Thursday, August 30, 2012

Professional networking or cheap trick?

I have been a LinkedIn user for about four years, I think. I’ve not been terribly active, but keeping my profile up-to-date has been useful, and I’ve even received two job invitations via the network. However, I noticed today that LinkedIn has a brave new feature that allows me the option of ‘endorsing’ the skills claimed by the people on my connections list. I discovered this after receiving a notification that one of my connections had endorsed my ‘teaching’ skills. I do mention on my profile that I was once a teacher, but apart from running the odd professional development workshop, (and I’m pretty certain my endorser never attended any of those)  I haven’t actually taught for a very long time, and it’s not a skill that I actively market, so why would I want someone to endorse it?

All of which begs the question, how reliable is an endorsement, and is this really a good idea for LinkedIn? I can’t help but feel that there’s an expectation of reciprocity in all of this: If you endorse my skills in x, I’ll endorse yours in y. Am I expected to endorse the people with whom I work? What happens to my working relationships if I don’t? Many of these endorsements are no better than children who, on the first day of school, offer sweet bribes to make friends and secure that tenuous popularity that might just give them a lift in the social pecking order.

Whilst I am happy to support the claims of many of my connections, I’d like that endorsement to have some validity. If I endorse Donna Thompson’s skills as a Moodle Administrator, for example, it’s because I worked with her for three years and I know she’s damn good at what she does. The endorsement of my teaching skills by someone who has never seen me teach, no matter how well intentioned, has no validity whatsoever. LinkedIn has always allowed recommendations, and I have done those, when requested, for people whose skills I know and respect. The endorsement process is too quick and facile, and I fear it undermines everything useful about LinkedIn.

If the network is determined to continue with this process of unsolicited endorsement, I’d like to suggest a ‘hell no’ button, so that I can respond appropriately to the rather inane endorsement question, “Does [insert person’s name] know about [insert random skill]?” Without that, LinkedIn is simply undermining the reliability of the professional network.