3 reasons 'LinkedIn Endorsements' misses the mark, and what you can do about it

26th Sep 2012
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LinkedIn has been a fantastic way to build one’s online professional network. However, it falls prey too easily to social network vanity. Browse through a clutch of profiles, and you feel as if everyone were terrific in the jobs they currently do and are brimming with potential. Profiles glow with achievements, allowing the creator to bask in the glory of their indispensability.

Of course, no one fully believes them. After all, everyone cannot be that great a professional.

LinkedIn also offers recommendations - objectively, this means someone can ratify the claims made in the profile. However, pause to look through a standard recommendation, and you will see wonderful tributes from the recommender. Hop to the recommender’s LinkedIn page, and you will see the favor returned.

Keeping with the trend of making it easier for users to interact with the site, LinkedIn recently launched LinkedIn Endorsements. These are endorsements for what you list under the skills profile. Any other user can endorse a skill that you claim, ostensibly to certify that you possess the skill.

The idea has great merit. When everyone claims a multitude of skills and professes to be an expert in many domains, the endorsements serve as an online reference check for talent.

However, the implementation has three major flaws:

1. Low friction to use, lower friction to be abused

When products add new features, two key challenges are

a) How do you get the existing user base to start using the feature and

b) How do you reduce friction for using the feature?

LinkedIn has adopted the path of displaying a list of claimed skills of a connection when you first visit their page.

While this is a great way of making people aware of the skills the person claims, it makes it all too easy to click - I endorse these skills without really meaning to. You have to manually cross out the skills that you don’t want to endorse if you wish to endorse only part of the claims.

In reducing the friction to endorse skills you would want to, the attempt makes it easy to endorse skills that you may not agree with.

One likely outcome of this approach is that users will list a lot more skills, and endorsers will blindly endorse all of them. More noise implies the endorsements quickly drain in value.

Wouldn’t it have been easier to sequentially list the skills (list top 3 and give a drop down for the others) and let users endorse each skill individually with a checkbox or button? It involves more effort to get the user to endorse others, but in the longer term, would lead to more pointed endorsements.

2. Wait, whom and what did I endorse?

To get loads of usage, LinkedIn has made it even easier to dole out endorsements. If you click on skip, you are suddenly confronted with a tab with photos and one skill for 4 of your contacts. While you can endorse each person individually, you are presented with a large button to endorse all four together.

The instinctive behavior is to click on endorse all four. But this is almost too easy to do - without even verifying what particular skill you are endorsing.

Another peril is that people often write a short sentence about their skill. A connection of mine had written ‘Comfortable with decision-making.’ When LinkedIn showed me his photo and corresponding skill, it asked ‘Does X know about Comfortable?’

3. And why would I know about this person’s skills?

The idea of endorsement is great if I know about the person I am endorsing. However, LinkedIn has also evolved into a collection mechanism of contacts, where we also add people whom we know, but haven’t worked with.

The suggestion mechanism for endorsement would have been a great idea if it showed me connections whom I have recently added, from my company or who share the same skill set. Today, it picks from all my contacts, so I see a connection from my school days that I haven’t met in 15 years. How exactly do I know or judge his skill set?

It would also have been great if I were asked after the endorsement about the company where I worked with the candidate. That way, one could also build a profile of skills that evolve as one grows professionally.

How to use endorsements well

While the Endorsements feature will likely evolve over the coming months, here’s how you can use this smartly.

1. Add relevant skills to your page

The chief benefit of endorsements will be to highlight skills that are attractive to potential employers or help you become an industry expert.

Make sure your skills are sharp, to-the-point and relevant. Instead of having 25 skills with no endorsements, it’s better to have 5-7 that can be endorsed widely.

2. Endorse only what you know

This may be common sense, but I already see endorsements popping up for skills that are difficult for the endorser to rate. Give endorsements just like you should give recommendations - you are investing your credibility in endorsing or recommending someone, so make sure it stays relevant. Blind endorsements or irrelevant recommendations reflect poorly on the recommender’s credibility.

3. Ask endorsements from people who are respected

The same logic as recommendations. If someone sees that you have endorsed or recommended a peer and s/he has returned a favor, it will not carry much weight.

Instead, gain the respect of someone senior in your domain or company and ask for endorsements or recommendations, depending on how well you know them and how closely you have worked together.

It’s easier to endorse than recommend. I would endorse skills I have observed in people, but would recommend only those who have a combination of skills, attitude and capability. And I suspect that’s how the new feature would turn out - like a light recommendation.

 Note: The views belong to the author. Shrinath tweets @shrinathv


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