LinkedIn Endorsements: Jury is Still Out, but Financial Advisors Beware

It’s been a month since LinkedIn launched the new Endorsements feature. There has been active discussion as to the value and usefulness of the new feature and many people have been trying to figure out LinkedIn’s motivation and big picture goal with introducing this easy, interactive feature. I’ve gotten several requests for my thoughts and interpretation, so now that some time has passed, I thought I’d share.

First, participating (if you’re not a professional with a regulatory body that monitors or forbids testimonials) can’t hurt. I agree with most that the endorsements section taken alone doesn’t mean much because it’s too easy to endorse calling into question the intentions and credibility of the people making the endorsements. There are people doing it specifically for quid pro quo and those who get endorsed are feeling compelled to reply in kind. It can become a numbers and popularity game.

However, it is only one part of a complex profile. When analyzed in combination with the other information on your profile, it could give people a deeper understanding. Think about the leaps that your mind makes in the following scenarios:

  • The person has many recommendations AND endorsements about the topics they profess to be expert in.
  • The person has some endorsements but no recommendations about the topics the profess to be expert in.
  • The person professes to be an expert and not only has no recommendations, but no endorsements (knowing how easy the endorsements are to give)

I don’t know about you, but I assume that the person in the first scenario is an expert, the person in the second is actively developing expertise but not quite there yet, and the third person doesn’t have the expertise they claim they do. Essentially, you’re going to have to decide if you want to participate so think about what the level of participation in this feature could be saying to your target market before making a final decision.

One thing to keep in mind is that the words that you enter in the Skills & Expertise section do affect where you show up in search results. So choosing to eliminate this section could have a negative impact on your visibility on LinkedIn if being found is important to you. Also, when people endorse you, the activity goes out into the news feed to your network. This helps keep you front of mind and it can increase your credibility if your network sees that you are regularly being endorsed by people – particularly if the people endorsing you are also in their network.

The Bigger Picture

So, How does this fit into LinkedIn’s bigger picture? First, many are claiming that it’s an attempt to “gamify” LinkedIn. I don’t know if I would classify the Endorsements as a “game” but I can say that it is only the second element that allows someone to post something to your profile that sticks and it does encourage activity. For the most part, LinkedIn profiles have been one-sided. Since status updates in the news feed drop off after about 2 weeks (sooner if you are very active), there is no permanence to two-way interaction on your profile (such as the Facebook Timeline) other than the Recommendations.

Second, we all know that LinkedIn is a huge database and LinkedIn loves data. If you hover over the skills, you can see that LinkedIn is monitoring the increase and decrease of the usage of the different skills. This will give them powerful knowledge of the changes in trends of skill usage and classification over time. Knowledge that they can sell to the ever thirsty staffing and recruiting industry.

Third, I’m hypothesizing that we could see the development of the Endorsements as a search filter for the recruiter premium packages. Since activity around the giving and receiving of recommendations is not very high and most enterprise corporations have policies against giving recommendations of employees for liability reasons, I can see the Endorsements feature lending some level of additional credibility in search results because at least there are some people willing to publicly vouch for you. I have no idea if this will come to be, but if I were LinkedIn, I’d use it that way.

It’s only been a month and with the rollout of the new LinkedIn profiles on the horizon, we will have to watch and see how it develops.

Endorsements and Financial Advisors

One of LinkedIn’s most valued industry verticals is financial services. It’s evident how important the vertical is given the amount of resources they have put into research to lay a foundation to get them more active on LinkedIn. However, I wonder how well they thought through the nightmare that this feature is unleashing on those companies regulated by FINRA and the SEC.

The Recommendations section was enough of a minefield, but at least you had to approve the recommendation before it appeared on your profile. With the endorsements, all you have to do is be using the Skills & Experience section and any connection can endorse you and it shows up immediately. The only approval you’re involved in is if someone wants to add a new skill to your list.

Since 1940, the federal government has forbidden anyone licensed to give investment advice from publicly advertising client testimonials. That is because it is impossible to duplicate performance from one client to the next due to the ever changing nature of the market and the individual’s own risk tolerances and goals.

So the issue with Endorsements lies in having CLIENTS endorse skills that are directly related to your work as a financial advisor. Technically, endorsements from people who aren’t clients for skills that do not pertain directly to your ability to invest shouldn’t be a problem.

The problem is that broker-dealers and RIAs are responsible for the oversight and monitoring. Most larger firms flat out prohibit the use of any Recommendations in LinkedIn whether or not it’s from a client or not. That’s because it’s too hard to monitor who is a client and who isn’t. For example, someone may give you a recommendation before they are a client, but what if they become a client? It’s simply too messy and too expensive for the larger firms to monitor. So, since the activity of Endorsements is exponentially greater than that of recommendations, I anticipate the Skills & Expertise section will be made off limits.

Removing the Skills & Expertise Section

You have too options. First, delete all of your skills in the Skills & Expertise section and the section won’t show up on your profile. Second, you can keep the Skills & Expertise section and actively monitor and hide Endorsements as soon as the come in.

To hide the Endorsements, go into the Edit Profile function and scroll down to the Skills & Endorsements section. You’ll see your endorsers. Click on the arrow at the far right of each skill that is endorsed and it will open up a window with everyone who has endorsed you. Next to their name is a button that says “Hide Endorsement.” Simply click on the button and the Endorsement will disappear. This action CANNOT BE UNDONE, so please be certain you’re ready to take it.

Just like any of the LinkedIn tools and features, you will have to decide for yourself what helps you share your brand and accomplish your goals. No one can make that decision for you.

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