Author   |    Speaker   |    Chief Content Officer


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.)

The Story

My friend Cara Mackay runs a family business that makes and sells “the best sheds in the world,” in Perth, Scotland.

#ShedLife

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.

I met Cara when I spoke at The Content Marketing Academy‘s fantastic annual event in Edinburgh last June, run by The Chris Marr.

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.

Cara, Me, Chris Marr in Boston last fall.

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?

Nope.

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.

Slight digression: I wondered whether the use of “fucking” in a headline on LinkedIn violates the site’s Terms of Use.

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.”

 


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44 Responses to I Should Hate This LinkedIn Post, but It’s Actually the Greatest

  1. It is amazing how many times people say one thing and then do another. We tell companies, brands and people to be authentic, yet criticize when they do not fit our careful constructed boxes of what is acceptable.

    Good for Cara. I say everyone needs to OWN their strengths, their weaknesses and who they are. I’d rather know who I am dealing with and can make a truly informed decision.

    Our biggest reminder is we have a choice. The choice to read or not, to listen or not, and to engage or not.

    If not – move on so someone who wants has room to BE.

    • Ann Handley says:

      It’s definitely easier when it’s a small company… with a lot more autonomy.

      But nonetheless your point about deciding to listen or not… is a superb one. If it resonates… great. If not, walk away. It’s not for you.

      Thanks for swinging by, Michele!

    • Melanie Franklin says:

      Very interesting insight!

  2. Katybeth says:

    Reality writting! I loved the story. I wish I could order one of those sheds! The picture at the top is wonderful.

    Happy New Year!

  3. Stephen Q Shannon says:

    More Caras! More.
    Ann lives up to my “take” on Ann.
    We’ve never met. If I was not all in, I am now.
    Boffo!
    sQs

  4. “OWN IT. Be unapologetic.”

    This plusplusplus….Don’t shilly-shally around. If you want to show a true picture of your life as a working mum (or anything else) and cuss words are a part of that, use them.

    My online writing course included some, uh, salty language — a bit from me and a bit quoted from other writers’ sites. Interestingly, more than one person who took the course took umbrage with the naughty words. (I ask each user for feedback.)

    At first I was surprised and, yeah, a little irritated: “What are you, eight? You’re a grownup! Such language exists, and life goes on.” Yet ultimately I wound up ellipsis-ing the quotes and rewriting my own language a bit. Years ago one of my teachers noted that potty-mouthed writing could be the sign of a weak vocabulary, and I’ve noticed that sometimes it’s the sign of a lack of imagination. (“Hmm, how to make my character look tough/scary/vulnerable/streetwise? I know! I’ll use the F-word a whole lot!!!”)

    Lest my own writing look unimaginative, I rewrote those few instances. And you know what? It *does* work better this way. That said, I occasionally — very occasionally — use obscenities/profanities on my personal blog. Because they get used so rarely, they have a lot more punch when they appear.

    • Ann Handley says:

      I’ve always found that my best writing is truly, authentically me. Not using language as a device or crutch of any sort. Who would have thought huh? 😀

      Thanks for chiming in, Donna!

  5. Ann… as someone who is currently free and untethered as an independent brand-of-one consultant, I use four letter words from time to time in my own pieces online.

    (Ex: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/leaving-real-job-become-consultant-aka-what-f-did-i-just-martell?trk=mp-reader-card)

    To me, it often stems from emotion, demonstrates honesty, and it’s part of my personal brand. I read a study recently that swearing shows authenticity.

    BUT…. like huge caveat BUT…

    It’s not appropriate for everyone. I work hard to back up my flippant language with substance. It works for Cara and it works for me (sparingly.) I never use it when writing for clients.

    Cara’s post was something I laughed out loud at — and it clearly worked for her. But this is NOT something 99.99% of brands or marketers who read your blog should (or could) emulate.

    I’m bracing myself for the onslaught of wannabe’s who throw a swear into their LinkedIn posts about Artificial Intelligence or some other paradigm shift buzzword soup, just to generate traffic and eyeballs.

    This is short-term, hurtful thinking that threatens to f*ck up your professional personal brand. Don’t do it.

    See what I did there? 🙂

  6. What a terrific post – I mean yours and the one on LinkedIn you’ve written about. So much for “rules of good writing”. Nothing beats the sheer “authenticity” oozing out of every word of the LinkedIn post. I guess we bloggers had better see past headline formulas and grammar and all other hallmarks of a great post.

    It’s all about people warming up to the writer’s genuineness! And if anything, the bad grammar adds to the “brand image” that the writer is not even aiming to create!

    What can I say? Thanks Ann. I needed to see this post to bring myself back to basics i.e. human-ness!

  7. Roger Parker says:

    Thanks, Ann:
    Fascinating post and discussion. Reminds me of two things:

    One is the career of viral YouTube marketing success of Simone Giertz, the “Queen of Shitty Robots.” https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3KEoMzNz8eYnwBC34RaKCQ

    Well-supported on Patreon, million and a half views of some of her videos, appearance on Steven Colbert, and growing business opportunities.

    Second is Victor Borge’s retort to a fellow pianist who disliked his humorous, sold-out concerts in the world’s finest concert halls: “I cried all the way to the bank.”

    Takeaway; no matter how good you are at what you do, you have to be noticed.
    Roger

    • Ann Handley says:

      I just spent way too long on Simone Giertz’s videos. Wow. So good… thank you for that link, Roger!

      And all the YES to Victor Borge!

      Happy new year and thanks for swinging by.

  8. Pingback: I Should Hate This LinkedIn Post, but It’s Actually the Greatest – HUB relevante.me

  9. Suzan says:

    That’s a great article! Thanks for bringing it up for some additional air. I’d have never seen it otherwise. And although I have a home office (mostly) of my own, now I want a shed. 🙂

  10. Melissa Galt says:

    I actually think that Cara was a bit less concerned with sales than she was focused on connection and that what made this work so well. If she’d focused on sales, she’d have been about false polish and pretty packaging in her post. She sought to polarize and draw out her peeps. Better to be loved and hated, than universally liked or considered nice.

    Nice is wonder bread and we all know what happened to them…go for being nutty rye with raisins and streaks of cinnamon (made that combo up) and you’ll find your raving fans, aka buyers, and the rest will leave you alone.

    I find her approach refreshing and she reminds me of two others, both beyond the USA, Leela Cosgrove, The 8 Percent and Kirsten Roberts. They don’t shy away from curse words and wouldn’t be the same without them, it’s part of their voice and appeal. There are others who use it “strategically” and it’s a total turn off. REALITY ROCKS!

    PS. I had replied on LI when it locked up and disappeared the post, wanted Leela and Kirsten to see this and meet you.

  11. Brian Blake says:

    Ah… I fucking love it, Ann. Kinda’ reminds me of the red-headed chick from Chicago. 😉

    Hope all is well with you!

  12. Barbara Reed says:

    Really love the reminder to be authentic and OWN it! Thanks, Ann.

  13. Christina A says:

    Loving how free she felt to be authentic on a site like LinkedIn. As a college student it sometimes seems as if that site is the holy grail of sites and all job opprotunities and networking will stem from it, but its refreshing to hear about someone writing something so from an “in the moment” kind of moment on there yet describing their professional life! Great read!

  14. Christina A says:

    Loving how free she felt to be authentic on a site like LinkedIn. As a college student it sometimes seems as if that site is the holy grail of sites and all job opprotunities and networking will stem from it, but its refreshing to hear about someone writing something so from an “in the moment” kind of moment on there yet describing their professional life! Great read!

  15. Vic says:

    Cara’s account has been suspended now, without any comms from LinkedIn. Have they shot themselves in the foot? Would love to know your view, Ann.

    • Ann Handley says:

      Hi Vic — They’ve now restored it. I was disappointed that they suspended it — or appeared to. But nonetheless… there seems to have been a change of heart at LinkedIn as relates to Cara’s posts. Thankfully.

      Thanks for swinging by here…

  16. Mike S. says:

    “bullshit chat”, or Decency and Professionalism? Conveying thoughts and moving others without words that would offend thinking people, in order to garner attention? Big deal. Intellect gets the point across without forcing emotion with vulgarity. That post is not employing intellect or value. Better to craft our words to move others on basis, not shock. I believe Cara can offer more than that.

    • Ann Handley says:

      “Intellect gets the point across without forcing emotion with vulgarity.”

      For many people, yes. But in Cara’s case, she was true to herself and embraced her own voice as a differentiator in a sea of same.

      I don’t advocate that everyone should embrace profanity — I hope I made that clear. But in Cara’s case I applaud it.

      Thanks for your comment, Mike.

  17. Amar kumar says:

    Hey Ann,

    Glad to read your interesting post and i really loved whole scenario of Cara. We can publish content on our LinkedIn profile, then we have a powerful way to ensure that our contacts see our latest content.

    We need to make our first LinkedIn post great. Offering great content is a must, and the headline is extremely important, as it will either encourage people to click to read our post or to turn off notifications about our future posts.

    Measuring the success of a content strategy is always a significant challenge for organisations. Lead scoring is one way to help determine how content is performing in terms of lead generation.

    LinkedIn is really a healthy source for our business when we use it wisely – it definitely show positive results. Eventually, thanks for sharing your best experience with us.

    With best wishes,

    Amar kumar

  18. “Great content isn’t storytelling; it’s telling a true story well.”

    Loved this post. Thank you.

  19. Camilla Hallstrom says:

    Wow- what a great example of using authenticity the right way. I normally shun away from these types of posts, but it seems to me that Cara didn’t do it because of the attention it would get her, but because that’s who she is. Meaning, “authentic” posts feel a bit manipulative, but this was anything but that. And the way she tied the post to her product is really impressive.

  20. I often struggle to explain what makes writing good. What is it that makes quality content? Cara’s post certainly challenges some of the ways I talk about quality writing.

    But when I think about “quality” in its broadest sense, it comes down to making a connection. That is the real purpose. Creating something that other people identify with and want to read. Let’s face it, there is way too much deeply-dull content that is flawless in the grammar and spelling department.

    And, I swear, I want one of those sheds.

  21. Pingback: Is My Writing Good Enough? Here's What You Should Know

  22. Emmerey Rose says:

    Awesome post Ann! Thanks for sharing this story. Interesting how she chose Linkedin over other social media on sharing her article. Would love to personally read the whole article. Where can I find the link? 🙂

  23. I love how you’ve outlined the key points of Cara’s piece, Ann. Very very helpful!
    #fangirl

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  26. Harsha says:

    Good article, Very helpful with great pictures

  27. Yasar says:

    Very Interesting & Useful Post Ann,
    Thank you for sharing.

  28. stickman says:

    Your site has a lot of useful information for myself. I visit regularly. Hope to have more quality items.

  29. Reality writting! I loved the story. I wish I could order one of those sheds! The picture at the top is wonderful.

  30. It’s great because of the knowledge you share with us, I will always follow your blog and will share your blog with my friends

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