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Do LinkedIn Endorsements Create a Chink in Professionalism?

LinkedIn is touted as the “World’s Largest Professional Network.” A far cry from more personal social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn keeps the emphasis on people’s employment and their professional connections. Consider it like a networking event, only online. Unlike in-person networking, though, LinkedIn enables people to make connections with anyone, anywhere.

Last year, LinkedIn added a new feature to its site: LinkedIn Skill Endorsements. According to the site, “Endorsing others is a great way to recognize your colleagues for the skills you’ve seen them demonstrate. It helps contribute to the strength of their profile, and increases the likelihood they’ll be discovered for opportunities related to the skills their connections know they possess.” This sounds great, right? Everyone appreciates acknowledgement; the endorsements are like a virtual thumbs-up or even a letter of recommendation. But, what if the person endorsing you has it wrong? What if the person endorsing you does not even know you?

If you are like me, you are not overly selective when it comes to accepting invitations from people on social media sites. If someone wants to connect with me via LinkedIn, I generally accept the request. The more, the merrier. Even if I do not recognize someone’s name on an invitation, I normally will go ahead and accept in order to see what connections we might share. The result is that my LinkedIn circle is pretty large and includes many people whom I only vaguely know and, reciprocally, people who know very little about me and my career.

Yet, these people can endorse me for whatever skills they believe I possess. In the legal field, this presents numerous issues teetering on ethical boundaries. All attorneys must abide by rules promulgated by the American Bar Association. For example, ABA Model Rule 7.1 states that a lawyer is not to make any false or misleading claims about his or her services. If someone endorses me on LinkedIn for patent law work, of which I have no experience with, am I allowing a false claim to be made about my services? Do I have an obligation to remove the endorsement from my page?

Granted, many professionals are not subject to such stringent regulations. However, no matter what the profession, these endorsements may do more harm than good.

For starters, they are just too easy to make. With a few clicks, I can endorse a Human Resources manager with the skills of “insurance planning” or “contract negotiations.” But an HR manager may not have experience with either. How does it help a professional if she is endorsed for skills she in actuality does not have? Endorsements, if not monitored by the receiving person, can create a false image.

There is also the “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” dilemma. Should you reciprocate an endorsement? And, if everyone returns the favor, do endorsements become meaningless? My rule of thumb is to only endorse someone for whom I would write a letter of recommendation; I must have seen their skills in action and interacted with them on a personal level.

LinkedIn has enabled a feature that allows users to hide endorsements, so that they are not visible to others. While you may or may not choose to use this feature, I do recommend actively monitoring your profile. If you are an employer, educate your employees about the nature of LinkedIn endorsements. After all, employees’ endorsed skills are a reflection of your business. If you operate a flower shop and one of your employees is endorsed as an “expert botanist,” but in reality she is just a teenager who likes flowers, it may be misleading to customers. Professional endorsements, no matter the format, should always be honest and accurate.

If you are an employer and are interested in knowing more about social media policies in the workplace, contact the employment law attorneys at McBrayer.

This article is intended as a summary of newly enacted federal law and does not constitute legal advice.

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