. For example, supermodel Karlie Kloss, who positions herself as a tech enthusiast, launched Kode with Klossy to empower girls between 13 and 18 to learn coding and explore concepts in front- and back-end software engineering.
Additionally, LinkedIn has been designed as a free market of opportunities where Paltrow can, say, devise an inroad to spread her Goop gospel around more parts of Asia or Obama can promote another TV show to document his presidential turkey pardoning and dad jokes. And in case anyone is curious or, you know, looking to hire, “part-time actor” Reynolds has listed re-writing, tweeting, mixing cocktails, back-end engineering for software platforms and watching lower-tier Welsh football matches as skills. Proficiency, as the sharp-witted Canadian remarks, “ranges from excellent to absolutely awful”.
Apart from some trivial nuisance that spawned a series of memes in the New Yorker cartoons, the quietly triumphant and low-drama LinkedIn stands out among its social media peers because it has not spent the last few years entangled in a menacing scandal or a childish feud between mighty moguls. In this digital sandbox where leaders are constantly rewarded, but also reprimanded, for displays of hypermasculinity, it does not expose itself as a target for predators or even a gathering place for pot stirrers.
A closer dig into LinkedIn’s refreshed interface also shows that it is no longer the uncool kid of yore after introducing a slew of new features — think of it as installing the latest, cutting-edge sound system in an old-school Ford. To ramp up reach, its Creator Mode encourages users to publish more of their original content with an eye on becoming influencers or, in corporate speak, thought leaders. This new setting allows hashtags to be posted high on your profile, detailing the subjects you write about most frequently (Roth’s would be #economics, #newstoday, #leadershipgrowth, and so on) so others can follow you based on similar interests.
Swap your polished corporate profile picture for a 30-second introductory clip as LinkedIn presents more video and audio functions that enable emotional exchanges on topics like parenting tips, mental health or the meaning of life. Work anniversaries and promotion announcements still drive much of the conversation on the platform but vulnerability — moments when a successful self-made company owner or an award-winning actress drops all pretence and speaks with candour — moves conversations forward. However, share your personal stories judiciously. Although boundaries between office and home continue to blur, it may be awkward to read about the inner psyche of the people you know only from job interviews or a full disclosure of their most intimate selves that seems juiced for gaining attention.
LinkedIn has gained extra meaning along the way, like mobilising the burgeoning movement “commenting for reach” triggered by the wave of tech-sector layoffs earlier this year. Professional acquaintances respond with the phrase to help people who write about losing their jobs get seen by recruiters and other contacts. At times, lending an ear instead of one-upping your industry peers, whether in Hollywood or not, in the gamified world of social networking is more gratifying than being notified the number of times you have appeared in yet another irrelevant job search this week. Humility, without bragging, is the new pride.
This article first appeared on July 24, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.