I can’t recall a modification to the LinkedIn platform that has met with more confusion than the company’s unannounced and unheralded introduction of the LinkedIn Skills and Expertise Endorsement platform. Since its arrival, I have been fielding numerous questions from clients and colleagues on the utility and validity of this feature, and I’m sure there will be many more to come. Invariably, people want to know the reasoning behind these endorsements, whether they are designed to replace the recommendations they’ve already received and what the strategy sets are around them.
I think the Skills and Expertise Endorsement feature is a fine addition to the LinkedIn profile, one that will undoubtedly escalate the level of engagement right there on the page and have far-reaching implications in creating top-of-mind awareness, rekindling dormant relationships and building goodwill. It also gets to the core of LinkedIn Corporation’s dual commitment to improving the user experience and making life easier for those in the talent acquisition business. It is clearly designed with recruiters in mind. What is also evident is that this new feature has people talking—about LinkedIn.
The back-story on LinkedIn endorsements begins in March 2011, when an “Add Sections” link, positioned right underneath the LinkedIn billboard, made its debut on the LinkedIn profile. Among the many options that you could include was Skills. You were free to title these terms as you saw fit, with any combination of keywords. About a year later, many LinkedIn users noticed another change: The Specialties section of the LinkedIn profile—an accompaniment to the LinkedIn profile Summary in which many LinkedIn users listed their skills and core competencies—was unceremoniously discontinued. (If you had content in this section prior to the change, you could keep it; if you deleted it, you couldn’t restore it. Those creating new accounts did not have it available.) Thus, the focus shifted to the new Skills section and a great many added it to their LinkedIn profiles. Ultimately, Skills became a permanent addition to the LinkedIn profile template.
Then, on August 20, 2012, the LinkedIn profile page, which had previously received only a few minor tweaks, underwent its first significant design change. The LinkedIn billboard—the area that housed all your professional vitals—was condensed; more visual emphasis was placed on your professional headline and headshot; your once-visible and readily ascertainable contact information (including URLs to your Web collateral) was concealed within a drop-down menu; the number of LinkedIn recommendations that you had accrued was no longer displayed. You could find out the latter, but it took a bit of detective work.
That leads us to September 24, 2012, when LinkedIn rolled out Endorsements for Skills and Expertise, another marker towards the complete revamping of the LinkedIn profile. The outcry is not the expected one—that is, how this new feature builds on the already established credibility model. Instead, it’s why endorsements, why now?
On the Nature of Endorsement
As defined by the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, to endorse is “to acknowledge” or “to give approval of or support to by public statement.” In essence, your endorsement—both given and received—is merely an acknowledgment, a passive sign of approval. It is a LinkedIn like. Unlike the written recommendation, it doesn’t go deep. There is no insight into your character, no assessment, no validation of your integrity. For those who may shy away from a lengthy written treatment (the recommendation), the LinkedIn endorsement is a simple click that shouts, “I vouch for you. I was here on your LinkedIn profile and wanted to acknowledge your ability in a particular area.” In our Testimonial Era, where word-of-mouth and user-generated online content shape perception and drive action, we are what others say we are. Competition is omnipresent and we are all looking for differentiators and credibility enhancers. Any affirmation of your skill or acumen (especially on your LinkedIn profile) is a desired outcome as you move forward in social business.
The Grid of Competency
Unlike the previous refinements LinkedIn made to its user interface in July 2012, the LinkedIn Skills and Endorsement feature rolled out without any fanfare. I found out as you may have: One morning, I received an email notifying me that I had been endorsed by a connection. Endorsed? What is that? So I followed the link to my profile page, where a prominent blue banner trumpeted the change. I had been endorsed for skills I created a while ago, as well as some new ones that somehow found their way into that content section, now reformatted to include a tally counter on the left and a depository for headshot thumbnails on the right. In the days that followed, the endorsements trickled in, the count went up and the thumbnails accumulated. Some skills were being endorsed more than others, thus forming what I call the Grid of Competency. This grid describes the distribution of opinion with respect to your professional capabilities as expressed by your LinkedIn tribes.
Part II of JD’s Take will explore the reciprocity issues regarding LinkedIn endorsements, as well their applications in recruiting and restricted industries. JD will also share his insights on how to integrate these endorsement strategies into the brand new LinkedIn profile format.