At the World’s Watercooler: reasons to believe

The most shared content in September was often local and often uplifting, with professional audiences determined to focus on positives

October 22, 2020

At the World’s Watercooler: reasons to believe

For several months during the spring and early summer, content sharing on LinkedIn was dominated by a single issue: the global pandemic. This shaped the characteristics of the content that people shared most often. Trusted, traditional media sources took over from blogs and influencers. Expert opinions and compelling data analysis were the triggers for people to pay attention to posts – and pass them on. Conversation was focused around understanding the virus itself, its economic consequences, and how the world should respond.

Our Watercooler analysis of the most influential content on LinkedIn in September shows how much this has changed over the last few months. The virus itself barely features in the headlines driving the ten most content shares in each of our regions. This could be a symptom of pandemic fatigue. It’s certainly a reflection of the fact that working life in many countries had been reverting towards normality prior to a second wave materialising

The Watercooler for September is also evidence of something else, which may endure despite the resurgence of Covid-19. Professionals worldwide are looking for reasons to believe. They’re gravitating towards positive stories around creativity, innovation and equality, and responding to inspiring examples of what people are capable of.

Professionals’ appetite for trusted sources has remained. Established media outlets still account for a greater proportion of the most shared content than they did prior to the pandemic. However, the stories that resonate with audiences are noticeably less global. Audiences are finding inspiration closer to home, which is why only four stories appear in more than one top ten. In Latin America there are no stories in English – and every one of the most influential posts is unique to the region. In Europe, there are only three English language stories in the top ten, the lowest proportion in any Watercooler analysis so far.

The posts that engage most strongly across boundaries are those that explore a more humanised approach to business and technology. They include Bill Gates’ heartfelt, personal tribute to his father, William H. Gates Sr. It illuminates a figure who often remained in the background but had an out-sized influence on entrepreneurs in Seattle, on the work of the Gates Foundation and on the philosophy of his son. Its message is about the positive difference that a single person’s ideals and principles can make.

Audiences across EMEA also paid close attention to news of Google recognising the pressures of working from home by giving employees an additional day off for “collective wellbeing.” It’s an acknowledgement of the extra pressures that so many professionals feel – but also plants the idea that companies can and should adapt to support them more effectively.

In a working world that’s more dependent than ever on technology, two other internationally shared posts explore the forms that such technology can take. Audiences across Africa responded to a report on Microsoft’s project to cut the energy demands of data centres by storing them at the bottom of the sea. This raises the possibility of a cloud powered entirely by renewable energy sources. Another dimension of technology was the subject of an unusual column appearing in The Guardian newspaper. Commissioned from OpenAI’s powerful new language generator, GPT-3, it featured Artificial Intelligence making the case for the positive impact of Artificial Intelligence. OpenAI’s argument was that humans have more influence over the future than they often believe. That’s the kind of message that content sharers in September were most ready to respond to.

The Watercooler for Europe:

1. A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?

From The Guardian

2. Le venin d’abeille permet de tuer les cellules cancéreuses du sein

From Trust My Science

3. La France bondit au classement des pays les plus innovants

From Les Echos

4. "Ti amo Italia": il Belpaese in mostra sui vasetti della Nutella per aiutare il turismo

From La Repubblica

5. L’intelligence situationnelle, une compétence pour réussir dans un monde incertain

From HBR France

6. Ferrero, a 6mila dipendenti in Italia un premio da 2.100 euro ad ottobre

From Il Sole 24 Ore

7. Remembering my father

From GatesNotes, the blog of Bill Gates

8. Esta es la razón por la que tantos incompetentes triunfan más que tú en el trabajo

From La Vanguardia

9. Google tells employees to take Friday off as a 'collective wellbeing' holiday during pandemic


10. La rivincita della gentilezza: per fare carriera ostilità ed egoismo non aiutano

From La Repubblica

Lessons from Europe’s Watercooler:

Innovation with a purpose was the primary driver of content sharing across Europe, including reports from Australia that bee venom could play a role in treating cancer and a celebratory piece from Les Echos newspaper, that showed France rising four places in the international league table of innovation compiled by Insead and Cornell University.

Le Repubblica and Il Sole 24 Ore celebrated two different forms of innovation at the Italian confectionary giant Ferrero. The company launched a creative initiative to help revive Italy’s tourist industry by using a media space with real international reach: its jars of Nutella. At the same time, it distributed €2,100 tax-free bonuses to workers at 6,000 factories that managed to maintain production levels during the pandemic.

Workplace culture is a common theme in content sharing on LinkedIn – and three of Europe’s most influential posts explored the evolving nature of that culture in a post-pandemic world. HBR France explored the concept of Situational Intelligence (SI): the ability to read and respond to situations, including the limits of one’s own knowledge. It argued that this characteristic should be valued more highly as the key to success in an uncertain world. Proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences, published in La Vanguardia, busted myths about what it takes to succeed professionally, with research that suggests being hostile and competitive is actually a hindrance to careers. On the other hand, La Republicca reported studies showing that too many businesses confuse self-confidence with talent, which often results in incompetent men being promoted above better qualified women.

The Watercooler for Latin America:

1. Menino autista é o estudante mais jovem da Universidade de Oxford. Com 6 anos ele estudou história e filosofia

From Psicologias Do Brasil

2. Bilionário fundador da Duty Free doa toda a sua fortuna

From Exame

3. Nubank compra Easynvest e entra no mercado de investimentos

From Exame

4. Tu vida es tu fiesta, no la de tus invitados

From BBVA Aprendemos juntos

5. A maior contribuição para a Pátria é educar o filho para a prática do que é correto

From Globo Radio

6. Por que criamos um programa de liderança só para negros...

From Brazil Journal

7. Eternit tem aval para venda de telha que gera energia solar

From Exame

8. Magazine Luiza só aceitará negros em próximo programa de trainee

From Estadão

9. O lanche do Burger King agora mofa — e isso é bom

From Veja

10. MPT conclui que trainee para negros do Magalu é reparação histórica

From Exame

Lessons from Latin America’s Watercooler:

The content driving conversation in Latin America is local, often uplifting and focused on stories that celebrate people taking control of their lives, careers and impacts on the world. It also crosses a wide variety of formats. The popular actress and clown Wendy Ramos shared her philosophy for professional fulfilment in a video chat from the ‘We Learn Together’ series created by the newspaper El Pais. Writer and philosopher Mario Sergio Cortella discussed how parents and early years education can help transform society for the better in an interview clip from Globo Radio.

The most shared posts in the region centred on people at either end of their lives. One celebrated a young boy growing up with autism, who became the youngest every student of Oxford University when given a place to study history and philosophy at the age of six. Audiences also responded to the story of Duty Free founder Chuck Feeney, who fulfilled an ambition to donate his entire fortune to philanthropic foundations within his own lifetime. Now aged 89, Mr. Feeney is regularly cited as an inspiration by the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

Three of our top ten posts focus on the same story – one that resonates particularly strongly after a summer that has focused attention on the Black Lives Matter movement. The retailer Magazine Luiza (often known as Magalu) launched an affirmative action initiative with a leadership programme open only to black candidates. Frederico Trajano, the nephew of Magalu’s founder, wrote a column in Brazil Journal arguing for the importance of such schemes in addressing historical prejudice – a point of view that the Ministry of Labor agreed with when rejecting complaints that the program discriminated against non-black employees.

As in other regions, innovation is a frequent trigger for content sharing in Latin America. FinTech represents a key sector of Brazil’s economy – and news that the country’s largest digital bank had acquired an investment broker commanded attention. Audiences also responded to news that the construction company Eternit has developed a concrete roof tile with integrated photovoltaic cells that cuts the costs of domestic solar power by up to 20%.

The Watercooler for the Middle East and North Africa:

1. Dubai Police arrest fake recruiters who exploited 150 jobseekers

From The National News UAE

2. Remembering my father

From GatesNotes, the blog of Bill Gates

3. A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?

From The Guardian

4. Google tells employees to take Friday off as a 'collective wellbeing' holiday during pandemic


5. Oracle Chosen as TikTok’s Secure Cloud Provider

From Oracle News

6. Microsoft's underwater data centre resurfaces after two years

From BBC

7. UAE law ensuring equal pay for men and women comes into force

From The National News UAE

8. Qatar Airways Becomes the First Global Carrier To Operate Honeywell’s Ultraviolet Cabin Cleaning Technology

From Qatar Airways

9. FinCEN Files: All you need to know about the documents leak

From BBC

10. Equal pay for men, women in UAE private sector from September 25

From Khaleej Times

Lessons from The Middle East and North Africa’s Watercooler:

The most influential content in the Middle East and North Africa is balanced between local news and international themes. As elsewhere, audiences responded to Bill Gates’ tribute to his father, were intrigued by the writings of OpenAI’s ‘robot’, and paid close attention to news from Google and Microsoft. However, the most shared story in the region was a local one: reports of fake recruiters exploiting the rise in those seeking work during the pandemic. Two posts announced the approval of a new law outlawing wage discrimination against women in the United Arab Emirates.

One international story that resonated particularly strongly was the leak of top-secret documents at the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which reveal Suspicious Activity Reports of money laundering through international banks.

Audiences in the region are open to getting their news direct from companies as well as from the traditional media. A Qatar Airways release announcing a new system for cleaning planes of viruses and bacteria using UV light was widely shared, as was Oracle’s announcement of its deal to keep TikTok operating in the US as its secure cloud provider.

The Watercooler for Sub-Saharan Africa:

1. Remembering my father

From GatesNotes, the blog of Bill Gates

2. Google tells employees to take Friday off as a 'collective wellbeing' holiday during pandemic

From CNB

3. Dr. Fadji Zaouna Maina, 29 ans, première scientifique du Niger à intégrer la NASA

From African Shapers

4. Innoson Motors Takes Uber, Bolt via IVM Connect in Nigeria

From Tekedia

5. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Champion Of Gender Equality, Dies At 87

From NPR

6. A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?

From The Guardian

7. Milestone result in a challenging year - Shoprite adds R9.7bn to its RSA supermarket sales

From Shoprite Holdings Ltd

8. EVA Pharma starts export of COVID-19 Antiviral Avipiravir® Worldwide

From Eva Pharma

9. Vodafone introduces four months parental leave for all employees

From Joy Online

10. Microsoft's underwater data centre resurfaces after two years

From BBC

Lessons from Sub-Saharan Africa’s Watercooler:

Our top ten for Sub-Saharan Africa is similarly balanced between international news and celebrations of success from within the region. Influential posts included news of Dr. Fadji Zaouna Maina, the first Nigerian scientist to join NASA, the launch of an Uber-style ride-hailing service in Eastern Nigeria, and Vodafone’s introduction of four months parental leave for its employees in Ghana

As in North Africa, professional audiences further south are ready to consume compelling stories that come direct from the companies involved in them. Two of these feature among the ten most influential posts and both involve positive news in the battle against the pandemic: Eva Pharma’s announcement that it has started exporting a new antiviral drug, and results from the South African retail chain Shoprite that showed it growing sales despite the pandemic.