Using LinkedIn

In Part I of this series, I delineated between the definitions of the LinkedIn endorsement and recommendation and established a framework for how the former finds its identification point on the LinkedIn profile page. In this post, I’d like to expand the comparison and explore the act of endorsing a LinkedIn connection, taking into account its relative importance, reciprocal dynamic and the context in which it is delivered.

One thing that has become evident in the wake of LinkedIn’s introduction of the Skills & Expertise Endorsement platform is that people take their online credibility seriously. Business professionals have awakened to the all-permeating force of Internet culture and the influence that digital word-of-mouth brings to bear. Quickly scanning the endorsement display (Grid of Competency) of a would-be vendor, service provider or job candidate gives a nebulous appraisal of that individual’s capabilities, whereas written recommendations, culled from actual experience, are a more telling feature of a person’s accountability, reliability and performance.

Most people with whom I’ve spoken about endorsements have offered positive commentary. Others remain on the fence, are indifferent, or just going with the flow. Some people, as I have noticed in the LinkedIn groups, are more outspoken and question the validity of endorsements, feeling that they cheapen one’s credibility. One thing is for sure: LinkedIn wants endorsements to be a prominent piece of the new LinkedIn profile format and is making them the focus of a new wave of engagement strategies.

Exchanging endorsements and recommendations are actions that lend themselves to comparison and contrast. Allow me to summarize the distinctions as follows:


Reciprocity Then and Now

Back in the day, when you wrote a LinkedIn recommendation for a first degree connection and it was accepted and posted, you immediately received one in return. This knee-jerk response was prompted by the system and your recommendation hit the home page right underneath the one you wrote. The event was perceived as staged. Today, as networks have expanded, and a dizzying amount of content pounds the stream, the quid pro quo aspect of recommendations is diminished or lost altogether. Nobody is keeping track anymore. Nowadays, most people simply don’t have the time to sit down and write an unsolicited LinkedIn recommendation and are moved to do so only when requested. The process has become highly collaborative, frequently requiring multiple touch points (brainstorming, revisions, etc.) that can catalyze a relationship.

An endorsement comes to you when a visitor to your LinkedIn profile deems you as “endorsement-worthy.” This visit is sparked by a casual observation of you on the home page, in the networks of common connections, or via an off-LinkedIn mental cue (receipt of an email, voice mail, etc.). Perhaps you may feel an obligation to return an endorsement left for you. In those instances, an accompanying note of thanks is always appropriate (and a powerful goodwill builder). I tend to reciprocate endorsements left for me, and I will leave endorsements for others with no expectation of payback. Several times, the exchange initiated a meaningful business conversation, lending credence to the argument that the endorsement can be a very powerful top-of-mind strategy.

LinkedIn endorsements should not be seen as a popularity contest, nor should you run targeted campaigns to increase your tally. Let them flow. Endorse your key connections (if they haven’t gotten to you first) for real reasons, not merely to curry favor. Allow the Grid of Competency to populate under its own inertia. Based on the feedback I’ve received, I sense that many people view the endorsement as an easier alternative to crafting a full-blown LinkedIn recommendation, and will feel more inclined to generate or reciprocate endorsements. And endorsements beget endorsements.

In the Eye of the Recruiter

Talent acquisition is a vital piece of LinkedIn’s business model and at the heart of the Skills and Expertise Endorsement platform. Recruiters use LinkedIn in altogether different ways than salespeople, entrepreneurs or executives. They are racing the clock (and each other) to fill available positions. They spend the majority of the day performing targeted, keyword-based searches of qualified candidates, quickly sifting through the listings and distilling down to a select few. They don’t spend much time on LinkedIn profiles (they routinely access several hundred in the course of a week) and make surface judgments based on how people pop on the page.

Adding skills and talents will surely bolster your position in search.Even in a down job market, there are highly sought-after skill sets, those that can put you under consideration just for claiming them. The more relevant and specific the wording, the greater the likelihood you will wind up in the recruiter’s crosshairs. (Hint: If you are actively involved in a job search, you may wish to “borrow” exact phrasing of skills and expertise from job descriptions you are pursuing from the companies you are targeting.)

The Skills and Expertise piece figures prominently in the new LinkedIn profile format, and the company undoubtedly has big plans for expanding it as a recruiting solution.

A Note on Restricted Industries

Reciprocity notwithstanding, financial services and healthcare, two industries that are heavily regulated, closely monitored and constricted on social networking sites, will have issues with the LinkedIn endorsement feature. Due to legislation, compliance constraints and confidentiality requirements, individuals in these industries cannot display recommendations or endorsements on their LinkedIn profiles. Additionally, many professional service providers (e.g., attorneys, accountants), especially those in larger firms, and depending on their state of residence, cannot display any content that can be construed as a testimonial, marketing device or an advertisement (nor can they endorse or recommend others). Ultimately, many of these professionals will be mandated to keep this section of their LinkedIn profiles hidden from public view.

That said, are you more or less inclined to reciprocate a LinkedIn endorsement?

Part III of JD’s Take on LinkedIn endorsements will go inside the numbers. What does the tally really mean in a social networking strategy? JD will also provide valuable suggestions for moving forward with this new feature.