One year after LinkedIn introduced the Skills & Expertise Endorsements feature to its platform, tens of millions of LinkedIn users remain in the dark about what these numbers really mean, as well as the rationale underlying the activity itself. Opinions on the feature’s usefulness run the gamut from being just a popularity contest to a granular, defining appraisal of one’s professional capacity. The lack of consensus on LinkedIn Endorsements would seem to belie the fair share of attention paid to giving and receiving them.

THUMBS UP Mechanical ArmSince LinkedIn introduced the Skills & Expertise Endorsements feature on September 24, 2012, it has dominated the conversation among users, eclipsing the cosmetic changes to the LinkedIn profile page, which occurred at around the same time. As the feature has matured, questions about its validity have increased. My experiential evidence confirms that many people are struggling to find context for these endorsements and are continuing on a path of frustration.

With the jury still out on LinkedIn endorsements, there is opportunity for LinkedIn to pinpoint their value and provide some clarity. I know I could use some. I am just as curious as you as to learn how the company plans to handle them. Like you, I receive LinkedIn endorsements from people I don’t know for skills I don’t possess. At the time of this writing, we have arrived at a point at which conjecture has displaced fact. Your guess is as good as mine as to future of the feature:

Are recruiters really interested in the counts?

Will the skill tallies be indexed and rolled over into an expanded search algorithm?

Will the feature be abolished?

Since when do I do project management?

I am on the record as someone who favors LinkedIn endorsements. I think they do lend themselves to the credibility discussion. As someone who embraces and teaches LinkedIn best practices, I would like to offer my take on the status of LinkedIn endorsements on its first anniversary, and insights as to how we can negotiate them moving forward.

1). Endorse others for the skills they are known to possess

If compiled in a conscientious manner, endorsements from your LinkedIn connections could be helpful in raising your brand awareness and getting found by the right people. The giving of LinkedIn endorsements should be of one’s own volition. Consider the huge blue banner that downloads superior to the marquee of the LinkedIn profiles of 1st degree connections upon your visit, prompting endorsements for skills off of a prefab list (highlighting those that they did not provide themselves). Your connections will view a similar banner upon visiting your LinkedIn profile. This is the primary reason that endorsements do not accrue organically. Nobody is scrolling down to the belly of the page where your “real” skills—those for which you want to be endorsed—are displayed.

2). LinkedIn endorsements get conversations started

One thing I know for sure regarding the rollout of LinkedIn endorsements: they got people talking and thinking about LinkedIn—at a time when their heads were spinning from all of the site changes. And whereas so many may feel that the LinkedIn endorsements are merely a surface estimation of one’s true capabilities, for me, they have proven to be a valuable engagement strategy. I endorse others when justified, and make it a point to reach out and thank folks for endorsing me. If it has been a while since we have spoken, I will get the dialog rolling. The genius behind the feature lies in its inherent value as a top-of-mind technique. If you can create situational awareness around the flurry of endorsement activity that plays out in your network—and this takes time and patience—then you can make something great happen. The topic, too, itself is a great conversation starter. Next time you are at a networking event, ask someone what they think of LinkedIn endorsements. See where it takes you.

3). Do not run LinkedIn endorsement campaigns

Since the inception of the feature, I have received several long-winded messages from people seeking my endorsement. And I am not talking about a message that is tailored for my eyes only, but the one that begins with “Hello Valued Connection.” In it, the sender is requesting endorsements in specific skill categories, while offering to do the same for me in return. Such is the nature of what I call social coercion. LinkedIn endorsements should not be solicited; they should accrue by their own inertia. Of what value is an endorsement that is not heartfelt or born out of integrity? However, if someone you know well has already endorsed you for your non-primary skills, there is nothing wrong with creating a touch point (thanking them, of course) around the request for a return visit to your LinkedIn profile to endorse you for your preferred skills. Mention that you will be delighted to reciprocate.

4). Treasure the written LinkedIn recommendations you receive

One notable aspect that has been brought to light by the consternation over endorsements is just how valuable the written LinkedIn recommendation truly is. Some of you may have taken such testimonials for granted. I implore you to do so no more. I have noticed that the frequency with which people in my network give or receive written recommendations has decreased since the release of endorsements. Given people’s crazy-busy schedules and fractured attention spans, it is no wonder. They take effort. Those that receive them, especially when unsolicited, ought to hold the writer in high esteem. An endorsement is, by no means, a substitute for a well-crafted recommendation. The latter, which offers experiential evidence into a person’s competency and character, is a far more accurate gauge of our credibility in the social business world.

5). Perhaps an intermediary step in the endorsement process? 

There is not much thought behind the majority of endorsement activity. (See skills. Click on skills. In some cases, turbo-click on the whole lot. Or click on those with the higher count, feeling that these are the areas in which the person excels.) Endorsement for the sake of endorsement does not strengthen bonds between LinkedIn connections. There is an element that is missing. Say, for example, that when you mouse over a given skill, a text box pops up with a couple of check boxes. Here, you would be required to validate that the person actually commands that particular skill or area of expertise and has demonstrated it to you. Not until you qualify as an endorser will the endorsement register and your thumbnail become visible on that person’s LinkedIn profile.

Parting Thoughts

On LinkedIn, skills and expertise are vital to your keyword strategy. They are your ticket to entry in a world where you are judged before you are bought or hired. Having them in some incarnation—and with the appropriate density—on your LinkedIn profile is imperative. By now, we should be aware that managing change is a vital part of advantageously using LinkedIn. If you know me, you know I focus on the positive. Complaining creates negative energy, and negative energy has no place in social networking.

About the author

J.D. Gershbein

©2014 by J.D. Gershbein. All Rights Reserved. Since 2006, JD Gershbein, CEO of Owlish Communications, has helped advance the collective awareness of LinkedIn and inspired opportunity-oriented professionals in all walks of business to step up and achieve on the site. His message fuses LinkedIn profile optimization, personal branding, respect-based social networking, marketing communication strategy and classical business development techniques with neuroscience and psychology. J.D. is one of the world’s top scholars on LinkedIn, a globally acclaimed speaker and frequent media contributor on social business strategy. He is also adjunct professor of marketing communications at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Stuart Graduate School of Business, where he is advancing social media marketing as an accredited field of study. His book “The LinkedIn Edge: Creating a Psychological Advantage in Social Business” is due out in summer 2014. Get more LinkedIn wisdom when you subscribe to JD’s blog. You are welcome to connect with JD on Google+, Twitter and of course,LinkedIn


5 Responses to “LinkedIn Endorsements: One Year Later”

  • Lon says:

    JD, thanks for another great article. Well said, the juxtaposition of these two; endorsements and well-crafted recommendations certainly lends to the greater credibility and value of the latter. I find it interesting that with the update rollout, my appearances in search dropped by approximately 80% for myself and several others with whom I network. Whereas the remaining 20% do seem to be much more carefully targeted because…... At the same time my profile views went up disproportionately, nearly 90%. I’d say their retooling lends to a betterment of the organic nature of search, which is always preferable. I agree with you that "there is opportunity for LinkedIn to pinpoint the value of endorsements value and provide some clarity." I also think your suggestions are likely being considered by LinkedIn. Funny, several months ago I inquired with LinkedIn and was told my question would be answered by the group working in this area. I then noticed two LinkedIn representatives viewed my profile the next day yet I never received a reply. Definitely not complaining, just curious, I see we concur ……we’ll just have to wait for the clarity. I have noticed some interesting results with a strategy to accelerate the accrual of the “non organic”, "New Skills" one doesn’t necessarily “want”. I’ll share next time we catch up as the strategy can also be leveraged to accelerate the accrual of those "New Skills" one wants.

  • Lon, thank you for your feedback. As hinted in the post, I am curious to see how LinkedIn opts to leverage the endorsements platform. I think the experiment is over and it is time to share the findings. Let's see how the endorsements that people have accrued can convert to new business or aid them in their quest for their dream gigs.

  • Tom Lemanski says:

    What DO you know about Project Management? It leads me to wonder: Even if you or I ARE experts in this or some other category, what brings connections that could NOT possibly know that to endorse us? That may stimulate conversation. But is that kind of conversation really productive for the users/members that LinkedIn is supposed to be serving? Where's the real value?

  • Des Walsh says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. May I suggest a tweak to your point 3? I agree with you in principle about not badgering people for endorsements. On the other hand, I believe there is some value in doing what a colleague of mine has done successfully, which is to ask people for endorsements for the skills he wanted to be particularly known for - the "real" skills tow which you refer in point 1, but which may be down at the bottom. I had no trouble obliging him, as the few skills he wanted emphasised were ones he definitely has. This is really a corrective action for one of the design flaws in the endorsement setup, which I believe prompts people to endorse the top half dozen or so skills that appear on the profile. There is also the issue of search. I have seen references to LinkedIn saying that a profile with endorsements is 4 times more likely to be found than one without. If so, that seems to me a reason to take the management of the endorsement feature quite seriously.

  • @Des: I do refer to a request for "real" skill endorsements in #3 (last two sentences), which is built around an engagement strategy. Again, people are endorsing others for the skill sets they see in the blue banner that downloads upon a LinkedIn profile page visit. The skills displayed there are broad rather than narrow, general as opposed to specific. (Frequently, they are skills that you did not add, but those which LinkedIn inferred from your profile content.) If someone has endorsed me for my "preferred" skills, then I know they have scrolled down to the Skills section in my profile and actually studied my choices. If a client, collaborator, or student, I would hope that I would receive the desired endorsements. If not, I create the touch point as described in my post. Finally, with respect to search, you are correct in your assertion that endorsement-heavy skill sets will net preferential placement in the listings. But it depends on who is doing the searching. If I search my heavily-endorsed skill sets internally on LinkedIn, I will come up on page 1 (usually after a filtered search for location). It will be different on the screens of others, depending on how many levels of separation they are from me. Hence, there is a corollary between network strength and search engine optimization where endorsements are concerned.