10/02/2013 05:31 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Why Getting LinkedIn Endorsements Doesn't Mean You're Special

Third party credibility is an awesome way to gain trust in a hurry. When a neutral third party endorses your product or service, great things can happen. Skeptical prospects become customers, angry stakeholders calm down, and business becomes a whole lot easier.

Or at least, that's how it should work. So why is LinkedIn doing it wrong?

If you're on LinkedIn, you're undoubtedly familiar with the notification email: "Your connection, John Doe, has endorsed you."

I'm sure some genius at LinkedIn thought "Hey, people like being endorsed for something. Let's make it easy for people to endorse other people. It's a giant circle of endorsement love."

At first, the rush of emails would come in and you'd get that happy feeling. "Wow, someone likes me!" But if you're anything like me, that process has long since backfired.

LinkedIn relies on that "happy feeling" in order to propagate the system. What they're counting on is essentially: "If John endorsed me, I'm going to feel obligated to endorse him back. While I'm doing that, I'm going to endorse two or three other folks -- especially if they're people I'm trying to impress. And hey, while I'm at it, LinkedIn has two or three other people I can endorse, and it's as simple as pushing this button... this is great! Feel the circle of endorsement love!"

It's the principal of reciprocity. That principal is why Hare Krishnas will give you a flower in a major airport or public place "for free" (but feel free to make a small donation.) Since you've already received the flower, you feel obligated to make the donation. The smart Hare Krishna members will recycle the same flower, since many people simply discarded the flower in the next waste bin.

But here's the problem for LinkedIn -- people don't like that. After all, who likes knowing they've been taken advantage of?

The current system, where you can 'endorse' someone with a few mere mouse clicks, is simply clogging bandwidth. There are three major problems with the system.

1) It's too easy to endorse someone.

It's effectively become endorsement inflation. Now, a single endorsement means nothing. I can endorse four people with a single click of the mouse.

2) Because it's too easy, they don't mean anything.

A LinkedIn endorsement used to mean something. Someone would take the time to write a personal note or paragraph, explaining in detail just how and why they thought you were awesome. Now, you just get a vague "Jeff is good at (fill in the blank.)

3) Because the endorsements don't mean anything, they can backfire.

You only endorse someone for two reasons. Either you have genuine appreciation for their skills and abilities, or you don't have genuine appreciation, but want to fake it, so that you can curry favour or be nice.

That's fine -- I'd argue it's more important to be authentic with your praise, but that's a whole other chapter -- but it can backfire. When I get an endorsement "Jeff Chatterton is great at event planning," I know it's the latter. It's just someone trying to curry favour.

How do I know that? I hate event planning. I don't do it, because I suck at it, and I know that. Here at Checkmate Public Affairs, if I need to stage an event, I have other people that I know will do a better job than I do the work. So when I see someone endorse me for my event planning capabilities, it screams out "they don't know me."

I've had one person, who I met at a speech I gave in Iowa, endorse me upwards of 20 times. Another former colleague is running for political office, and I've probably received a dozen endorsements from him. All it does is clog my inbox.

If you really want to be a credible asset to someone, there's a much more effective way. If you want to be trusted, credible, and have genuine appreciation for someone's valuable business skill, try something revolutionary.


Write them a note. Don't email it to them. Hand-write it, on a card. And put it in the mail. Real mail. With a stamp, and everything.

It doesn't have to be fancy. The very fact that you took the time to express genuine appreciation for someone will put you head and shoulders above the entire rest of the universe.

Go make someone's week. Find the colleague you genuinely admire and let them know that. Do it in a meaningful, legitimate way. You'll be glad you did.

But keep your fingers off that endorsement button. Resist the urge to blindly endorse every living contact under the sun. Be a better, more authentic person than that.

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