LinkedIn Endorsements may be the fastest-growing new product launch in the history of LinkedIn, but it is also arguably the most pointless. Launched as a lightweight way to recommend colleagues so as to boost their resumes, LinkedIn Endorsements have become useless noise on an otherwise useful service.
Yet LinkedIn shows no signs of abandoning Endorsements.
In fact, on a recent earnings call, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner trumpeted the new product hitting 1 billion Endorsements in just under five months. He called out how the service has done a "nice job ... of creating the right kind of viral loops," bringing people back to the site that otherwise might use LinkedIn as a site to use when actively looking for a job every few years. With this and LinkedIn's Influencers product, which is turning LinkedIn into a destination site for constantly updated content, the company appears to be succeeding in generating ongoing interest in using the site, and not merely when people need to polish their resumes for a job search.
LinkedIn Signal, Meet Endorsements Noise
The problem with Endorsements, however, is that they generate mindless clicks with no real value to the person endorsing someone else, or the person receiving the endorsement.
I find myself on the LinkedIn site at least once each week, as I'm regularly recruiting for my employer and LinkedIn is the tech industry's premier resume repository. I also use it to do quick background checks on people with whom I may have an upcoming meeting, so that I can get a sense for where they've worked and what their interests might be. Whatever the reason for visiting the site, most every time I'm greeted with the chance to endorse the person.
LinkedIn uses sophisticated data analysis to comb through one's profile and tease out skills that can be endorsed by others, with a team of data scientists constantly improving its algorithms. However, as can be seen in my example above, the skills LinkedIn highlights are often not very relevant to the person being recommended. Worse, it's so easy to endorse someone that it's very easy to end up with a pile of Endorsements that in isolation and in aggregate mean absolutely nothing.
As a hiring manager, I'm going to give exactly ZERO weight to this stockpile of "endorsements," because they effectively amount to a Facebook "Like." They're far too easily given, and don't really tell me what the person being endorsed has done to merit the Endorsement.
Endorsements Seen As Shallow
So while LinkedIn Endorsements product manager Peter Rusev happily declares Endorsements the greatest thing since sliced bread, more often I'm hearing comments like these:
@mjasay No... I don't know how it started, but watching people endorse me for words they don't even know is pretty weird.— Tony Yarusso (@TonyYarusso) July 7, 2013
@mjasay They are the new likes. They'll be for sale in thousands soon.— Emil Sarnogoev (@kaosque) July 7, 2013
It's understandable that LinkedIn would seek ways to boost return visits to its website. But as these and many other comments suggest, Endorsements may well be akin to Macbeth's "life ... told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Endorsements create a heck of a lot of noise, and precious little signal. Perhaps that's one reason that the company didn't mention Endorsements at all on its most recent earnings call in May 2013.
A More Positive Viral Loop For LinkedIn
If LinkedIn wants to find more ways to bring people back to the site, I suggest it send out more "You have 20 voyeurs this week" emails. Given how vain we are, this strikes me as a great way to get people visiting the site to see who is checking them out. And beyond mere vanity, it's also a great way to determine what competitors and prospective customers are thinking about.
Given that LinkedIn is already willing to tell me who has been looking at my profile, why not tighten the service to highlight when competitors view my profile? Or for a sales rep, let them list out a group of companies in which they're interested and generate reports on the companies (or skills/technologies) they're actively viewing?
These may be a bit more invasive, but they also offer real value. Unlike Endorsements, which are so shallow that they've become résumé spam.