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, as we have been reminded of again by the recent tragic Craig’s List murders, 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 endoresements, 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.