Requested Recommendations on Social Networks: Why I Won’t Do It

“Looking at LinkedIn Recommendations, They are Puffery”
I’m currently doing research on what skills marketers are looking for in their social media team, and interviewed one hiring manager yesterday. She told me she didn’t value the references on LinkedIn and told me that “Looking at LinkedIn recommendations, they are puffery”. Instead she was looking for examples of work experience, eagerness to do the job, and of course ability. I agree with her, when I see recommendations on LinkedIn, my alarm goes off, I know most are not objective.

Why These Reccomendations May Not Be Trusted
From time to time, former colleagues ask me to be their reference –or even do recommendations (online references or testimonials) for them on social sites, like LinkedIn. Yet having gone through this process, they aren’t that trustworthy, here’s why:

  • Filter One: I question how honest and authentic recommendations are when the system primarily has features that vet out unwanted reviews. In nearly every experience I’ve been in, a former colleague or someone I’ve worked with requests a recommendation, this means they are expecting a positive review. Since the content is in public, saying something bad about someone else (even if it’s true) isn’t going to help your network, so the the contributor is biased.
  • Filter Two: Then, they can review my submitted review, and then accept or reject. I’ve had someone reject my reference, and ask me to rewrite it once before (I think it may have been because I had a typo). Because these three filters are setup, it’s unlikely that you’ll see reviews that are have objective content, or negative information.

Now it’s not just recommendation systems in business social networks, it’s also case studies from vendors, and customer testimonials. All of this content is cleaned, scrubbed, and presentable in favor the seller.

Potential Solutions
RSomers suggested that LinkedIn reduce the number of recommendations people can give.  Like UserVoice or Deal Ideastorm they give a certain amount of points anyone can use, forcing people to be choosey and selective in where they put their vote.   Also, Get Glue has interesting technology to do this for the media side –maybe they can apply this to job candidates too.

References Will Always Have Their Place
I triggered a discussion on twitter, and had a variety of responses, many who see the positives. At least two people told me they received their jobs from recommendations they’d received on LinkedIn, but not because the content was objective, but because it triggered a notification in the references stream –causing word of mouth to happen.   Luke said he got his job from a LinkedIn recommendation, and says ‘who’ reccomends him is more important.

Recommendations in any form still matter, but become more relevant if they come from someone who are at the top of their game, or have a relationship to the buyer.  This isn’t to say that none of these are helpful, they have their time and place in the marketing process. While a plethora of glowing references on a company or professional profile on LinkedIn may seem like typical marketing –in the end, smart buyers and employers will dig deeper to find where sellers and candidates shine –and need some polishing.

I Won’t be Giving LinkedIn Recommendations
Although I’ve only given honest recommendations in LinkedIn, I won’t be giving anymore recommendations on that platform (at least for the foreseeable future), instead, I’ll use my blog and Twitter to provide them in a more organic area where there aren’t obvious filters –making the recommendations count even more.  The challenge of course is finding them will not be easy.

Takeaways

  • Recommendations that are vetted by the requestor will  never be fully viewed as objective –savvy buyers know that, and can figure out how to get the information through private conversations or other reviews.
  • Reccomendations still matter, but who they come from, and in what context matters ever more, indicating you liked working with someone is still valuable –even if they are filtered.
  • Buyers should look for references (positive and negative) from more organic locations like blogs and Twitter, where the candidate/seller has less control over filtering and scrubbing the content.
  • Canidates and sellers need to prepare for the open reviews of good –and bad–reviews about their company and resume.
  • LinkedIn very valuable, and has many other features of note. This isn’t a knock on them, but instead on the marketing and pitching process in general.

Related:  Impacts of Social Media on Customer Reference Pages

Update: Russ Somers has extended the converation on his blog: Evaluating LinkedIn Reccomendations

LinkedIn’s communications savvy Kay Luo, contacted me and gave some best practices around how recommendations should work, as such, she gave a recommendation to my own account, which I accepted.  If they have any best practices around recommendations, I’ll be happy to link to them from this post –furthering the conversation.

Update: July 24th, LinkedIn has responded from their blog, discussing the benefits of recommendations and the social economy.  They suggest that you give recommendations to five people unsolicited, although I’d suggest don’t feel obligated to meet a number, just do it when you believe in it.  I really appreciate them being part of the conversation –so we can make these systems better.