The LinkedIn Endorsement Smackdown

For years, I was a brand evangelist for LinkedIn. For me, it was an ideal way to stay on top of my business connections, meet new colleagues or learn more about individuals BEFORE engaging with them in any kind of email dialogue or face-to-face meeting. It definitely helped me establish my business presence for a larger audience, instead of carrying a long bio on our website. But I was surprised when they introduced the concept of “endorsements”

For years, I was brand evangelist for LinkedIn. For me, it was an ideal way to stay on top of my business connections (changing jobs, getting promotions), meet new colleagues (either through a mutual connection or using my LinkedIn credits) or learn more about individuals BEFORE engaging with them in any kind of email dialogue or face-to-face meeting.

I carefully built my profile and reached out to clients and colleagues for recommendations, smugly building it to over 700 connections. It definitely helped me establish my business presence for a larger audience, instead of carrying a long bio on our website.

But I was surprised when they introduced the concept of “endorsements.”

On the surface it seems simple enough. You choose a series of “skills” and areas of “expertise” from a long list (or create them yourself).

Connected to somebody on LinkedIn? That must mean you know them and are fully aware of their skills, so you have the experience to give them a nod on a skill they’ve identified in their profile when presented with that question.

The problem is that all sorts of people have now endorsed me—some are people I barely know, and, to be honest, many have endorsed me for skills they couldn’t possibly know whether I have or not.

Out of 700-plus connections, 68 have endorsed me for direct marketing. Fair enough … I run a direct marketing agency and have worked in the business for 30-plus years, so it’s pretty safe to say I have DM skills. But it seems strange to me that a sales rep for a printer (who I have no memory of ever meeting) or my personal realtor neighbor, would endorse me for this skill.

I realize that when I look at someone’s profile, a little box pops up asking me if that individual has the skills or expertise they selected … and I could just skip by and ignore the whole thing. But that’s not my point.

My question is: Does having 68 endorsements for a skill make me more of an expert than, say, the guy who only has 12 endorsements for that same skill?

To answer this question, I clicked on the “Skills & Expertise” section of LinkedIn (found within the “More” drop down menu). I typed in “direct marketing,” and the first “expert” who popped up, Bill Glazer, had only 9 endorsements for direct marketing. In fact, after reading his profile, I’d say that Direct Marketing is not his area of expertise (although he has plenty of marketing expertise).

The second guy, Bob Bly, had 99-plus endorsements for Direct Marketing … (I know Bob and he deserves 99-plus endorsements). The third guy had 44 folks endorsing him, and the fourth guy has 58 endorsements, so the algorithm can’t use the number of endorsements as its only search criteria. In fact, after peering into the top 15 folks LinkedIn suggested as having direct marketing skills, I have to wonder about the usefulness of this search tool as the skill sets of these folks were all over the map.

So I have to ask LinkedIn: What’s the point of the endorsement tool? If it’s not being used to rank order skills for those who are searching for that kind of help/expertise, then why offer it? And, if any of your connections can endorse you for a skill, doesn’t that make the idea of endorsements disingenuous?

Author: Carolyn Goodman

A blog that challenges B-to-B marketers to learn, share, question, and focus on getting it right—the first time. Carolyn Goodman is President/Creative Director of Goodman Marketing Partners. An award-winning creative director, writer and in-demand speaker, Carolyn has spent her 30-year career helping both B-to-B and B-to-C clients cut through business challenges in order to deliver strategically sound, creatively brilliant marketing solutions that deliver on program objectives. To keep her mind sharp, Carolyn can be found most evenings in the boxing ring, practicing various combinations. You can find her at the Goodman Marketing website, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @CarolynGoodman.

51 thoughts on “The LinkedIn Endorsement Smackdown”

  1. I own a travel agency and was a little bit surprised when I started getting "endorsements" for honeymoon travel from people who weren’t my clients.

    I think people are trying to be helpful, but if I haven’t actually planned vacations for you you should not be endorsing me!

    The same thing applies when asking for recommendations. If I haven’t worked with you, I can’t recommend you.

  2. I too am an avid advocate for LinkedIn. It has helped me to build a business community from all corners of the World.
    I also agree that the endorsement tool is puzzling. When making an endorsement myself, I try to be very thoughtful. Yet, I have dozens of people endorsing me, sometimes twice for the same skill, and sometimes for skills I do not pro-port to have.
    This concept may be good but the constant pop up boxes that encourage the endorsements are not well explained and cause this over use of the concept.

  3. In general I would have to agree with you. I get the pop up box evertime I log into LinkedIn asking me to endorse a selection of my connections for various skills. I only endorse those people I know from personal experience and only for those skills the I believe they have. I believe that it is my reputatiion on the line when I endorse someone and I protect my professional reputation. As far as considering someone and expert or not, I put FAR more value in the Recommendations. These are first hand comments from colleagues.

  4. Carolyn, I have to agree with you as well. I have been "endorsed" for skills that I may or may not possess by people I may or may not know very well. I appreciate what people are trying to do. But quite frankly, I sometimes wonder if people are doing this so that you will endorse them in turn. As you said, it seems somewhat ingenuous. And like Gary H says, I will only endorse or recommend someone whom I know personally and have had dealings with.

  5. I’m wondering how real those endorsements are. Two people have thanked me for endorsing them recently when I hadn’t actually interacted with LinkedIn for almost a year. Got me wondering whether endorsements are created by LinkedIn out of the blue. Perhaps some fancy bit of programming just randomly picks someone on your contacts list, notes that you have common skill traits and then endorses them for you.

  6. Agree! Endorsements are somewhat disingenuous and if they continue, LI needs to ask the endorser how well, how long, in what context, they know the person they are endorsing.

  7. All good points, Carolyn. I, too, am baffled by this Endorsement feature. I also feel uncomfortable when someone ‘endorses’ me–are they expecting that I will then ‘endorse them back’? Is it rudeness not to?

  8. Another question for you, Carolyn: What is the proper protocol when someone endorses you? Do I need to endorse them right back?

  9. I agree wholeheartedly. It also hands over a great deal of control over your profile to the whims of mere passers by. This needs to go away….

  10. I think the whole Endorsements functionality was rushed into production as a reaction to the Facebook "Like." They wanted something analogous to create similar "quick-click" activity and engagement. As such, and as you point out, the value proposition itself may not have been thought through enough. And there are certainly big flaws in its execution and utility. Speaking to an executive recruiter friend, I get the sense it’s net neutral to mostly negative for people as it may incorrectly position you in a way you didn’t intend or want…

  11. This is right, Carolyn. It’s superficial and often wrong and therefore diminishes credibility certainly for LI and possibly for either the endorser or endorsee.

  12. Linkedin has become a maze of confusing self-indulgent time wasters, driving away the very people they’re alleging to attract!

  13. Couldn’t agree more, thanks loads for writing this! It’s an endorsement free-for-all on LinkedIn, and it’s usually meaningless. Some of the folks who’ve endorsed particular skills know me well and have endorsed "appropriate" skills. Others? No clue!

  14. I agree with you completely and question the authenticity of these endorsements. I have received some that leave me scratching my head. So how can I trust endorsements others have? I was a great idea but people did not follow proper protocol. I want to trust LinkedIn and not have it become Facebook.

  15. While I treasure the endorsements I’ve received from people in my business, I’m amazed at the number of endorsements I get, without my request or approval, from people who wouldn’t know direct marketing from a direct flight to Duluth. (And I say that with apologies to Duluth.)

    There’s no wayI know of to get these endorsements off Linked-In. And yes, many of the endorsers feel hurt if you don’t endorse them back. Consequently, the entire endorsement system is becoming worthless.

  16. Even more egregious is when people you don’t know endorse you for skills you don’t claim to have. It’s really frustrating.

  17. I agree on the value of these endorsements. But I have found they help reconnect me with some in my network I haven’t been in touch with for a number of years. I’m looking at it as a ‘refreshing my network’ exercise and I even send notes to some who have endorsed me. Am I skipping over people presented to me for endrosement? Yes, probably 60-70% of the ones since I can’t vouch for them. This is sort of a ‘like’ button but with a completely different meaning to a profile. Liking someone’s photo from vacation is not the same as endorsing for direct marketing skills and having my photo and name attached forever to their profile with that endorsement. If this feature went away I don’t think it would have any negative impact.

  18. Completely agree and I am embarrassed to admit, I’ve endorsed people I know for skills I have no real visibility into. So while I complain that the endorsement tool is not particularly valid, I’m part of the problem. part of the problem is the video game like process (kind of like Whack-A-Mole for expertise) that encourages you to continue to click through contacts as they pop up. I think the feature is essentially fluff that degrades what is otherwise a useful platform.

  19. I’ve wondered the same thing. I reviewed my endorsements and deleted several areas as they are not areas of my expertise. The LI software needs to be adjusted to all endorsements only my list not someone’s perception off a keyword pulled from my profile content.

  20. Not being a social media maven (just not enough time in the day), I don’t pay much attention to such things. But the Linked-In endorsements are becoming a source of guilt. People keep endorsing me and I feel that I should endorse them back … but then you’ve got to sign-in, etc., and I’ve got another hundred emails to get through … and I move on. But feeling guilty when I do.

  21. Its a gimmick used by LinkedIn to get members to increase their activity…as a social media site, traffic and stickiness are the 2 keys to a successful site. This does both since I get an e-mail saying "You have been endorsed", which drives me to LI (traffic) where I note the endorsement and often spend a minute or two endorsing others (stickiness). How LI makes money on this is not clear to me other than any ads get more impressions as a result. If LI is not careful they are going to "water-down" their site, and the professional experience.

  22. Endorsements are really a feature that is all fluff . I have been endorsed by conncetions I do not know and to be honest, I DO NOT endorse back. If I don’t the person how can I vouch for their ability to perform the skills they have?

  23. i agree . i have had a number of endorsements from people I dont know or know but have never done business with.
    I also have had number of people ask to be connected in categories i dont have expertise in or have done business in. sometimes seems like a game to see how many people you can get on your team!!!!

    Linked in must get back to the simple KISS rule and get back to building solid business relationships

  24. Once I was endorsed for "friendly demeanor" (and from a person I’ve only met online, to boot!), I lost any glimmer of respect I had for the "endorsements" tool. Not that I’m not friendly, but I felt like I was in kindergarden getting a participant award.

  25. This was just an attempt to gamify LinkedIn and create a new way to drive people to visit the site more often. For me, it only highlighted the importance of the written, thoughtful recommendation. My LinkedIn endorsements are, for the most part, pretty accurate, but your concerns are on the nose and totally valid.

  26. Ever the provcateur. I think if you are checking someone out and they have endorsements from people for their skills (however hokey the system is) it shows that a person is held in some esteem by a number of people for actual or perceived skills. I have been endorsed by some people who ndon’t know me — but far more that do. I have also been endorsed for skills I only aspire to have. Go figure.

  27. I am really glad you raised the subject. The endorsement tool is a way to keep visible to people in your network as they are notified that you have endorsed them. On the other hand, it seems like a shallow gratuitous tool that does not seem to enhance network contacts. That being said, I am embarrassed to admit that I returned a few endorsements as recently as last night. Thanks for bringing up the topic.

  28. Not only endorsements, I get emails from people I have never met to write a recommendation for them. Makes you wonder about this tool also.

  29. Thanks for bringing up a subject I have been wondering about. I have used LinkedIn for many years as a valuable social media tool. When I first started receiving endorsements, I was honored. Then, as they continued to come in regularly, I began to question their value. To me, the worthiness of endorsements are being diluted since there are no criteria used. I agree with Les’ comment: LI should consider asking some qualifying questions and refining the process to add more value to this service.

  30. Carolyn – I have been thinking the same thing. It seems pretty useless when people endorse you just by clicking a button. To me, a real endorsement is from someone who has worked with you and who writes a few words about you and your skills.

    And then…A couple of weeks ago I got a "Wow" message saying I was in the top 1% of people in the U.S. with endorsements for copywriting. Two days later, I got a LinkedIn ad promo – giving me $50 off to start advertising.

    Could it be that the first people who pop up in a search like you described are those who have paid to advertise?

    Somehow I think THAT is what this is all about.

  31. ouch. Might be right, but I think it does mean something. Or am I kidding myself? Based on the majority of thoughts shared, sounds like the vote is that the endorsements are fluffiness. Your thoughts?

  32. Definitely agreed, My skills are endorsed by people who can’t vouch for them. Its kinda creeped me out a bit also. Glad I’m not the only one.

  33. I was "endorsed" for a technical skill that’s no longer relevant by a friend who was qualified to "endorse" only my soccer skills + I’m retired and I was scared that someone will offer me a job based on endorsements. I didn’t need to worry.

  34. I agree in general, although I am complimented by a couple of endorsements from people that I really respect, and who I don’t think are just clicking buttons. I much prefer recommendations, which have to be written individually, and therefore (hopefully) with thought.

  35. Right-on! Carolyn. "Endorsements" = A gimick to increase traffic (impressions) as LinkedIn attempts to generate ad revenue. Good call. Myles

  36. Funny u mentioned this as I had to choose whether or not to use LI to sign in and answer. I asked how they decide to send endorsement request to my network, without my knowledge,written by me. It seems like some auto generated marketing activation initiative. Check your sent emails you may find them as well. You can’t opt out of them but you can delete the entire endorsement section. I’ve been concerned for years regarding this social business site that we use to validate, verify, and recognize others. Is it really useful? Are we really learning anything from a business perspective? I’ve learned that marketing in any format, like social media, works well at doing very little. I’m as guilty as the rest of us and participate but find it to be quite liveable without it.

  37. Thus, we again are subject to the vagaries of The Great Leveler, AKA the Internet. Who says that someone with no "Endorsements" (or, for that matter, who’s not even on LinkedIn) is not as great an expert — and I say this only illustratively, and with all due respect — in Direct Marketing as you?

    Really chaps me, that anyone who can put up some shiny objects and write a compelling paragraph in a ‘great website’ can convince many people of their worth…….I dunno…….don’t get me started! 🙂

    And thanks so much, Carolyn, for your column here. I can’t tell you HOW many "Is so-and-so an Expert in….??!!??" endorsement questions I’ve gotten for people I know, close friends included, that prompt me to ask, in return, "Heck, I didn’t know they had a CLUE about doing that!?!"

    And, of course, they DON’T.

  38. Totally agree with the negative comments about "endorsements." They are about as credible as having hundreds of "friends" in Facebook. I have received endorsements from people who could never have any actual knowledge of the skills for which they are "endorsing" me. I have turned that feature off. I ask for recommendations from those who know my abilities and would far rather have a dozen of them than a hundred bogus "endorsements."

  39. Right on point… Even I (having a very high opinion of myself) question the validity of some of the endorsements I get for the same reasons you mention. I then question whether that person wants something from me.

  40. Totally agree with you. It really comes down to having just a few high quality endorsements or referrals rather than quantity. I agree that LinkedIn should reevaluate this feature and consider turning if off.

  41. I have to say I understand the drift of the dialog, but I don’t wholeheartedly agree. I think the LinkedIn endorsements have some value and it is up to the reader/researcher of the persons profile to make a combined judgment of all the data. If you go to the trouble of reading the endorsements and nothing else I agree it has little intrinsic value. But if you read the whole profile and the recommendations and the work history than the endorsements have merit as an additional tool to draw a reasoned conclusion. If you don’t do all the research it reminds me of the old Japanese proverb: If you believe everything you read perhaps you shouldn’t read.

  42. I agree, I view my recommendations as being a much more powerful tool over the endorsements. Endorsements are just something that are there. Not even sure if they need to be there, or in the future if you don’t have any endorsements could that be a negative for you to a future employer?

  43. You have described my sentiments to a tee. I see endorsements in some cases as a popularity contest. I’ve been endorsed by people who have very little knowledge of how well I use certain skills or expertise. I’m also guilty of clicking on others’ endorsement without complete knowledge, and then thinking what a bonehead move that was.

    Give me a recommendation any day. I think LinkedIn’s goal is to generate more community action; recommendations were coming along too slowly.

  44. I like endorsements and find them useful. I don’t use them to compare individuals, as you discuss Carolyn, but rather as a quick indicator of what people think an individual is good at.

    Several commenters have criticized endorsements because they’re so easy to give and you end up receiving them from people you don’t know. But it’s exactly the ease of use that makes them work, based on the concept of the Wisdom of Crowds. I wrote an article about the Wisdom of Crowds applied to LinkedIn endorsements here: http://tracyearles.blogspot.com/2013/02/are-linkedin-endorsements-meaningless.html.

    Tracy

  45. I do not view the endorsement section of LinkedIn as a sure way to validate one’s expertise. They are so easy to give and receive. I’ve been endorsed numerous times by people I’ve never met, worked with or had any association with. I suspect many others have as well. That said, the majority of endorsements I receive are given by colleagues, clients and management who can vouch for my expertise. I don’t think you can use them to compare to others but rather as a good indicator.

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