How not to use social media

A recent LinkedIn post by Fortune Magazine editor Adam Lashinsky has garnered quite a bit of attention. Oh, it’s good attention—if you subscribe to that “all publicity is good publicity” thinking, anyway. It’s also a great study in how not to use social media.

In the post, Lashinsky promotes a story that promises to be “the best case study you’ll ever read.” (I won’t go into how I feel about a financial magazine editor using such hyperbole right now, but . . . wow.) He seems puzzled that there’s a preview of the article available online, then tells readers they will hit a paywall that blocks the rest of the article.

Some comments accused him of a bait and switch. Not true. He stated quite clearly that you can’t get the whole thing for free. He seemed truly miffed that his own company gave away too much of a preview online. And therein lies the rub . . . and his colossal misunderstanding of social media.

For reasons I can’t explain, Fortune (where I work) published a longish preview of the article here. The full version is here, and you’ll have to be a Fortune subscriber to read it. No apologies by the way: The kids say they can get everything they need to read for free on the Internet. Sorry. It’s not true. (links removed)

Lashinsky’s mistake was that he failed to start a conversation with people because he was talking at them. He has a special platform as a “trusted industry influencer” on LinkedIn. Readers look to him for insightful articles, opinions, and among other things, reading recommendations. But instead of creating some buzz for his magazine—and maybe some new subscribers—he showed them arrogance.

If his arrogance isn’t clear from his post, it’s certainly spelled out in his follow-up comments. Instead of trying to understand the backlash, he makes the conversation all about free vs. paid content and the worth of journalistic work.

I posted my defense — and my refusal to apologize — at It’s free for anyone to read.

I believe most LinkedIn readers interpreted his comment as I did: ” {explitive removed} you!”

The problem isn’t with a pay model for content. It’s that, although Lashinsky is an “influencer” on LinkedIn, he’s addressing this to a cadre of content creators and curators: people of influence in their own spheres. Instead of reaching out to other influencers (who, collectively, have a much wider sphere of influence than his own) he devalued their worth.

What he and other media megaliths often fail to understand is that social media is a place to build relationships. It’s where you give people a chance to know and like you. Promotion? Sure. After you’ve gained the trust of those who follow you. Convince us of your worth and that of your magazine, and you’ll get subscribers. Or you can just tell us to piss off. And we will.

LinkedIn is obviously a place for promotion. Most posts are promoting visits to a site, trying to build readership for the poster’s blog, promoting a service, etc. But even the self-serving posts usually provide some ground for open discussion on relevant topics. Lashinsky basically says in his post, “hey, I can’t believe any of it is available to you freely, but . . . whatever. You’ll have to pay to read the whole thing, so subscribe.” His pitch comes across like a flashing banner ad from a 2002 website . . . a bit tacky.

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