Sex, LinkedIn & the Truth About 'Disruptive' Advertising

By David Berry: Have you been on LinkedIn lately? I have. Admittedly, of the social media sites in my day-to-day repertoire, LinkedIn ranks below Facebook and Instagram, and probably on par with Twitter. Which is to say that I check it two-to-three times per week.

But something is happening on LinkedIn that should be opening eyeballs. Like if you're a digital marketer, it's a drop-everything-you're-doing and seriously look at this type of situation.

See? Very eye-opening.

See? Very eye-opening.

It seems that LinkedIn adjusted its algorithm, or more simply said, it changed the way it shows you content when you log in to your feed. If you're a regular LinkedIn user, you've noticed it too.

The phenomenon is this - at the top of your feed, and all throughout it, are photos of professionals whom you've never met (mostly attractive women) who have posted images of themselves alongside vaguely-inspirational copy about their profession or a recent occurrence at their job.

And these posts stay at the top of your feed for days; sometimes up to a week.

In case you haven't been on LinkedIn recently to notice it, here is an example of my feed - which I literally just opened. I cross my heart, hope to die, I logged in and this is the first post that showed up.

Now, I'm sure that Michaela is a fine professional; maybe even a great one. Her post goes on to describe a generic story intended to motivate her followers. I dig it.

But let's call a spade a spade - replace her bottle with a glass of moscato, or hell, leave it as is - and it's basically another selfie of an attractive woman that you'd otherwise see on Instagram.

But here's the difference - random people on LinkedIn and Facebook don't dominate news feeds with 22,000+ likes and 1,200+ comments. Sure, it happens sometimes, but this is happening every single day on LinkedIn.

As marketers know, it's extremely difficult to reach a lot of your own fans/followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and it's nearly impossible to reach people outside of those groups. Yet somehow, with a little bit of sex appeal, LinkedIn is doing the opposite and practically giving mass exposure away like it's food nearing its expiration date.

In fact, even before this trend started in earnest, some brands were catching on to it. Candace Galek started a bikini business called Bikini Luxe and built it largely on the back of her audience on LinkedIn. In early 2016, she posted this image and it went 'viral' with more than 40,000 views in a month:

Galek told Digiday that "from March to date, Bikini Luxe’s LinkedIn traffic was higher than its main traffic driver Pinterest, where it usually receives more than a million impressions per month. My personal updates are getting more comments than 95 percent of Bill Gates’ posts. He has five million followers while I only have 25,000 on LinkedIn."

Look, digital marketers talk all the time about being 'disruptive,' which is the latest, most played out advertising buzzword in recent memory. It's advertising-speak for 'getting noticed.' Well, guess what - selling swimwear on Facebook or Instagram isn't disruptive. It's expected. 

There are half a billion scantily clad models out there, some hawking their poses for validation, and others doing it on behalf of brands. What exactly separates any one brand from the next? I'll tell you - almost nothing.

Let me be clear - I am not recommending a regression to the same old 'sex sells' pitch. What I am proposing is that if a brand wants to be 'disruptive,' then they need to start thinking in a truly disruptive way. 

The verb 'disrupt' literally means: "To interrupt (an event, activity, or process) by causing a disturbance or problem."

Guess what? Posting a bikini model in a feed filled with spreadsheets, data and industry trends is disruptive.

Telling an Instagram user to take a snack break with a bag of Cheetos isn't disruptive, no matter how charming Chester the Cheetah is.

Telling a LinkedIn user to stop working so hard, walk out of the building and take a well-deserved break with a bag of Cheetos is disruptive.

LinkedIn might not be the way you create a disruption for your client. But right now, I'm willing to bet it can.