As an exacting writer and a proponent of a slow and strategic marketing, I should be having an aneurysm (Ann-eurysm?) over how a single, sweary, typo-infested LinkedIn post slopped together in 20 minutes sparked a flurry of online engagement and $90K in sales.
But I’m not. Because from a marketing and writing point of view, there’s a lot to love about the post-I-should-hate.
Why is it the greatest? And what we can learn from it?
Before I get into it, a caveat: If you are offended by profanity, you might want to skip this post. Read this one instead. It’s about food. (And not at all offensive.)
My friend Cara Mackay runs a family business that makes and sells “the best sheds in the world,” in Perth, Scotland.
Those “sheds” aren’t just your typical squirrel-infested toolsheds: Gillies and Mackay customers use them as summer houses, beach shacks, playhouses, garages, cabins, backyard work spaces, and whatever else you might imagine.
They are lovely little outposts, not unlike my own backyard Tiny House.
Cara is just as salty in person as she is online. One time I told Cara she looked “cute” and she was borderline offended because, as she told me later, “I’m not fucking cute I’m cool.” El oh el.
Last week, Cara published a post on LinkedIn titled How To: Fucking Work from Home. The post gave a clear-eyed view of one of her typically brutal mornings, and by extension the chaos of mornings everywhere. It boils over with the tension anyone feels when trying to balance home, family, work, recycling day, laundry, walking the dog, dinner.
And it caused a ruckus: 55,000 views, 624 comments, and 217 shares. Some overwhelmingly negative comments, some overwhelmingly positive. By comparison, her previous post received 79 views and 2 comments.
So why did this crazy post go crazy? Why did it ultimately spark three sales worth $30K each?
Here’s my take. And what we can learn from Cara’s post.
1. The unembellished truth.
“It’s 8 am—you’ve been up since 5 and you’re getting the kids ready for school, or at least out the door. He’s fannying about still half in his jammies half in his uniform—you shout for the MILLIONTH time… “Shoe’s lad, where’s your shoes?!”
Cara has had it up to here with hectic mornings, the peskiness of domestic life, the quirks of kids.
Cara rails against the distractions of working from home, like when you can’t help but toss in a load of whites just because you can even though you know better. She keeps it real with a mention of the low-level, background anxiety parents feel when they put small kids in charge of money.
You stumble past all that shite lying in the hall and make a break for the kitchen table. 30 minutes in to your emails that you were NOT supposed to open before starting on the actual work… You think. Huh, I know, I’ll just sort that washing out and load the dish washer whilst I’m thinking over a million and one other things that need doing. Before you know it you’ve spent your day in and out of different tasks not completing any and the house is still a shit pit regardless of your half arsed attempts. 3.15pm It’s time to get the kids and chaos descends once more.
This is truth. Zero sugarcoating.
Loads of people commented along the lines of “basically my life” and “funny and sadly true.”
2. The language.
You step in and there isn’t a childs sock in sight! It’s just your stuff—all untampered and non minky kid infested.
“Minky”? I don’t even know what it means but suddenly wow do I love it. I had to look it up: it refers in her context to children who are either unwashed or mischievous. Possibly both.
Fannying about. Half read guru bollocks “how to’s.” Cracking.
“Authentic” is one of those words that gets tossed around in marketing. This is it, my minky friends.
3. The aspiration.
The 700-word post paints a picture, then asks: What if there was a better way? What if you had a room of your own? (Shout out to Virginia Woolf!)
What if that space wasn’t just a physical space, but also a kind of personal liberty?
Cara name-drops some people who with magical work retreats (Roald Dahl, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney).
She makes you imagine the same shed solace for yourself.
4. How you say it is as important as what you say.
So let’s talk about that “fucking” in the headline, and the profanity throughout.
I’d never advocate for the use of profanity in marketing. Most companies should not curse in their marketing. Full. Stop.
Why? Because, most of the time, it’s gratuitous. It’s often meant to provoke, in a cheap, forced way.
It tends to come across as bridge-burningly aggressive.
And, anyway, no one wants to be pummeled by four-letter words, as former New Yorker proofreader Mary Norris writes in Between You and Me. (A wonderful read, by the way. Pick up Mary Norris and Virginia Woolf this weekend. You’ll not regret it.)
Would Cara’s post work as well sans swearing? Would it work as well if she simply titled it: How to: Work from Home?
Because the use of profanity in the headline signals that this post is a rant without labeling it “A Rant.” (A technique I hate. Don’t tell me you’re going to rant. Just do it.)
The headline immediately attracts the kind of LinkedIn reader-prospect who’s frustrated and irritated by the promise of working from home: Who gets that working at home is awesome except when it’s not—because often it’s ridiculously distracting and frustrating. Her piece bubbles with that frustration—not just in the story she tells, but how she tells it, and the language she uses.
Also: If you ARE going to swear in your marketing… OWN IT. Be unapologetic.
Do not wus out with a f*cking or bullsh*t: The need to invoke the anti-swear asterisk is a signal you shouldn’t use the word at all.
5. You break through when you let go.
Cara could have posted on Facebook, but she didn’t. She chose LinkedIn.
Why, I asked her?
Because she knew her buyers were there, she said. And because she wanted to see what might happen if she didn’t conform to what she calls LinkedIn’s culture of “bullshit chat” that more broadly stems from the more conservative tone of the corporate world. As she put it, “hardcore Cara” decided “LinkedIn—you will be used.”
She chose writing because, she said, because if this post had been a video, she probably would have come across insane.
Later, in a follow-up video, Cara said that profanity is naturally expressive for her. She couldn’t imagine having written the post without it, even if it meant offending some possible buyers:
I know there are going to be some people who are absolutely disgusted. But I also understand there are plenty of people out there who think that profanity as a use in the Scottish dialect is a beautiful thing.
It doesn’t appear to. The closest LinkedIn comes is to specify that by using the site users agree not to “act dishonestly or unprofessionally, including by posting inappropriate, inaccurate, or objectionable content…” . But it doesn’t spell out what constitutes any of those things. And, anyway, it’s not the first time that profanity has been used in a LinkedIn headline.
6. Great writing is not (just) about grammar.
I’m not gonna lie: The typos in Cara’s post drive me nuts.
Cara admitted to me that she wrote the piece in 20 minutes then quickly published it. (I’m jelly — I’ve never written anything in 20 minutes.)
That approach goes against what I preach. And I’d never recommend publishing a typo-ridden piece. But, in her case, the end result crackles with a kind of fury—and the typos help fuel it.
Great content isn’t storytelling; it’s telling a true story well, as I’ve said a thousand times. And this is great writing—believe it or not. Because it’s palpably real, with a specific yet universal point of view.
Cara doesn’t consider herself a writer (she’s “dyslexic as fuck,” as she put it). Yet she is a writer, not only because (wait for it) everybody writes (!) but also because she speaks truth.
Or, in the words of Richard Pryor,
“What I’m saying might be profane, but it’s also profound.”