Writing a LinkedIn recommendation? Will you write me one?
Come on, I don’t really want you to write me one, but there has been unprecedented chatter about LinkedIn recommendations in blogging circles these days. And I want to put everything in perspective to confirm whether or not LinkedIn recommendations really have value.
It was Jeremiah Owyang who started the debate. Jeremiah is a renowned web strategist, but he is also one of the early adopters and biggest fans of LinkedIn. If you check out the archives of his blog, you will see some gems of articles about utilizing LinkedIn tips for social networking and even job hunting. I consider Jeremiah a thought leader and thus his blog is on my blogroll. Needless to say, if I was going to request someone to write a preface for a book on LinkedIn, he’d be the first person I contact ;-)
On July 17th, Jeremiah posted an entry to his blog titled “Requested Recommendations on Social Networks: Why I Won’t Do It.” And he makes the important point that LinkedIn Recommendations can never be 100% objective. He goes out of his way not to knock LinkedIn or references in general, but states that, because LinkedIn is a public platform, people in general are not going to write negative recommendations. Plus, the person receiving the recommendation can make requests to edit those recommendations as well as not even display them in the first place. It is this process that Jeremiah is lamenting.
If think about what LinkedIn is, you know that you need to apply filters when reading LinkedIn recommendations like you do with anything else that is similarly published online: who wrote them (i.e. what is the quality of that person), what was their relationship, and what specific qualities were mentioned that mesh with that person’s profile. I also made the important point that recommendations, versus looking at a profile without one, can and should make a person look more “real.” So, because this is Web 2.0, I agree wholeheartedly with some of the points that Jeremiah makes in the need to filter these recommendations, but even with their inherent limitations in objectivity, I still think they play an important role on LinkedIn.
Russ Somers made an interesting point in a blog post entitled “Evaluating LinkedIn Recommendations” that he did the same day as Jeremiah’s: wouldn’t the recommendations mean more if there was an element of scarcity involved, if you were limited to how many LinkedIn recommendations you can give? To that I say, sure, but doesn’t LinkedIn already have enough restrictions? And how can you put a limit on how many recommendations a college graduate has versus a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who has worked for a few different companies over his 30+ year career and has thousands of people that he knows? I do not believe that this is the answer.
And I think more people feel that there is value in LinkedIn Recommendations. Shortly thereafter Jacob Share, the job search expert, appeared on Dan Schawbel‘s excellent personal branding blog with the post “Why LinkedIn Recommendations Really Are Valuable.” Now, Jacob is looking at this from the perspective of the job seeker, but he makes some excellent points: 1) the job search is a sales process and thus you’re just putting on your profile the references that you would already be receiving, 2) the relationship of the recommender is most important, and 3) LinkedIn is a reliable platform where it is difficult to post fake recommendations. I agree with all points!
I think the most brilliant blog post to come out of reaction to Jeremiah’s is the one on the official LinkedIn Blog entitled “Recommendations and the Reputation Economy” and written by LinkedIn’s own Product Director Adam Nash. He went further to talk about how transparency is the new objectivity and that not only are recommendations often mutual, but that requesting recommendations is absolutely normal. In fact, he ends his post asking you to write three recommendations for people unsolicited. Exactly! That line could have been taken out of my upcoming book!
Look, no one is saying that you have to believe LinkedIn Recommendations that you see word-for-word. But as the above conversation notes, there are still plenty of positive aspects of recommendations if you put them in the correct perspective. I hope that you all agree that there is value in them and will continue to utilize them. And you never have to write a LinkedIn recommendation if you don’t want to.
Another perspective about LinkedIn recommendations:
I just got asked this from an old friend from elementary school (!), who I have been able to keep in better touch with thanks to Social Media, Facebook in particular. He, like many others, wonders what the real value in LinkedIn Recommendations are when there are a lot of “if your rub my back, I’ll rub yours,” recommendations on LinkedIn, which, in my friend’s words, “somewhat limits the credibility of the action”.
Another way of looking at LinkedIn Recommendations is what my old boss once told me. “You know when someone is looking for a new job when they start receiving lots of Recommendations from ex-colleagues.”
And, to be honest with you, there is a bit of truth to both of the above arguments. But, let me play the devil’s advocate and let’s pretend that LinkedIn did not offer Recommendations. Wouldn’t you like a way to confirm how “real” this person is, to back up the claims that are in his or her profile from a third-party and ideally objective perspective? Well, that’s what Recommendations are for, and I believe that they serve this purpose well.
The danger in an Internet World is that people can hide behind their anonymity and do bad things. On LinkedIn, this could mean a fake LinkedIn profile to spam you with or other types of harassment. So LinkedIn, in building a community for professionals, rightfully added the Recommendations feature. I mean, when you ask a friend or someone in your network for a referral for someone, aren’t they giving you a Recommendation for someone in their network? I believe that this was the original spirit of LinkedIn Recommendations and it is bang on.
The problem, then, is not the functionality of these written endorsements (no, I’m not talking about LinkedIn endorsements here!), but the potential way in which it can be used or abused. Hey, this is Web 2.0, my friends. We’re talking User-Generated Content here. No one can control this, not even the mighty hand of LinkedIn or Google for that matter;-) That being said, as viewers of this content, we reserve the right to judge the content as we wish. And with that in mind, I would like to offer my three-point advice as to what filters I would use in judging the value of a particular LinkedIn Recommendation:
- Who wrote the recommendation? If it was a colleague it is one thing, but what if it was coming from a CxO position within the company or from a customer or partner? Look at the people writing the recommendation and you will see that there are a lot of professional people who are putting their reputations on the line and thus are not writing a recommendation for everyone out there. In other words, judge a recommendation by the quality of the person writing it.
- What was the relationship of the person that made the recommendation? As LinkedIn is a professional site, an endorsement from someone who used to work or do business with that person should always have greater value than a recommendation from an old friend or networking acquaintance. This is not to say that recommendations from networking acquaintances, of which I have a few myself, are not of value, in that they can indicate that you are a “real” person and can sometimes best describe your attributes in a candid fashion. But because LinkedIn is a social networking site for professionals, I believe that those that are involved in a business relationship with the person have the best potential to write the most objective professional recommendation. So I recommend that you also judge a recommendation by the relationship of the person writing it.
- What objective qualities are described in the recommendation? No two recommendations are alike, but there are some great recommendations that can spotlight qualities that go above-and-beyond what the person has written in their own profile. On the other hand, there are recommendations that really mention nothing about the particular qualities of that person. One thing I watch for is are there any qualities mentioned in the recommendation that contradict what the person has written in their own profile? This is a big red flag. So judge a recommendation by the specificness of the qualities mentioned and the consistency with those qualities and the person’s profile.
In an ideal world, LinkedIn Recommendations make someone look more “real” and are a welcome addition to a person’s profile. I always recommend that you get as many recommendations as you can whenever you have a chance…dig your well before you are thirsty and don’t wait until you change jobs to ask for a recommendation! Consider it part of building up your LinkedIn profile. But from the viewing side, so long as you read these endorsements with my suggested filters, you should be able to sort out the “real” from the “if your rub my back, I’ll rub yours,” recommendations.