Can LinkedIn Survive Conan O’Brien?

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 24 hours, you know that Conan is now on LinkedIn. And if you’re a practitioner or a student of marketing, you can see that an amazing natural experiment in branding just got started.

Up until now, LinkedIn has been a serious business brand, catering to job-seekers, business development types and others who are earnest about their professions. The vast majority of the time, the community of members has self-edited, leaving the cat gifs to Facebook and Tumblr and choosing to contribute career and insdustry-related articles and opinions.

Conan may have changed all that.

Not because of his satirical introductory post (which, by the way, had garnered him over 40,000 followers before 9am on Monday). Rather, it’s because his post has spawned extremely unbusinesslike reactions and conversations, which are all taking place openly on LinkedIn.

Ad hominem, primary-level grammar, personal insults—for the first time we can remember, they’re all on display on a platform where we’d become accustomed to a more professional level of care and decorum.

This could all be a tempest in a teapot, and its dynamics naturally won’t spill over and affect other posts, members or groups on the site. Or, LinkedIn’s community managers—or the community itself—may work actively to isolate this incident. Either of these outcomes would tell us something about the strength of LinkedIn’s business brand and culture, and their ability to withstand undesirable change.

Or, this could mark a new, coarser future for LinkedIn, where its brand starts to stand less for real business and more for a business-flavored version of Facebook.

Either way, we’ll be watching with interest. When we can peel ourselves away from the cat gifs, that is.

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