Linkedin endorsements – cynical, not stupid.

Since its introduction, it’s fair to say that Linkedin’s “endorsements” feature, which makes it simple to add a ‘point’ to your connections’ skill in various areas, has divided opinion. Actually, that’s probably not fair — anecdotally most people I know seem to think it’s a complete absurd joke.

But, I think there’s an easy misunderstanding around this feature. Most people assume, quite reasonably, that Linkedin has added this to provide more value for its users. I don’t actually think that’s the main story here — it’s about interaction figures.

As a social network, your best indicators of network health are not user numbers but user engagement. By the same argument Apple keeps coming back to re. iOS devices being *used* much more than Android equivalents, the unloved accounts that litter hundreds of now dormant social networks speak for themselves.

For years, most Linkedin users I know have been lurkers. Perhaps there’s a flurry of activity if you’re on the hunt for a new opportunity but, even then, most peoples’ career cycle is more like a couple of years than a couple of months. And as for the communities on Linkedin, the experience is so unpleasant and the general usage so uninspiring and cynical that it’s hard to create stickiness compared to the variety of alternative communities that exist.

So what do you do?

Endorsements are the answer. Every iota of the feature’s design exposes its motive to simply up engagement metrics rather than genuinely add something valuable. The box pops up gleefully all across the site, challenging the user to confirm endorsements that verge on the rhetorical with a simple click and message of positive reinforcement. It feels like hyper-engineered altruism by numbers and its what makes it clear this is a feature for Linkedin, not so much for you.

I think this kind of design is more common in the social world than people often realise. I had an article in mind recently to run through all Twitter’s announcements for the last year and create a checklist of who each development served. If it was the users, they receive a point, if it was Twitter and/ or it’s business model, Twitter gets a point. Sadly, I don’t think there were many where everyone benefited.

For Twitter and Linkedin, I think it actually works because they do have something valuable at their core that people are already finding value from. In Linkedin’s case, it’s engineering reasons to come back more often and support that user value with company value. Does it hurt you to play with the endorsements feature a little to help support their service? Perhaps you’re actually endorsing something more important than you first thought.

Postscript: minutes after I wrote this, Mat Morrison brought up the following not entirely irrelevant aspect to the matter from Linkedin’s Q3 results. Another very clear side of the picture…

- Max Tatton-Brown

August 8th, 2013