Is There a Point to LinkedIn's Endorsements?

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It happened again. Usually it happens about once a month, but sometimes it happens once a day. This week it happened to me five times: I'm talking about getting endorsed on LinkedIn.

There's one thing about getting endorsed for skills you have by those who are familiar with them, but what about getting endorsed for expertise you know nothing about by people who you have never met in your life? Do you ever find yourself wondering, "How do they know that about me?" or "I don't even know how to open Excel; why would I be endorsed for that?" Me too, and it seems to be happening with more regularity.

The whole concept of "endorsing" someone on LinkedIn feels strange. But let's back up for a moment because the whole concept of LinkedIn, to me, feels strange. LinkedIn, for those of you who don't know, is a social networking site dedicated to career building. Launched in 2003, the site is one of the fastest growing and now boasts over 300 million users worldwide. Some have called it the "grown up Facebook," a comparison that I don't find all that accurate, but gives you a broad idea.

LinkedIn is a place to put your resume, join a group of like-minded professionals and connect about job potentials. Additionally, it's a place to post links that make you look smart and into the work that you do. I've found contacts that I may not have been able to find through Facebook for stories and introductions to other contacts. It's like a big international rolodex, with pictures. And then there are these endorsement things.

When I first joined the site, others were only able to write up recommendations about your aptitude. This they did of their own volition, or maybe you asked them to. At some point, there was a button that you clicked that asked others to "endorse you," which still meant write some awesome stuff about me on my LinkedIn page for potential employers to see. In 2012, however, this changed and endorsements became much easier, a click of a button and you had given someone a glowing reference.

LinkedIn even offers you suggested endorsements in a long list that you simply check off. "Is Mr. Smith good at Filing? Copyediting? Bending spoons with his telekinetic energy?" A simple click says yes and these are added to Mr. Smith's page. But then does Mr. Smith have to endorse you? And furthermore, if everyone is just endorsing everyone for everything, doesn't it mean nothing? (Is that a double negative?)

I wasn't sure, so I checked in with Aimee Woodall founder and "leader of the flock" of Houston-based marketing and PR company, Black Sheep. Black Sheep is known for its strong presence in social media, as well as aptly ensuring its clients are feet first in the online social world.

In terms of the website, Woodall sees its merits. She has done her fair share of hiring and always checks out a potential employee's LinkedIn, in addition to all of their other social media pages. With LinkedIn she looks for specific things, profile pics, a well-written summary page and the like. In terms of endorsements, Woodall tends to think that endorsements aren't worth the muscle-power it takes to click your mouse.

"Obviously, if they have absolutely zero endorsements, that might be a red flag, but the oversimplification of "endorsing" someone on LinkedIn has made the feature almost useless," Woodall says. "It takes no time at all to endorse someone on LinkedIn and endorsements can come from people who know nothing about your skills."

Personally, Woodall finds the process of endorsements counterproductive. "I can't count the number times someone has endorsed me on LinkedIn and I've never even met them, let alone worked with them. And people are constantly endorsing me for skills that aren't my primary focus, further diluting things."

I have found this in my own use of the site. Just recently, I was endorsed for my video production skills by my old realtor.

But not everyone feels that way. I also spoke with Shawna Forney, the Director of Delight at Culture Pilot. Culture Pilot is a digital agency that specializes in branding and design with a strong foothold in Houston's social media; Forney co-organizes Social Media Week in Houston if that gives you any indication of her social media prowess.

In general, Forney finds LinkedIn to be fascinating. Unlike some other platforms, the site gives you the option of seeing who's viewed your page, which makes is perfect for seeing who is "stalking" you. I couldn't agree more.

As far as endorsements go, Forney takes them as a good thing. Unlike some of the other social media sites, Forney doesn't accept connections from strangers, so anyone who can do some endorsing are people she knows. She admits that she has had some random endorsements, but it doesn't bother her much.

"I have had a few surprise endorsements but I am always grateful that my connections are being supportive," says Forney.

Perhaps the key to keeping superfluous endorsements to a minimum is to not accept friend requests from people you do not know. Additionally, Forney has said that when she makes endorsements often times it is because she is reciprocating one that she's been given. Maybe another way to keep random endorsements down is to never endorse anyone else? Get a name for yourself on the site as that person that never endorses anyone. Hey, that might be a way for them to also matter!

In terms of whether Woodall and Forney think LinkedIn is a value to their clients, they both say yes and no. Each client is different and some should have a presence on the site and others not. But as far as endorsements go, Woodall says, meh.

"Given the small value we see in endorsements, we believe their time is better spent on making meaningful connections through LinkedIn and other online platforms."

So, the next time someone endorses you for being an expert at knife throwing, take it with a grain of salt and maybe hide it from your page.

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