“We bring implicit theories, or rules, to how we behave at work,” said Amy C. Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied workplace communication. These ideas about how to speak and behave in an office can be valuable but also mistaken, and sometimes individually and institutionally counterproductive. (A workplace where nobody speaks up is a workplace where little will change.) “Everyone at work has two jobs, and the other is the job of looking good,” she said. “These rules are largely oriented toward the second job.”
Scaling job two — looking good at work — up to a social network creates a new sort of venue: a non-office office, with thousands of bosses, none of them yours, all of them potentially watching.
The overwhelming incentive, as a job seeker, is toward caution. Likewise, there is little reason, as a boss, to tangle with especially difficult subjects. LinkedIn is plainly not a place to organize a union. Its mission is to mediate and facilitate a fundamentally unequal process. Topics that can be risky for rank-and-file workers to bring up in an office, such as pay inequality, diversity or workplace harassment, tend to unfold on LinkedIn in the manner of an event organized by human resources.
“These kinds of sensitive conversations will start from people at the top of companies,” Mr. Roth said, citing the Nielsen chief executive David Kenny’s announcement on LinkedIn that he would assume the additional title of chief diversity officer as an example. “When it’s a C.E.O. talking about it, you can speak in a more authoritative way.”
Nicholas Thompson, the editor in chief of Wired, is what you might call a LinkedIn power user. He publishes a daily video about technology to his more than 1.3 million followers on the site. Spicier material? He saves that for Twitter.
“It’s much harder to be a dissident on LinkedIn, or to spread awareness about autocracy,” Mr. Thompson said. Business stories do well, as do posts about his own work and the media industry in general. Gun violence? Not so much. “You don’t want to post an Andy Borowitz article,” Mr. Thompson, formerly an editor at The New Yorker, said. “People respond badly.”