Ethnography of the University / Ethnography of the University: Focus on Knowledge 2020 / Undergraduate Ethnography

“‘Professionalism’ is another workplace dinosaur”: Crafting the Authentic Persona on LinkedIn, By Sabrina Wu (Ethnography of the University 2020: Focus on Knowledge)

This final paper was part of the coursework for the Ethnographic Practicum course, “Ethnography of the University 2020: Focus on Knowledge”

Two profile pictures are laid out directly side by side in a LinkedIn post; the one on the left is taken in bright portrait mode of a woman with straightened blonde hair in a black blazer over a button-up navy striped shirt, while the image on the right is of the same woman in dim lighting, wavy hair, and a widened smile. Both are pictures of user Lauren Griffiths but are starkly contrasted against each other. The bright, professionally taken photo on the left blended in with most LinkedIn profile pictures, showing potential employers that the workers in these photos are competent and experienced for a white-collar job. Yet, the dim image on the right popped out against the sea of texts, job updates, and congratulatory comments on the LinkedIn timeline, invoking a feeling of shock and intrigue. User Lauren Griffiths writes in her caption, “Today’s remote world has blurred the lines between my professional and personal selves, so I’ve chosen to represent that in my photo” (@Lauren Griffiths 2020). Comments were swarmed with both remarks commending Griffiths for showing off the ‘real’ her, while others took the opportunity to broadly comment on the need to separate one’s work life and personal or family life. 

@Lauren Griffiths. Screenshot of professional and personal profile pictures. Sept. 2020. Fieldnotes.

 Lauren Griffiths’ LinkedIn post became viral in early September of 2020 during a liminal state of the Coronavirus pandemic where some employees were returning to in-office work, some remained working remotely, some in a mix of both remote and on-site work, while others continued to seek employment. The onset of mandated work from home had exacerbated a blurring effect of time and space, which resist being compartmentalized into either a physical work environment or home space. However, this liminal state has been negotiated through the incorporation of the personal, authentic persona into the professional environment. The personal and professional have previously been dichotomized, as showcased by commenters who pushed for firm boundaries, but are now merging as both a constituent of this transitional climate and a sanctioned necessity. The consumer world in a post-World War II era is saturated with superficial advertisements, leading to an increased demand for more authenticity (Banet-Weiser 2012, 3). In a commercial environment, the juxtaposed image of an authentic person is distinguished to be more accepted and trusted by those seeking unique genuineness. 

However, unlike the diversity of opinions in the comments on Griffiths’ post, the trend that followed included users recreating a similar contrast with two distinct profile pictures side-by-side, while mimicking the same narrative formula. Several posts from managers, newly graduated job seekers, and human resource representatives carried parallel structures of using a heartfelt story to demonstrate authenticity and invoke a pedagogical insight. Users then needed to conform to an established set of social rules on how to write about authenticity, which contradicts the notion of authenticity as unmediated and original. This puzzle led to my research question: what textual strategies do LinkedIn users adopt to construct a relatable, authentic self in a professional profile? 

A Site in Transition: Integrating Personhood 

The push for curating an authentic persona on LinkedIn acts as a microcosmic reflection of offline workplaces in North America. According to the Canada’s Top 100 Employers competition, Canadian companies in particular have boasted human resource policies that enable employees to “bring their whole-self to work” in the last five years (Mediacorp Canada Inc. 2016). This includes health and wellness initiatives, family-friendly policies, and social activities so that companies can nourish personal development even if it pertains to skills or hobbies beyond the job. These acts recognize that employees’ personal and professional life can be difficult to separate and that leaving room for staff members’ personal life to expand can actually benefit the company. LinkedIn mirrored this sentiment as a site in transition. The platform has undergone and continues to be transformed from a professional networking and job search engine site to a social media platform. LinkedIn was originally created in 2003 as a database for users to search for available jobs and make connections within their industries, however, it has gradually shifted to a more narrative-based organization with the introduction of notable social media features that focus on user-generated content. 

In April 2019, LinkedIn expanded their reactions feature from likes to five different options: “like,” “celebrate,” “support,” “love,” “insightful,” and “curious,” connoting the incorporation of multiple dimensions of engagement for LinkedIn users. The recognition of various feedback responses both allows room for diverse encounters and restricts the ability to deviate from the appropriate interactions for the platform. The comments section is also structured to prompt prewritten responses as suitable interactions. Suggested responses include “Congrats __,” “Good luck with your new role,” and “Wishing you all the best!” The efficient option of clicking a button to express a preformulated reaction enforces a level of uniformity and professionalism, as they are assigned by LinkedIn itself. However, informal lingo such as “Congrats” is also provided as an option, signaling that casual remarks and behaviour can also be appropriate under certain circumstances. LinkedIn also introduced a stories feature in 2020, resembling Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook. These additions on the platform encourage personal engagement in sharing more of users’ spontaneous experiences while adhering to the site’s template for employment-related content. 

On the desktop version, LinkedIn is organized into three columns with endless scrolling. The left-hand column is the skinniest, consisting of profile information such as my bio, profile viewership statistics, recently followed hashtags, and groups. The far right-hand column consists of time-specific highlights: “Today’s news and views,” “Today’s most viewed courses,” and a featured ad. This paper is mostly concerned with the middle and widest column, which is timeline of posts from users, trends, and industries I follow and posts that followed users have interacted with. 

Top Dog Social Media. N.d. “LinkedIn’s first premium service (Source: LinkedIn).” From LinkedIn History: The Road To 300+ Million Members.
LinkedIn’s layout. Dec. 14, 2020. Fieldnotes. 


Participant-observation was conducted on LinkedIn for three months, regularly scrolling through my timeline, interacting with posts through reactions and comments, and expanding connections. User-generated posts are the primary source of data, which are analyzed according to textual strategies such as narrative styles, word usage, and typographical features. I hoped to immerse myself in circles of users who employed personal branding. Participating in a field of personal branding required me to have a consistently curated profile in order to enter the arena. My personal profile was an established contender as a pass to this field, however, my timeline was already organized according to the algorithm’s perception of my profile. In order to effectively change the algorithm, I continuously searched for new hashtags, users, industries, and institutions to follow and used LinkedIn’s feed preferences setting. This setting includes a “Follow fresh perspectives” tab that suggests various accounts, trends, and industries. As my research engaged with public accounts, I changed my username to “Sabrina Wu (U of T researcher)” and wrote a biography that described the research project, welcoming questions or contacts. 

Follow fresh perspectives. Dec. 15, 2020. Fieldnotes.

All interviews were conducted remotely with two regular LinkedIn users and one recruiter with a premium LinkedIn account. I communicated with interviewees through Zoom, phone calls, and Facebook Messenger. My interlocutors offered perspectives from differing LinkedIn uses. One of the regular users is a current job seeker hoping to enter the job market while the other is a user who is currently employed but uses LinkedIn as social media. All interviewees will remain anonymous under pseudonyms while users with public profiles will be referred to by their usernames.


Authenticity in personal branding 

Brand culture commonly portrays the ability for consumers to control what is being consumed based on the values manifested by the brand. Companies and advertisers frame this choice in consumption as a way to fulfill the desire for authenticity in the engulfment of capitalist ideologies. According to Banet-Weiser (2012), the power of authenticity in the self, experiences, and relationships is that “it is a symbolic construct that, even in a cynical age, continues to have cultural value in how we understand our moral frameworks and ourselves, and more generally how we make decisions about how to live our lives” (5). Being authentically relatable connotes credibility and trustworthiness. In brand culture, individuals and companies are able to cultivate this authentic image with narratives to direct their followers’ everyday decisions. In the digital space of LinkedIn, users are now in a position to brand themselves by taking on the role of authentic icons in a reconfigured professional domain. LinkedIn Learning, a provider of online courses on business, design, and technology, offers lessons on creating a successful profile which correspond with personal branding. Courses such as “Learning Personal Branding” (Krost 2018) and “Rock Your LinkedIn Profile (Jolda 2019) teach users how to curate their LinkedIn profile for business and marketing optimization. These courses emphasize portraying a personal story through users’ profile since they are the best resources on their qualifications and bolstered traits. Users then sell an image of their abilities represented in a persona, promoting their skills, services, and career potential. 

The reproduced definition of authenticity on LinkedIn primarily derives from discourses on leadership and marketing. These discourses encourage users to be influential and portray themselves as authority figures on what is being branded. This commodification of the authentic self is aimed to stand out to audience members by provoking an emotive connection to the user themselves and by association, their product or employment abilities. Personal branding consultant Lorena Acosta (2020) describes authenticity as being consistent, which implies credibility. This transparency does not necessarily require sharing real personal experiences, but the user must have a stable presence online while staying consistent with what they are sharing to be reliable. “Being authentic with your own self, with your values, beliefs, and characters” (Acosta 2020) is placed at the forefront along with being honest about the kinds of values that would resonate with one’s target audience. Lauren Griffiths asserts, “I’ve witnessed and read enough on authentic leadership to know that being genuine and vulnerable will get you a lot farther in your career than a glossy headshot” (@Lauren Griffiths). Accessibility is centred as an attractive feature, advancing career goals by one’s ability to connect with others. Furthermore, users illustrate authentic personas as trustworthy since “authenticity has nowhere to hide” (@Nolan Menachemson 2020) and reflect one’s everyday lifestyle or personality. Similar sentiments about presenting an authentic glimpse into one’s personal life are particularly advocated within #behuman and #leadership trends. These hashtags attribute compassion as a valued display of employers’ support for their employees since it offers a humbling impression of the human behind the employer. This ascription frames ideas of authenticity with professional conduct. 

I spoke to Janice, a software developer recruiter who uses LinkedIn daily, in hopes of understanding the offline repercussions of displaying an authentic persona on LinkedIn. Janice smiled widely and toggled with her microphone as my face popped onto the Zoom call, adding the background image of my white closet doors beside Janice’s sunlit face. A sigh of relief escaped from Janice as she used her webcam as a mirror to adjust her short, wavy hair.  

Janice was sitting in her two-bedroom apartment which transformed into her work space during quarantine. The kitchen light was on behind her dining table which was pressed against a white wall. In a brief exchange about working from home, Janice mentioned she loved remote work since she was able to work in casual wear and take more breaks, glancing behind her towards the blue couch with a white pillow resting by the sofa arm. When asked if she considered herself to maintain a presence on LinkedIn as a recruiter, Janice shook her head with a timid chuckle. She explained that during her last performance review her boss mentioned increasing her presence on LinkedIn and working on a personal brand. This move applied to the executives of her company too so job seekers can see potential growth through the relatability of their profiles. LinkedIn profiles personify the company they work for, using authenticity to act as an honest window into the employment setting. 

On the topic of revealing personalities through storytelling, Janice fondly recalled one of her favourite hires, a young software recruit who told a story about developing servers on Minecraft for fun when he was young. Janice joked that the anecdote was irrelevant to the position, disclosing that there was not a connection with the skillset or passion, yet it piqued the employers’ interests since the hiring managers were able to see a relatable personality that they could bond with. Beyond credentials, hiring managers also want to see someone’s genuine personality to know if they can spend every day with that person. The authentic persona constructed on LinkedIn can also be evaluated for being consistent and indicative of the user’s offline persona, suggesting hire-ability. 

Constructing an authentic persona requires a specific skillset to craft a means of communicating personal values to various types of audience, cultivating a particular image of what authenticity should look like. According to van Dijck (2013), “LinkedIn profiles function as inscriptions of normative professional behavior: each profile shapes an idealized portrait of one’s professional identity by showing off skills to peers and anonymous evaluators” (208). These profiles and user-generated content shape prototypes of authenticity, asserting themselves as models of online demeanor. For example, several LinkedIn influencers’ posts detail stories that highlight bringing the whole self to work as a part of professional wellbeing. The ideal profile is not just a standard for an online persona, but for work performance as well. This implication is echoed by interlocutor Denise, a job seeker who uses LinkedIn to gain employment visibility and expand connections. Denise argued, “Being fake authentic can also be demanded by companies.” Interlocutors acknowledged being authentic as an asset to employers, yet the need to project a character of authenticity implicates a mutually understood performance. Commodifying the online self contributes to gaining access to the workforce and upholding one’s position when in it. This notion is also further spread by the users who use textual strategies to construct their persona, as “the individual tends to employ substitutes—cues, tests, hints, expressive gestures, status symbols, etc.—as predictive devices.” (Goffman 1997, 21). Narrative strategies that cue personal values can suggest expected reactions for readers to affirm the performative writing. Textual strategies such as establishing a hook, using particular narrative structures, and writing with a third-person perception are not just responsive presentations of the self but also social cues to others as participants in the social game of curating authenticity. 

Establishing a hook 

LinkedIn posts can document a user’s achievements in a format that demonstrates their ability to communicate their thoughts, successes, and stories into a post that readers can engage with. LinkedIn posts’ shelf life depends on their ability to attract engagement through reactions, comments, and shares to make them reappear on followers’ timelines and disseminate to other circles of connections. There is an ephemeral sense of posts, as LinkedIn does not specify the exact date that it is created but uses units of time like days, weeks, months, and years. Relative terms such as “2m” or “1yr” are stamped onto posts, suggesting a timeless quality that allows posts to not be as grounded to definite timeframes. Users can then surpass the saturation of posts and not be restricted by temporality if their post can grab the attention of the audience. The first line is the hook that must captivate readers since longer LinkedIn posts are collapsed into fewer lines. This hook not only has to convey an anticipatory, inciting story to follow but also has to hint at specific social values that resonate with readers as a portrayal of authenticity. 

Features of LinkedIn posts simultaneously promote a form of uniformity and creativity, allowing users to demonstrate artistry within the confines of limited technical features. A custom sans-serif font named Community resembles the familiar benchmark Helvetica monotype, fashioning the tone of the platform as mundane and reliable. Unlike Instagram or Snapchat, LinkedIn does not provide the option to choose from a variety of font sizes, colours, and styles. Scrolling through my timeline initially carried a sense of a mechanical outpouring of indistinguishable blocks of text, yet incorporations of pictures and differentiations of post lengths staggered the uniformity of the medium. A post by user Eric Janssen stood out with two lines of short text followed by a screenshot of a Zoom call with 24 different images of cell phones left on a desk. Janssen writes, 

“This week, students walked out on me mid-class. 

But it was my fault. (“…see more”) 

I made them do it.  

But they had to leave their phones behind.” (@Eric Janssen 2020). 

@Janssen. Screenshot of collapsed student walkout post.
@Eric Janssen. Screenshot of expanded student walkout post. Oct. 16, 2020. Fieldnotes.

These first four lines were separated by user-enforced leading, invoking the grey “See more” button to appear after the second line of text. These four lines expanded the post to fill up my entire iPhone screen, compelling me to be immersed into the following story. Paragraphs pursued after the beginning to explain the confusing incident as an intentional act for students’ mental well-being by asking them to take a walk outside without their cell phones. In a supply of imposed monolithic technicalities, Janssen carried a shock factor with the props of leading and a subversion of expectations as the hook to his post. Other users have also employed shocking key words such as “HIRED” or a statement of being rejected by companies, while others paused mid-clause with ellipses, engaging readers to click “…see more” to find out the rest of the story. Hooks can also claim a demand to be attended to if they invoke particular affect. For example, as I scrolled past a user’s job update, the first line, “My close friend of 15 years killed himself in February…” (@Josiah Ewing 2020) appeared, sending a shockwave that both unsettled me due to the serious nature of the subject matter and the deeply personal topic. Nevertheless, I was drawn to the rest of the post with a sense of obligation to pay my respects and reconcile the discomfort. This hook evokes a desire for readers to show their empathy by engaging with the post. Alternatively, affect elicited by humour can also be applied through ironic parodies of popular content on LinkedIn. User @Branden Sorbo uses periods in every line to force the post to collapse after the hook of imitating the typical employment announcement. Sorbo writes, 

“I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be accepting an analyst role with 

. (“…see more”) 

I wish! 

Rather, what has been exciting is that in this last week, I competed in my first international case competition” (@Branden Sorbo 2020) 

@Branden Sorbo. Partial screenshot of expanded post. Oct., 2020. , 2020. Fieldnotes.  

The use of various hooks as an introduction for a storytelling post can be seen as a tactic to grab readers’ attention in a media climate of increasing needing to stand out to promote oneself. According to LinkedIn employees Julian Shapiro and Nick Costelloe (2020), the optimal structure to creating viral content is to begin with a hook that is unbelievable, startling, or against the status quo. Paragraphs following the hook then provide the context that readers may be motivated to read to explain initial controversies and surprises. As seen with trending posts on employment success stories, the pressure on LinkedIn users is to sell their authentic selves through their eye-catching textual storytelling abilities. This not only influences the online image, but also affects the offline self’s ability to stand out during recruitment. Janice noted that when sifting through profiles every day on her LinkedIn Premium account, she tends to favour users with a complete profile that include indicators of their personality. A fun side with personal anecdotes such as unique pictures rather than the typical business profile has typically caught her attention. Janice continued to remark on how this fun side also translates well during job interviews as a break from the tedium of hearing job seekers’ prepared answers to Google-able questions. Hooking audience members with intriguing textual strategies and unique pictures can provide putatively authentic snippets of one’s personality. These users are then able to spontaneously stand out in the midst of routine regimens such as conducting job interviews or scrolling through a timeline of posts. 

Narrative structure with a third-person perception 

Authentic personas connote a genuine, relatable, and unmediated glimpse at who a user is. LinkedIn’s “Learning Personal Branding” (Krost 2018) course emphasizes telling a story with one’s online profile, including skills, bio, and posted content. While the substance of the story varies depending on the user, several posts follow a particular narrative structure. This structure is serialized into a formula of five segments. Stories often begin with a hook followed by a description of a personal incident, which is then explained as an internal struggle that conveys relatability through the implication of personal values. The concluding segments of the narrative illustrate how this struggle is played out at work, which typically ends in a positive employment outcome that can be transformed into a general lesson. Users and commentors portray this overarching lesson as applicable within the industry, especially targeting human resources or management departments. LinkedIn influencers in particular demonstrate this storytelling format. The informally ascribed term ‘LinkedIn influencer’ borrows from the population of ‘Instagram influencers’ who use personal branding to sell products or lifestyles using their social media profile as a branding vehicle. The ability of a story to integrate personal stories into professional discourse through this formula justifies influencers’ personal content’s influence and presence on a professional site. A posted meme parodying LinkedIn influencers’ posts has currently gained 188,351 reactions and 3,924 comments that included several responses laughing at this phenomenon. User Lumko Solwandle writes, 

“No body: 

Linkedln Influencers: 

Yesterday I was walking to an interview. There was a starving dog on the road. I stopped to feed him & missed the interview. The next day I got a call asking to come in to do the interview. I was surprised, but I went. Then the interviewer came in. He was the dog.” (@Lumko Solwandle 2020) 

This popular post uses irony to suggest that several users who align with this meme both recognize and see through the LinkedIn influencer narrative. The narrative portrays a seemingly employment-related introduction that then derails into an unrelated and absurd experience that is connected to employment in a twist at the end of the story. Interviewee Manda jokingly brought up the meme during a phone call discussion on authenticity on LinkedIn. Manda recited the meme in a high-pitched tone, using an adenoidal voice to mock the lines about the dog. Manda guffawed a few short laughs before shifting into a lowered tone and quickened cadence when digging into her interpretation of the story. 

“You will see the same post replicated like 10 times…there’s no such thing as authenticity on LinkedIn, because like, the very nature I think of the platform, is not asking you to be honest; it’s asking you to show off…So it seems insane that people would be like ‘I did lose my job’ because even the stories where people have lost things are like very rarely without happy endings.” 

The method of writing has been criticized as being overused and inauthentic since it is repeatedly deployed, ironically forming a saturation of similar posts much like the consumer culture that those seeking authenticity are hoping to move away from. Despite the mockery and critique of this storytelling phenomenon, such LinkedIn posts continue to persist and induce engagement, suggesting influencers’ adeptness in producing content that is compatible with the medium’s purposes. 

Posts on LinkedIn can manage an appropriate integration of personal stories by adopting a third-person perception, which distances the user from their online identity by directly or indirectly referring to themselves in the third-person. The lack of first-person pronouns or perspectives can be seen when posts begin with adjectives or verbs such as “Amazing afternoon attending…,” “Excited to be…,” and “Presenting webinars…” Users can employ third-person perspective as a means to sell their online self and its exhibited attributes. Narratives on LinkedIn then compose victory reels of achievements. However, third-person perception is not necessarily restricted to the use of third-person pronouns but can reimagine the perspective by fusing in personal pronouns too. Posts can incorporate personal pronouns to point to a narrative that describes the character’s actions in a holistic manner, including overall attributes of the user outside of the text. Interlocutors shrugged off writing in the third person as being awkward, but they said it can be managed with a level of personalization and emotive writing. Using affect to write in the “I” in a post is a way for users to insert themselves into the narrative, showing an honest view of their own personality. This twist of using personal pronouns identifies the self and relatable values or belief systems, while having the room to zoom out of the personal into a generalizable commentary. This panning outwards into a broader viewpoint typically manifests in a lesson about life, work, management, and other broad topics at the end of the story. The consistent conclusion with a lesson can be related to how users are seen as representatives of their industry and company (van Dijck 2013, 209), requiring more anonymity to protect the offline user from permanent effects of being associated with their online actions. 

A post by user Liz Willits takes up the space of the full mobile screen once expanded. Unlike other posts on the platform, this post’s text is spaced out with double-spaced leading and short single-lined sentences. The spacing of the post made it appear like a script, transcribing the moment the user received a phone call at work. A few expressions were placed in quotation marks, conveying a conversation that appears as a real-time dialogue. Liz Willits used this format to explain the experience of receiving a phone call about her mother’s brain tumor at work, presenting a struggle to process the information, followed by an exit out of the office meeting room. The quoted speeches are followed by an emotive line that narrates a first-person perspective of the paralyzing feeling that the user must attend to. This indicates family relations as a core value for the user, while broadly referring to the volatility of uncontrollable obstacles and mental health challenges which were especially brought to light during the pandemic where employees must navigate an unstable environment that blends work and personal time. The second half of the post introduces the CMO who is described to walk past Liz Willits, recognize the presence of an emergency, and declare a single line that encouraged the employee to “take all the time you need. We’ll handle things here” (@Liz Willits 2020). The CMO’s line is showcased as a sign of compassion, making the scenario easier for his employee to manage. Liz Willits (2020) concludes with the takeaway that “kindness and compassion” are the key to management and innovation. The CMO showcased an understanding that personal life can affect work life and take precedence even in a work environment with his immediate and simple response supporting the employee to do what needs to be done. This last message pans the narrative into a broader lesson on workplace management during personal crises. The script that was previously riddled with personal pronouns then zooms out of a first-person perspective with this third-person moral lesson. 

@Liz Willits. Screenshot of family emergency post. Oct. 5, 2020. Fieldnotes.  

Comments on the post from other users mimic a similar format that first details a first-person perspective on receiving news of a family emergency at work, followed by a sequence of third-person narrative that highlights an insight that is generalizable to the industry or workforce. Readers’ responses appraising the unique demonstration of respect from the employer emphasize the third-person narrative as a marker of compatibility with the platform’s professional purposes. Commenters on posts can indicate areas where the narrative has crossed the threshold of balancing personal and professional topics, making users uncomfortable or skeptical of the account if they do not relate back to character and professional development, which typically revolves around a skill, current affairs, or occupation. Several users have also combatted negative comments on posts by reproaching them for not focusing on the achievement of the employer’s support or general moral statement about what #be[ing]human means. This prioritizes the final lesson as the main takeaway of the post, shifting the focus away from the personal content. 

The last section of a general lesson can also indicate groups and subjects that the post and user are associated with. LinkedIn users’ construction of the relatable self depends on how closely aligned their portrayed attributes are with their audience’s traits and interests. Some users achieve this by articulating the concluding lesson in the form of a question that directly addresses readers or an inspirational push for others to reflect and achieve similar goals. Closing comments can also showcase a partially reduced third-person perspective by demonstrating the user’s sense of belonging with a particular group. For example, user Sarah Cox writes in her last paragraph, “Sharing to let women inventors know we see them & are so proud” (@Sarah Cox 2020). The individual online user who shared personal stories now shifts to a collective “we,” pointing to a social environment of others with shared experiences. This absorbs the individual into the group, simultaneously promoting intimate relatability while anonymizing the user to a certain extent. 

Authentic personas must tell stories that are consistent with their values, narratives, and established personality online. This standard of authenticity can also be policed in the offline workforce. Janice shook her head and widened her eyes in incredulity as she tried to remember an experience of interviewing a job seeker who answered a question differently than the narrative posted on their LinkedIn profile. Janice frowned at the memory before hastily explaining that she was actually indifferent towards the LinkedIn post’s narrative, but her opinion of the user quickly soured after discovering the discrepancies. While third-person perceptions can guard a user’s proximity to their offline self, the online persona can be shattered when pillars of authenticity are weakened. Storytelling requires a level of cohesion to persuade readers of its integrity, accentuating skillful uses of third-person narrative to cement an image of authenticity.


Constructing an authentic persona requires knowledge on how to balance the platform’s expectations, purposes, industries, and the curation of self. Professionalism and personalization have previously been bifurcated, but the prevalence of consumer culture has induced an appeal to authenticity. Authenticity in LinkedIn’s branding culture is shaped according to discourses on marketing and leadership, preserving a specific authoritative set of characteristics to the authentic persona. Personal branding commodifies the authentic self, building a formulaic standard of suitable authenticity according to the target audience, site, and product. LinkedIn users are urged to tell stories about themselves for their brand, using narrative strategies to reveal a suitable personality for relevant job performances. Narratives are in an arena of saturated content, prioritizing strategic ways of standing out and captivating readers’ attention. This can be achieved with hooks, which challenge the uniformity of the platform with creative technical and anecdotal attention-grabbers. Hooks form the first of five segments in a narrative formula that structures plots to balance personal information with a third-person perspective on a generalized lesson. Users employ emotive writing to personalize stories but can also be protected and removed from having their offline self associated with potential online vulnerabilities. The integration of the personal in a professional setting is negotiated through narratives, enacting both a balance and maintenance of boundaries. Users are required to understand social rules on how to carefully craft an authentic persona on LinkedIn to gain access to the desired field and continue to participate in it. 

This research project examined textuality and narrative styles as a strategy for constructing an authentic persona. Theories on performance and professional behaviour and relations can also be applied to investigate authenticity’s role in work environments. LinkedIn’s features such as news, advertisements, profile statistics, and connections are also indicative of narratives about the incorporation of personhood in work. While this project focused on digital interactions and online content, future work can engage with on-site work spaces to study the effects of performances on LinkedIn in the workforce. The textual strategies discussed work toward regulating and enforcing a social code of conduct revolving authenticity. Users are placed in a position where such social rules of the professional environment can be managed through the intricate craft of authentic personas.



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Jolda, Lauren. 2019. “Rock Your LinkedIn Profile.” LinkedIn Learning. Video, 57:00. 

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