Monday Mornings with Madison

The Scoop on LinkedIn’s Skill Endorsements Feature

About a year ago, LinkedIn — the preferred social media site for professionals (especially in the U.S. and U.K) — rolled out a new feature called ‘Skill Endorsements’.  According to LinkedIn, skill endorsements were meant to be “a great way to recognize your 1st-degree connections’ skills and expertise with one click.”  They were also supposed to “let your connections validate the strengths found on your own profile.”  In short, Skill Endorsements were meant to be a simple and effective way of simultaneously building your professional brand and engaging your network.  Fast forward one year.  LinkedIn has recorded over 1 Billion Skill Endorsements to date.  Yet, it also appears that the Skill Endorsements feature typically either baffles or bothers users most.

Questions about it abound.  Beginners want to know how to give or receive Skill Endorsements? Others wonder whether they should endorse former employees or colleagues.  Some want to know why LinkedIn implemented this feature at all.   What is the point of Skill Endorsements?  Still others want to know why LinkedIn’s Skill Endorsements feature functions as it does and, more importantly, is there a way to make it stop?  These are all good questions. Let’s consider the methods, motives and madness of LinkedIn’s Skill Endorsements.

Endorsements Received

Let’s begin with the basics.  To see Skill Endorsements you have received, if any, scroll down to the Skills & Expertise section of your own profile.  There, you can add skills to this section.  Accumulating a high number of endorsements for a skill is meant to communicate credibility to those reading your profile, and show that your professional network recognizes you have that skill.  When you receive an endorsement, you are notified by email about the skill endorsed and the person giving that endorsement.  But you needn’t ask for an endorsement in order to receive one.  LinkedIn asks your 1st degree contacts whether they want to endorse you for certain skills.  The contact need only click once to endorse you for the skill presented.  LinkedIn decides which of your contacts it will present to you for endorsements and which skills for that person to offer.  More about that in a moment.

Giving Endorsements

That brings us to the process of giving endorsements.  LinkedIn touts that “endorsing others is a great way to recognize your colleagues for the skills you’ve seen them demonstrate.”  It is meant to help contribute to the strength of their profile, and increase the likelihood they’ll be discovered for opportunities related to the skills their connections know they possess.  Endorsing your colleagues is also meant to help you keep strong connections with the people in your network. The basic idea is that after endorsing a colleague from the past, it will be easier to reach out to him/her because you’ve recently been in touch.

The Real Purpose of Skill Endorsements

On the surface, the skills endorsement feature seems like a good idea…. beneficial to both the endorser and the endorsee.  But it is important to look beyond the surface to understand LinkedIn’s motivation in offering this feature.  Keep in mind that each feature LI adds makes the site more complex, which in turn costs (staff time) money to maintain. It seems LinkedIn may have had two motives for creating this now-controversial feature.

First, it was created to help further monetize the site and drive advertising revenues.  LinkedIn needed to increase the frequency with which members visit the site and the engagement levels between members.  Skill endorsements do that quite well.  How so?  Each time a person visits the site, he/she is prompted to endorse a particular skill of not one, but four, 1st-degree contacts.  Once a person clicks to endorse a particular skill for one person, that spot is immediately filled with a skill suggestion for another contact…. thus always showing four skills that can be endorsed for four different contacts. Each endorsement generates an email to that contact notifying them that they were endorsed for a skill.  This might prompt the contact to log on to view their profile, thank the endorser, and/or endorse others.  Once on the site, the endorsee may then decide to endorse some of his own contacts.  The cycle then begins again.

Second, Skill Endorsements is meant to collect more data about users in order to bolster LinkedIn’s position as a tool for recruiters.  Recruitment services have become another key revenue stream for LinkedIn. The more data LinkedIn can collect about users, the more it can validate the claims professionals make about their professional credentials.  This, in turn, allows them to make their recruitment advertising services more targeted, which should generate a higher yield for those services. Member scoring allows recruiters to identify the most highly regarded experts in a particular field.  This increases the value of LinkedIn to a recruiter.  Both are good reasons to stick with the feature despite complaints.

So Many Complaints

It is rare for any social media site to add, delete or change a feature without generating some ire.  This, however, may be more than expected.  That is because there are several major drawbacks in how the Skill Endorsements feature works.

Problem 1 – Small Pool of Contacts Are Recommended for Skill Endorsements

The LinkedIn algorithms propose skill endorsements for a very small group of all the contacts a person may have.  This is true regardless of how many contacts a person may have.  One recruiter with over 10,000 contacts noted on a blog post that only 30-40 of his LinkedIn contacts was being presented to him for Skill Endorsements.  No matter how many Skill Endorsements he gave, the pool of endorsees LinkedIn presented to him remained unchanged.

Problem 2 – No logic to which Contacts Presented for Endorsements

Even worse than drawing upon a very finite and limited group of all contacts for endorsements, there seems to be no rationale for why certain contacts are presented at the expense of all other contacts.  It is not related to the amount of contact, recommendations, or closeness that the endorser has to the contacts chosen.  It is completely random, illogical and limiting.

Problem 3 – Skills are Auto-Generated

LinkedIn’s system can recommend a skill for endorsement for a person who does not possess that skill at all.  It does not necessarily recommend skills that the contact listed for him/herself.

Problem 4 – Skill Endorsements can be Solicited

People who are able to drive the most visits to their profile page will be the ones to benefit most from this feature.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be the most skilled or talented.  That said, there are things that can be done to get volumes of visits to a profile page with the goal of getting more skill endorsements.

- Endorse members of your network wherever it’s appropriate to do so. Each person you endorse will receive an email + LinkedIn notification that you’ve done so, prompting them to visit your profile and potentially return the favor.

- Suggest skills for which your network members ought to be endorsed that aren’t currently on their profile, increasing the goodwill.

- Be more active in your LinkedIn groups, particularly in helping to answer people’s pressing questions and in addressing the problems they are facing. This will drive visits to your profile page by people naturally inclined to show you their gratitude.

- Invite contacts into your LinkedIn network by allowing LinkedIn to search your email address contacts list.

Hiding or Removing Endorsements

With so many flaws and limitations, many may think about doing without the Skill Endorsements feature.  Think again.  LinkedIn does provide the option to hide or unhide your skill endorsements.  To hide them, move your cursor over Profile at the top of your homepage and select Edit Profile.  Scroll down to the Skills and Expertise section and click the Edit icon.  Click the Manage Endorsements link, which is next to Add & Remove.  Click on a skill in the left column to reveal the connections who endorsed you for that skill. You may need to use the scroll bar on the left side of the box to view skills further down in the list.  Uncheck the box next to any people whose endorsements you want to hide. Or, check the box next to any you want to unhide.  You can even check or uncheck the box next to show/hide all endorsements to take that action on all endorsements under one skill at once.  Then click Save, and click Done Editing in the top section of your profile.

At this time, LinkedIn does not offer a way to remove the Endorsements feature from your profile altogether.  However, you can choose to hide all of your endorsements from all people which then, by default, eliminates the section as long as you haven’t added any skills in the section.  This will keep all existing and new endorsements from ever displaying on your profile.

Another option to remove all the endorsements from a particular person is to remove the connection between you and that person.  They will not be notified that you broke the connection, but if they specifically look for you on their list of contacts, they will know you are no longer one of their contacts.

Has It Backfired?

In the end, the real danger for LinkedIn is that the Skill Endorsements feature may actually undermine its standing as a primary source for quality hires. The very fact there are ways to gain a disproportionate number of endorsements suggests the final endorsement rankings will not be a true validation of people’s specific skills. Rather those people who are most proactive in seeking endorsements will achieve the highest scores, which is no reflection on merit or expertise.  Therefore Skill Endorsements is unlikely to provide a truly meaningful scoring of candidates and service providers upon which credible targeting decisions could be made.   That said, if used as intended, it could provide greater clarity in identifying candidates with genuine skills.

Quote of the Week

“Skill is the unified force of experience, intellect and passion in their operation.” John Ruskin


© 2013, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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