She wanted to be open and real. So Erika Taylor-Beck got vulnerable on social media.
“I don’t always have it all together,” she wrote before revealing that she had been sexually abused, had turned to self-harm and binge drinking as coping mechanisms and has struggled with social anxiety and depression.
“I share my ‘dirty laundry’ because it has made me who I am … I’m grateful, and I want to help others get here too.”
Taylor-Beck, 40, made these confessions along with words of encouragement on LinkedIn, the social network more than 930 million people use globally for professional networking and job searching.
As a vice president of e-learning and health care compliance company Relias, she wanted to lead by example.
“I wanted to create a culture where folks felt like they could bring their whole selves to work,” she said. “So sharing my experiences so you feel safe to share yours.”
After the pandemic blurred the lines between work and home, many employees reprioritized their lives, giving more emphasis to well-being and family.
As a result, workers have become comfortable getting personal on LinkedIn, sharing engagement announcements, their fertility journeys, cancer diagnoses, relationship statuses, funny pet moments, even what they cooked for dinner.
Though many post this content sparingly, some say it humanizes themselves to their professional network.
Others say their stories tie in with lessons that could be applied to business. Some find the content annoying.
LinkedIn may be benefiting from shifts in the social media landscape.
X, formerly known as Twitter, has lost many of its power users as the app becomes less functional for free accounts under billionaire owner Elon Musk.
Meanwhile, after an impressive debut, Threads, the latest app from Facebook owner Meta, has seen a slowdown in activity.
Instagram and TikTok continue to thrive among younger users, especially with video content.
LinkedIn says its user engagement doubled during the beginning of the pandemic and experienced a 40% rise between 2021 and 2023.
The number of users who visit the site at least once a month is forecast to increase by more than 8 million to 84.1 million by 2027, with Gen Z serving as a major driver of growth, data from market research company Insider Intelligence shows.
In that same period, Facebook users are expected to decline by 600,000 to 177.3 million, and Instagram’s users are forecast to grow by 20.2 million to 155.4 million.
LinkedIn says it saw a jump in personal posts during the height of the pandemic, but that has since slowed.
To ensure people’s feeds stay useful, the company made changes to its algorithm.
It now surfaces more posts from people’s direct connections and followers as well as those from people outside their networks that are grounded in professional knowledge and advice.
Still, LinkedIn content is mirroring a larger societal shift that is happening in the workplace.
“We are much more open as professionals to talk about what we do beyond our work and to show vulnerability in how we operate,” said Dan Roth, LinkedIn’s editor in chief and vice president.
“There’s a craving for authenticity. You want to work with people who are real people, not bots.”
Choice to be vulnerable
Users who choose to be more vulnerable on LinkedIn say that sharing parts of their personal lives has benefited them.
They are able to reveal their authentic selves, relate to others and often receive meaningful responses from their followers.
For Rachel B. Lee, a 35-year-old co-owner and chief marketing officer of marketing firm StandOut Authority, sharing personal experiences online is imperative to building a successful brand, including hers.
She recently posted a photo of herself crying in her car coupled with the story behind the photo: She was grieving the third canceled transfer during her in vitro fertilization journey.
In the post, she stresses the importance of mental health and offers tips.
“It’s part of my mission to give people permission to share their voice authentically,” the Austin, Texas, resident said.
“That’s what we do as a business, so if I can’t live in that spirit, that’s a problem.”
Some LinkedIn users who started sharing parts of their personal lives on the platform found it to be rewarding in more ways than one.
Casey Nelson, founder and CEO of tech consulting company StakWise Data Automation, recently shared something he hadn’t told anyone past his inner circle of friends and family: He’s going through a divorce.
Nelson, of Waxahachie, Tex., said he revealed the news because he wanted his professional connections to know why he hadn’t been posting lately, as he often uses LinkedIn to connect with clients.
He also recalled how a friend’s previous Facebook post discussing her divorce helped reassure him about his. He wanted to pay it forward.
“I was just hoping it helped someone,” he said, adding that he received several private messages following the post. “If it helped someone, it was worth it.”
Several LinkedIn users said their personal stories are geared toward exploring broader life or professional lessons.
Jenna Fisher, managing director of executive search and leadership advisory firm Russell Reynolds Associates, said she typically posts about women’s advancement in top executive jobs and leadership trends.
But in a recent post, she talked about her surgery for her deviated septum after years of not being able to breathe properly.
“We don’t realize [self-imposed constraints] are there until they’re gone,” the 49-year-old Bay Area resident said. “I never thought about the fact I wasn’t breathing well until I could.”
When Anthony Romanello, executive director of the Henrico County Economic Development Authority in Virginia, shared a photo and story about his daughter’s first day of school, it was an extension of what he had been doing for years.
Romanello sends emails he calls “random thoughts” to his colleagues to tell stories and connect with them on a human level.
His LinkedIn post aimed to touch on the idea of lifelong learning, he said.
“Storytelling is very powerful,” he said. “We can use stories for good government or good business, and it draws us closer together to be more effective.”
But others say some personal content may be annoying. “I’ve seen a lot of people complain about it,” Americus Reed, professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said about posts that are purely personal.
“People have a lower tolerance for this type of stuff because LinkedIn is so well situated in its professional identity.”
Purpose of a post
When it comes to baring your innermost thoughts, feelings or experiences, does it help or hurt to share them on a professional social network?
According to social media and business experts, that all depends on what you’re trying to convey and how you do it.
Ovul Sezer, assistant professor of management and organizations at the Cornell S.C. Johnson College of Business, has studied impressions of different types of profiles on LinkedIn.
She said many of the takeaways can also apply to posting.
“If you talk about your journey – the ups and downs – then people tend to think you are more likable, and it presents humility,” she said. “Before you post, ask yourself, ‘Does this say something specific about my journey?’”
Users should also think about what brand they’re trying to create. After all, you are a brand whether you like or not, Reed said.
Your brand should express a set of values that represent your ethos, mission and what you stand for, he said.
“As I think about posting my personal story, what am I trying to convey about myself?” Reed said. “What do I think [others] are going to think, and what lesson am I trying to give that would reflect on the perception of me? It’s a strategic kind of thinking.”
Research shows that people get positive mental effects from expressing personal elements about themselves to others, said Sunny Xun Liu, associate director of the Stanford Social Media Lab, which studies the psychological and interpersonal processes of social media.
But how others perceive these confessions may not always be equal, she added.
“For men [mostly leaders] … people will think they’re competent,” she said. “But for lower ranks [and sometimes women], people may think they’re less competent.”
Taylor-Beck, the vice president who spoke of her mental health challenges, said she’s not too worried about what people think.
Her posts weed out potential connections and employers she may not want to work with.
And though she still gets a little nervous when she gets vulnerable on LinkedIn, she said she never regrets posting.
“I get so many direct messages from people saying … I didn’t know anyone else was going through that because no one talks about it,” she said. “That’s part of why I do it because so many folks are afraid.”