LinkedIn Endorsements: Nutrition or Junk?

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This post originally appeared on the Upriver Solutions blog.

How do you use LinkedIn? As a business networking site? A place to store and share your resume? (By the way, when was the last time you updated that sucker?) Some might still think of LinkedIn as a sort of digital happy hour where workers can connect, talk shop and exchange virtual business cards, but the good folks at LinkedIn want it to become more than a once­-a­-week stop for its users. To do so, it has been ramping up user engagement with features like LinkedIn Endorsements.

LinkedIn Endorsements: A Mixed Bag?

Perhaps you’ve noticed this in the form of requests that pop up on your LinkedIn homepage or on individual user profiles: “Does [so-­and­-so] have these skills or expertise?” You can endorse your colleague or friend for the listed items, or you can add your own.

One person can endorse another for just about anything, and it’s up to the endorsee to curate those skills. For instance, I might endorse you for Rubik’s Cube solving. You might endorse me for banana tattooing. Whether or not we want to display those skills as being applicable to our careers is then up to us. (Thank goodness.) And there’s nothing stopping someone from endorsing someone he doesn’t know very well for something he doesn’t actually know the endorsee can do, so each individual endorsement should be taken with a grain of salt.

However, when lots of recommendations pile up around a single topic for a user, a true pattern begins to emerge. While a prankster or two might find it funny to add a little color to your profile, it’s a much different story when 25 or more individuals put their stamp of approval on a single skill that you have listed. At 100 endorsements or more, LinkedIn is convinced that you’re legit in that subject matter and simply displays “99+” from that point forward, regardless of how many additional endorsements you may receive.

Skills & Expertise: Tasty and Good for You

In addition to the obvious value of having others validate the skills you list on your own profile, LinkedIn appears to be using these metrics in its own search engine rankings and on “discovery” pages like the Skills & Expertise page (still in beta). There, you can search for a particular skill and receive a summary of the information LinkedIn has collected. It lists the top professionals in that category, statistics about how the skill appears on LinkedIn (growth relative to related skills, the percentage of age groups in that category, etc.), companies and groups on LinkedIn that are associated with it and so on.

As LinkedIn works to create a well­-balanced way for us to to combine what we say about ourselves with what others say about us, the network will only get stronger. But, as with most things in this digital world of ours, this, too, it remains a grand experiment.

What do you think? Are LinkedIn endorsements the next Facebook poke, or are they the beginning of something bigger for the social network?