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The unexpected truth about LinkedIn endorsements

LinkedIn endorsements are not just the selfless, friendly pats on the back they seem to be. They are also a self-promotion tool that allows you to exploit the networks of your connections including colleagues, friends and competitors.

LinkedIn launched the “endorsements” feature in September of 2012, touting it as “a great way to recognize your 1st-degree connections’ skills and expertise with one click”. This easy-to-use (some say “lazy”) feature sees a lot of use. Endorsements pop up in my own LinkedIn activity feed on a daily basis.

Many LinkedIn users embraced endorsements and now, more than five months after launch, the stream shows no sign of slowing down. However, the new feature has also drawn its share of criticism. Many argue that it adds nothing to existing LinkedIn recommendations, that recommendations require more effort on behalf of the endorser and are therefore more meaningful. Mashable went as far as calling all LinkedIn endorsements “meaningless” in a recent op-ed while others describe the slew of endorsements as “noise”.

But critics and supporters alike miss a very important aspect of LinkedIn recommendations: It is a free and easy way to get your name on the activity feeds of your second-degree connection. Furthermore, it is the only way to gain exposure to the connections of those who elected not to share their network with you.

Here’s how it works: John is a Southern California marketing professional working for White Goose Marketing Inc. One of John’s LinkedIn connections is Liz, who works for Golden Eggs Marketing Inc. across town. John and Liz met at a conference a couple of years ago and connected on LinkedIn. Liz, as you may expect, is connected to virtually everyone at her office. John is ready to make his next career move and he would like to get noticed by hiring managers at Golden Eggs. John endorses Liz for an existing skill on her LinkedIn profile. Shortly afterwards, a message pops up in Liz’s activity feed, visible to of all of her contacts, (including many at Golden Eggs): “Liz is endorsed by John”. A link to John’s profile accompanies the message. Possibly, one of Liz’s co-workers or managers will be intrigued enough to click through and view John’s profile — mission accomplished! If it doesn’t work the first time, John can repeat the process, endorsing Liz for a different skill a few days later. If he does it too frequently he risks annoying Liz, but every endorsement is another shot at the exposure John seeks.

And here’s a slightly more deceptive example: Pete and Holly are executive recruiters. They often find themselves competing over talent and clients. As recruiters, their respective networks are critical assets they closely guard. You can be sure that both their LinkedIn profiles are set so others cannot see their connections. However, they left “who can see your activity feed” at the default setting, allowing their connections to see it. In the spirit of 21st century co-opetition Pete connected with Holly on LinkedIn, knowing she cannot see his list of connection. Holly would love to add some of Pete’s top candidates to her talent pool, so she ‘innocently’ endorses him for an existing skill. Here too, with her name on Pete’s activity feed there is a chance that some of Pete’s candidates will click to view Holly’s profile. (In fairness, the endorsement will show up on Holly’s feed as well, exposing Pete to her own network.)

Think what you will about John and Holly’s moral conduct, they utilize LinkedIn endorsements in a powerful and creative way. If you are concerned about others utilizing your own activity feed in this way, you can remove endorsements from your activity feed  (update: Erika Napoletano wrote an excellent tutorial explaining how to do that).

And finally, to my many LinkedIn contacts whom I have endorsed over the past few months, and to the few that I have endorsed recently while researching this post, I really did mean each and every endorsement. You guys are awesome!

Category: Marketing

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