LinkedIn Endorsements: Sound & Fury, Signifying Nothing

You open your email. Amongst demands from your boss, vague instructions from your co-workers, calendar updates, meeting requests, and Seth Godin’s newest rant on why we should all be more like flying lavender toads and less like cheap grey argyle socks, you get one of these:

Steve has endorsed you for marketing, strategy, one other platitudinous skill, and butts!

Who is Steve? Right. He’s your sister’s friend’s brother you met at your boss’s nephew’s Bar Mitzvah a few years ago and you accidentally connected with him when you were spying on that sweet sales job at a company he happens to be an accountant for. Suddenly, he’s forced this social media collision by attempting to legitimize his digital existence by purporting to know your professional competencies.

Truth is, you give bored grown ups with a false sense of their own importance a button, and they’re going to push it. Remember the Facebook poke? Remember the high school acquaintance who just wouldn’t quit? One minute for lack of better judgement you’re reconnecting with someone who used to make booger art on the back of your desk chair, and the next thing you know you’re buying and selling livestock, sorting coloured gemstones, and liking photos of ugly babies, all with practically a stranger’s finger somewhere in your body.

When LinkedIn introduced their endorsements feature, I thought it could be useful. I used the feature to enhance the recommendations feature – I doled endorsements out sparingly and only to those whose skills I could account for. But soon enough the strange endorsements started coming in, from people I had formed only tenuous connections with and for skills I didn’t even have on my profile. And then the pressure was turned on by LinkedIn itself. When you login, it immediately asks you to endorse connections, and I assume most people think “sure, why not?” With every “meh::click” we’ve collectively rendered this process meaningless.

So how do we make the process meaningful again? 

Well, until LinkedIn changes the nature of endorsements, I think the endorsement concept has jumped the shark. But what if you want to “endorse” your connections in meaningful ways?

1) Write a recommendation. I know, this can be as meaningless as an endorsement in a system that has automatically defaulted to “you write one for me and I’ll write one for you.” Write one for someone whose skills and expertise you would actually recommend, unsolicited.

This also becomes difficult if you wish to recommend someone that you haven’t worked with. Currently, you can only recommend an individual for a specific job, not just a “general character reference.” There are many individuals who I would recommend, but cannot do so specifically for any one job they’ve had.

2) Like and share their updates. Extend the reach of the things they are talking about by sharing them with your network. Someone wrote a blog post you really like? Share it! Someone got a new job or is currently seeking new opportunities? Like their update. Treat these kinds of things as endorsements: they’re showing up on your feed.

3) Link to their profile. Post a link directly to their profile and write about them. “Judy is a wildly talented writer who has an incredible sense of donor needs and stakeholder expectations. If you need help with your next fundraising appeal, give her a call!” While these things aren’t permanent on their profiles, it is a timely call out to the world that this individual’s skills are truly endorsed by you.

4) Move beyond LinkedIn. Granted, LinkedIn is useful for a few things. But any claims that it’s going to be the next big social media thingy are, in my opinion, fairly out to lunch. Their layout is cloogy. Their mobile app sucks. Their mobile site has limited usability. Everyone’s pages are filled with endorsements from strangers. People argue about how you should and shouldn’t use it. It’s turned into a ego-fueled business luncheon where everyone’s standing on their own table, blabbing about fulfilling work and leaning in and ROI and strategy, all with salmon sandwich breath. Yuck.

If you really think someone is worth it, make a meaningful connection with them, that is helpful for them. On LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, via email, or heaven forbid (!!) in real life over a pint. But make sure you FourSquare and Tweet about it, or it never happened.