Dear LinkedIn, Rethink the Endorsements. You’re not Facebook or Twitter!

There is a new rush on LinkedIn. Or so it seems. Of people endorsing one another. The updates have increased; people are performing more “activities” on LinkedIn. And it seems, LinkedIn would have benefitted in terms of increased “traction”.

Like Tweet Endorse

Like Me, Tweet About Me, Endorse Me !

Now, people are prompted to endorse the connections on the skills they posses or as you “perceive” they possess. Since, it’s a one-click split second activity, I’m sure lot of people are doing it, akin a “Like” on Facebook or an RT on Twitter.

This seems to me like a cheap gimmick to increase traction & traffic. Cheap, because it cheapens the brand of people on LinkedIn (against their wish – in fact counter-effective to what brings professionals to LinkedIn – Credibility of credentials.)

On FB, people “like” the updates for various reasons. On Twitter, people “RT” for various reasons. Sometimes it is for their own insecurity and to come to notice. Or sometimes, just because they want to acknowledge their existence or to acknowledge they have seen the update or just to improve their belonging.

LinkedIn is a professional network. LinkedIn should want to improve credibility of the professional credentials & demographics that are recorded on LinkedIn, for the growth of their money-making businesses of “Jobs”, “networking”, and even “Ads”.

Alas, Endorsements are targeted to something else altogether. Traffic, it seems. Or just a blind social rush.

They have had recommendation feature for a long time. And people do go through those and use personal discretion. Even though sometimes misused in terms of exchange of mutual recommendations, recommendations still have some value because a recco requires a person to “actively think” before putting down the Recco in the context of the working relationship the two had. And, another reason reccos are still hard to come by is that anyone putting the recommendation has as much at stack as the person receiving the recommendation. It is still a serious business at some level, hence valued to a degree.

Endorsements are poorly implemented to speak mildly. I have many concerns crowding my mind, but will point out few for the drift…

1)   Most Endorsements happen in passive mode. People are shown some random set of professionals in their connection, with one of the skills for each that one can endorse the other for. It takes a split second to endorse. One would typically click on one and move on. This is a social activity, not a professional act, in many cases.

2)   Fundamentally, I agree that it is fair to validate a person’s claimed skills against the perceived skills endorsed by people who have worked with the person. However, The endorsements of the skills in this case are random and subject to many factors. I have seen people who are not exposed to certain skill of a person at all, endorsing the person for the skill just because they probably “feel” the person may have it because someone they “know” has endorsed for the same. Social Pressures in their network?

3)   One may be led to believe that statistically, the skills that a person is “most perceived” to possess will float to the top while other skills would suspend midway or sink to the bottom. However, that’s only true for a larger number of such events happening over time in the context of people who have worked with each other. The endorsements seem to be driven by “group-shift” as well as other social phenomena. There are some genuine ones, but there’s no way to figure out from outside which ones are which.

4)   In case of endorsements, the assumption seems to be that the person being endorsed is happy being endorsed for any skill from anyone in the network. This is not true for serious professionals planning their career. For instance, it’s sometimes counterproductive for a person in a management role to be endorsed generally for a technological skill that one possessed a decade back, when that happens more often than for the managerial skills of relevance today. Sheer numbers of acquaintances for a longer time outweigh the relevant close relationships with stronger mutual appreciation. There’s no approval from the person being endorsed, and no direct way to control this.

5)   The algorithm being used for deciding which professionals and which skills to be shown for the endorsements (for passive ones) seems to be driven by the similar network effect (which professionals, and which skills for them, seem popular for endorsements at a time) that drives the algorithms of social virality. This is precisely the mechanism that defeats the theory of “rise of the most accurate” in case of serious professional credentials. The mechanism seems to be driving the rise of popular, not of the accurate or contextually fitting.

I could go on and on, but enough said. I think this is a mistake.

So dear LinkedIn, please, for the sanctity of professional credentials of millions of professionals who made you the leading professional network, rethink the implementation of endorsements, or just remove it, or mask it with a mechanism that can address the credibility aspects. Net-net, it’s negative value right now.

Thank You for listening.

PS: I’m an avid user of LinkedIn, even fan of some of their functionality. I rely on it for many professionally serious activities; personally as well as for the organizations & customers I work with. Hence, concerned. Hence this post. Hope they’re listening! 🙂

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  1. #1 by Tony Restell on October 5, 2012 - 8:04 pm

    Ashish – our views on the shortcomings of LinkedIn Endorsements are very closely aligned. My focus is on helping candidates to secure a career move using social media – and I can’t see any way in which this move has benefitted either candidates or recruiters. As you say, what it has done is create a spike in engagement and activity on LinkedIn which will drive up page impressions and therefore potential ad revenues.

    From all the recent moves LinkedIn are making, they are increasingly looking to become a media company in my view. Encouraging famous names to publish content on their site, making news and content sharing an increasingly important feature. I could write another whole article on why LinkedIn Endorsements is a misguided and poorly implemented initiative – but you’ve done a great job of summarising many of the key issues here. Thanks for sharing with us.

    • #2 by Ashish Bhagwat on October 5, 2012 - 8:14 pm

      Tony, thanks for the patient reading 🙂

      When you mention that they’re trying to become a media company, I’m considering this as a statement of the fact and not necessarily an appreciation of the same.

      My point of view on that is fairly straightforward. Google’s core business may be Ads, but their core focus has always been to built relevance and trustworthiness of their results and matching algorithms even when using demographics & user actions. Similarly, even if LinkedIn wants to keep the business growing around Ads, the main reason people come there is not because of Ad-impressions, but the credibility of the professional demography & database as well as the strength of the professional credentials. I, as a marketer, still preferred LinkedIn Ads to Google Ads for some of Enterprise products because of the relevance of the people clicking on Ads. The moment they lose site of this simple fact and become another Techcrunch or GigaOM, the alternatives are plenty for people! Irony!

      Thanks for the note again!

  2. #3 by Eugene Mack (@more4us) on October 8, 2012 - 8:59 pm

    I think your point is well taken. However, as a professional, I don’t encourage people to give me a recommendation that is flattering or inflated. I encourage recommendations that are reflective of the value I bring to the table. “With that said, any form of media by which you collect information about people can be cheapened or it can be better validated by the diversity of recommendations, types of recommendations and alignment of those recommendations with values or traits one looks for in a candidate. I think the determination of these recommendations as a recruiting tool is up to the individual who may want some indication of who the person is before they pick up the phone. I read customer reviews before I buy a product and if I notice certain patterns, I choose to either move forward with my purchase or an alternative. It’s just another tool which can sometimes get inundated with junk like…email maybe.

    • #4 by Ashish Bhagwat on October 9, 2012 - 5:37 pm

      Eugene,

      What you said is valid for reccos, and I have no problems with the recommendations – those have been in existence for a while now. The aforesaid issues in the post are for the Endorsement feature that LinkedIn has introduced with much fanfare, and ironically with a great reception in terms of traffic for LinkedIn.

      Great to have you here, Thanks for reading!

      Cheers,
      Ashish

  3. #5 by CDub on October 19, 2012 - 3:32 pm

    I am surprised that among all of this endorsement-bashing nobody is mentioning the REAL problem with them. Specifically that YOUR ENDORSEMENTS DICTATE THE ORDER YOUR SKILLS ARE DISPLAYED IN YOUR PROFILE, AND YOU CANNOT REMOVE ENDORSEMENTS OTHERS GIVE YOU!!
    I don’t know about you guys, but I need my LinkedIn skills listed in a very specific way, just as I do on my actual resume. I work in architecture and technology, but some asshole endorsed me for “Microsoft Excel,” which I listed, for good reason, near the very bottom of my skill set. Now it is at the top, forcing me to remove it because LINKEDIN AUTOMATICALLY DECIDES FOR ME THAT MY ENDORSED SKILLS MUST BE DISPLAYED AT THE TOP OF MY SKILL LIST. You can edit the list in your profile, and you can also drop the skill and re-add it, but your endorsed skills will STILL fly right back to the top regardless.
    This is a serious design flaw that I reported to them weeks ago and they haven’t done anything about it to my knowledge. It’s really quite inexcusable and should be an easy coding change. I just don’t get it. I would expect this sort of forced-engineering from a company like Apple but not LinkedIn.

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