In August, the CEO of Ohio-based marketing firm HyperSocial decided the best way to publicly address the layoffs he had authorized at his company would be to post a photo of himself crying. “This will be the most vulnerable thing I will ever share,” Braden Wallake wrote in a LinkedIn post, then detailed the emotional toll the departure of two of his employees took on … him, the CEO, who has always had a job.

Within days, Wallake had become a meme, shorthand for the type of oversharing, virtue-signalling brouhaha that racks up thousands of followers on platforms like Twitter, Instagram and, most notably, LinkedIn. LinkedIn has always had its own curious publishing conventions; while ostensibly geared toward average white-collar workers looking for job opportunities or a talent pool to hire, this year the company focused on “creators.” That is, users who hope to build a personal brand by spouting entrepreneur tips or nuggets of wisdom (LinkedInfluencers, if you will). When these tools are wielded with skill, those who succeed can land book deals and gigs.

When done carelessly, they can end up, for example, on the very popular Twitter account called @StateOfLinkedIn, which is dedicated to making fun of the worst offenders. Scrolling through his timeline reveals long threads of self-congratulations detailing anecdotes that probably/definitely did not happen, bizarrely poetic descriptions a day in the life of an entrepreneur, and “Subtle” flexions of luxury logos. Together they form a new kind of business language – less jargon office space and more Gary Vaynerchuk-style porn inspiration — rampant on sites like LinkedIn.

For aspiring LinkedIn influencers, the field has never been more competitive. LinkedIn told Vox that there are currently 13 million users with “creator mode” enabled (a setting that expands the types of features users can deploy in order to grow their audience). Perhaps unsurprisingly, its goal of making its users famous has made it looks a lot like facebook, as many have pointed out. There have never been so many people trying to become LinkedIn influencers, and there have never been so many resources they can afford to do so.

That’s why many of them turn to professional ghostwriters to lead their content strategies. “There’s this perception that ghostwriting is like someone else is doing their homework for you, but it’s a collaborative process, and it frees up so much [the client’s] time,” says Amelia Forczak, founder of ghostwriting company Pithy Wordsmithery. In recent years, its turnover has doubled.

Forczak specializes in ghostwriting how-to books for her clients, but social media is often a crucial first step. A typical customer might be a corporate world leader who is highly respected within their company or industry but not widely known outside of it, and often those working in business and technology for decades have no idea how to promote themselves. . “They went through public relations training where they learned not to talk about anything personal,” she explains, “or anything that can be used against you.”

Now, the standard advice for LinkedIn influencers is to do the exact opposite: avoid commercial jargon and speak like a person. Nothing has made this clearer than the pandemic, which has forced white-collar workers to move their lives, and more importantly, their reputations, online. “It’s cliché, but it’s true that people want to work with people, people buy people, people want to see the human side of who you are before they decide to work with you,” says Tara Horstmeyer, an Atlanta-based ghostwriter who offers packages for 12 LinkedIn posts for anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000.

At the same time, ghostwriting for entrepreneurs has become a desirable and potentially lucrative career. Earlier this month, Business Insider published an anonymous account of a tech startup founder who makes $200,000 on his own writing tweets for venture capitalists. “Backers need to build parasocial relationships with founders,” he explains. “A founder can read a tweet from a VC and say, ‘Wow, that’s a cool guy. He’s in on the joke. I want him on my board.

The LinkedIn ghostwriters I spoke to say they get daily requests about how to break into the field. Horstmeyer says she constantly refers incoming work to other writers she knows and plans to offer an online course to help budding writers build a clientele. Mishka Rana, a 22-year-old student in India, says she has turned down several job offers because her ghostwriting business generates enough income to support herself. “I know a lot of people who have left their corporate jobs to start their own agency,” she says, attributing this in part to favorable exchange rates (several of her clients are based in the US or UK) . His content packages, which start at $800 for a month and go up to $9,000 for multi-month commitments, allowed him to buy a car and travel domestically and internationally.

Ghostwriters, however, do more than just write; most writers I’ve spoken to also describe their work as content strategy and marketing. Pocket PhD’s Emily Crookston was a professor of philosophy before turning to ghostwriting; she says her LinkedIn services, for which she charges $2,500 a month, including blogging, strategy and posts, had become particularly popular during the pandemic. Like any other social media platform, there is also a bit of play on the algorithm. Many LinkedIn Super Users join “pods,” or groups of people who agree to like, comment on, and share each other’s posts in an effort to increase engagement. “LinkedIn is really pod-savvy — they know that and it will hurt your engagement,” she warns. But the biggest mistake people make is “posting and ghosting it,” not interacting with other people’s posts, and “using it as a billboard,” he says. she.

It’s ironic, given that one of the main benefits of having a career in technology and finance is the freedom not having to do this kind of painstaking self-promotion. It’s more typically reserved for artists and others in the creative industries, where the field is saturated and competitive and relies heavily on connections and influence. Like probably any writer, I briefly fantasized about what my life might be like if I worked in, say, finance or some other high-paying but entirely anonymous job where I felt no attachment to the numbers I came on screen every day and forgot about them on my way out. The idea that such work can too requiring you to slick and maintain your digital profiles for maximum consumption makes the whole career that much less enviable – but I guess that’s why people hire ghostwriters.

Wallake, it seems, did not come to this same conclusion. A week ago, the tearful CEO ended up on @StateOfLinkedIn again. “My grandmother passed away today,” he began his message. The moral of his story was that maybe the hustle culture is causing us all to miss the important stuff. A nice feeling, sure – but not without ending in a take for his own business.

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