LinkedIn Recommendations & Jeremiah Owyang (he's wrong)

October 8th, 2009 | by Jason Alba |

I recently saw a post  by Jacob Share, owner of Job Mob, called Why LinkedIn Recommendations Really Are Valuable.  There are a number of points he makes that I want to comment on, but I’ll do that in another post.  Here I want to focus on where his post was inspired… Jeremiah Owyang (who is like a social media god) wrote a post back in July called Requested Recommendations on Social Networks: Why I Won’t Do It.  Jeremiah pretty much starts off and continues the conversation talking about LinkedIn Recommendations, and I think many of his points are off.  My comments below (read his post to get all of the lines I’m quoting in context).

>> “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.

Interesting… note that the person who said this was looking for marketing skills for their social team (I assume, looking for a new team member). I wonder what it says if a social marketer can’t get any LinkedIn recommendations?  Would that be a strike against them?  More on the content of a recommendation later…

>> I agree with her, when I see recommendations on LinkedIn, my alarm goes off, I know most are not objective.

This is crazy talk.  He goes on later to talk about why, but my point here is … his alarm goes off?  Which alarm – the alarm of deceit and fraud?  Seriously – have you ever seen a stack of letters of recommendation?  Does that make your alarm go off?  Have you seen customer testimonials?  Does that make your alarm go off?  Let’s put LinkedIn Recommendations into perspective here…

>> Why These Reccomendations May Not Be Trusted

Interesting choice of a subtitle – but note the KEY WORD has to be MAY… not that they ARE trusted, but that the 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,

Jacob makes the argument that a LinkedIn Recommendation is “less likely to be faked than a typed or handwritten letter.”  Seriously.  Sounds like there is a big issue with trust in general here… how do we know that ANY recommendation or testimonial is ever authentic and real??

Also, what’s wrong with a former colleague asking for you to be a reference?  This is quite common in the business world.

>> I question how honest and authentic recommendations are when the system primarily has features that vet out unwanted reviews.

Um, what?  How about there is a system in place to keep out the CRAP that you see on MySpace and Facebook?  COOL PARTY DUDE!  CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU NEXT TIME!  Or, some self-promoting link on my Facebook wall… the purpose of LinkedIn Recommendations is not to give my contacts a medium to say whatever they want – think about a LinkedIn Profile – this is being compared to a resume – would you let your “friends” write graffiti-crap on your resume?  NO.

I absolutely want 100% control over what ends up on my LinkedIn Profile.

>> 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.

Duh.  Let’s switch to letters of recommendation. If someone asks for a letter of recommendation and it SUCKS (it is negative, or not as positive as I need it), do you think I’m going to present it to a potential employer?  Do you see companies putting testimonials like “the product was okay – I might get it again if I’m in a pinch” on their website?

NO, you put your best foot forward.

Heaven forbid we expect 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.

“The contributor” should be smart enough to write something real and genuine – I know, that doesn’t always happen, but if you are grown up you can figure out how to say “no” to a recommendation request.  OR, you can write something like what (supposedly) Benjamin Franklin wrote - which is a bunch of worthless drabble.  The recipient of the Recommendation is not forced to put up your drabble, or your weak recommendation.

>> 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.

Yeah, that’s right.  And if you write me a letter of recommendation with a typo I’m going to ask for a fix (or just assume the interviewer can figure out that YOU spell bad, not me… or I can wonder if they will mark your mistake against me because I don’t have enough attention to detail to get them a proper document).  And if you don’t write me a positive review that speaks to my brand and my strengths, I’m going to REJECT YOUR REFERENCE.  You won’t know it if it is a letter of recommendation… but even so, would you be upset if you knew I only used three letters of recommendation, and yours wasn’t one of them?  Probably not.

>> 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.

No kidding?  Of course!  We knew that what we are presented with is going to be “best foot forward” material… I don’t ever expect to see something like “Most of my kids like it but little Jimmy thinks it tasts like horse vomit” on the side of a cereal box – do you?

Jacob makes another great point: “In either case, it’s up to the recruiter to decide whether more reference-checking is needed.”

>> Potential Solutions: RSomers suggested that LinkedIn reduce the number of recommendations people can give.

I can’t see LinkedIn implementing this.  They’ve already put in a limit on number of connections I can have, number of connection requests I can make, number of Groups I can join, etc.  Telling their users that they can only have a certain number of Recommendations is crazy… I think there’s a healthy does of “caveat emptor,” or “let the buyer beware” in the case of LinkedIn Recommedations, but I DO NOT advocate a limit imposed at the system level (in other words, imposed by LinkedIn).

>> Recommendations … become more relevant if they come from someone who are at the top of their game, or have a relationship to the buyer.

I disagree… I might not know who major industry or professional players are if I’m not in that industry or profession. There are various criteria that elp me determine if a Recommendation is worth something, but it’s not necessarily WHO does the recommendation.  I say this after getting an amazing endorsement from Ask The Headhunter himself on my LinekdIn DVD – that endorsement carries substantial credibility to industry insiders, but to people who don’t know Nick, it is “just another endorsement.”

In working with my Now What authors I find them looking for testimonials from people who they think have really big names but I have no idea who those big names are.  Insignificant.

>> in the end, smart buyers and employers will dig deeper to find where sellers and candidates shine

This is one of the beauties of Recommendations – on each Recommendation there is a link to the person’s Profile so you can actually contact them and do more deeper digging.

>> I won’t be giving anymore recommendations on [LinkedIn]… 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.

Make them count more?  You give out tweets like candy on Halloween… how is that any more credible?  And how can you give a real endorsement with reasoning on Twitter in 140 chars?  And your blog … I think you are severely limited to what you can write on your blog and who and what you can and will endorse.  LinkedIn’s recommendations are not the same thing as a Tweet or a blog post (I’d love for you to do a blog post on me or my stuff, but I consider the chances of that between nil and … nil).

As far as “making them easy to find,” I’d say that the recipient should have a website and link back to, or quote, the original post or tweet.  It is the recipient’s responsibility to make sure their audience can get the right, relevant information to make a decision.

Alright, here’s my disclaimer – Jeremiah is a smart guy and there is a reason he has such a big and loyal following.  This is not a knock in him but the logic in this old post is just too much for me to pass up on.

I have more thoughts, of course.  You can read my post How To Write An Excellent LinkedIn Recommendation at the link.  And, here’s a followup to Jeremiah’s post by Russ Somers, and here’s a response to Jeremiah’s post by LinkedIn on their own blog.

  1. 5 Responses to “LinkedIn Recommendations & Jeremiah Owyang (he's wrong)”

  2. By Jeremiah Owyang on Oct 8, 2009 | Reply

    I had a chuckle with the tone, good job with this retort. BTW: I enjoy your book! It’s on my bookshelf.

  3. By Russ Somers on Oct 16, 2009 | Reply

    Good post, Jason! I’m not sure why LinkedIn recommendations would be viewed as inherently less trustworthy than the cherry-picked references a candidate provides through the traditional process.

    However, if email’s lack of friction encourages spam, the ease of requesting and creating LinkedIn recommendations has made it easy for some folks to collect LinkedIn recommendations like trophies (“Jason is a fantastic co-worker with great insights”). Those profiles can look suspicious, especially if most of the recommendations are generic or half-hearted. So, in evaluating LinkedIn recommendations – don’t count them and assume that the person with the most recommendations is the best. Instead, do the hard work of reading them, checking on who they’re from, and evaluating whether they’re canned or real.

    One final note: in addition to writing the post you so kindly linked to, I’m also the @rsomers who mentioned creating scarcity by limiting the number of recommendations one could write. That was in the spirit of thinking out loud…just as it’s sometimes suggested that spam could be eliminated by imposing a small fee on sent email. The economic theory behind it is sound, but I wouldn’t advocate it in either case.

  4. By Michael Levine on Oct 18, 2009 | Reply

    What exactly are LinkedIn References?
    They are, for the most part, just personal references from people who know you. Not necessarily from former employers!
    These days, job seekers need all the help they can get to rise above the crowd and get noticed first by prospective employers.
    Toward this end, I thought I’d share with you a new, free tool I’ve created and launched to help job seekers:
    PreVerify is a free tool with which job seekers can conduct their own accurate and professional employment verifications. Following the quick and simple registration process, simply send your PreVerify request to your former and current employers to complete online at a time that is convenient for them to do so. No more interruptive phone calls, just an employment verification that can be used over and over again, forever.
    Rather than crowd this email with a bunch of words, attached are two recent articles that talk about PreVerify:
    Please feel free to View My PreVerify Profile:

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  2. Oct 11, 2009: Social Media Managers » Blog Archive » Latest on LinkedIn - recommendations more valuable than a reference?
  3. Oct 12, 2009: I’m On LinkedIn – Now What??? » Blog Archive » LinkedIn Recommendations – Who Should Give Them?

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