Did LinkedIn just become BranchOut? The endorsement story

I got the title for this post from a conversation I had earlier this week in relation to the much talked about endorsements feature on LinkedIn. Just in case you have been offline for the last three months, the way the feature works is that users add up to 50 skills to their profile. LinkedIn offer suggestions and alternatives to add. When you get an endorsement you get asked if you want to endorse back, then if you do you get offered 4 more profiles with skills to endorse. You can endorse these individually or with one click, or you can choose to close the window. Each time you endorse a skill another one pops up. If you close off one of the windows by clicking on the cross, then another one pops up. It is quick and easy to endorse. Personally, I never endorse all 4 at once, but I endorse those profiles that I think are deserving. Some of the people deserve endorsing, so I endorse them, whilst others just make me laugh. I’ve been asked if the likes of Glen Cathey know about sourcing (hell yes), and then I’ve been asked if others (who I won’t mention), know about social media which has just made me laugh.

LinkedIn seem to be experimenting about when they ask you to endorse. I’ve seen it when I log in, when I look at another users profile, or when I receive an endorsement. They will figure out the best place for this interaction, I’m sure. The reference to BranchOut in the title refers to the Facebook application who grew to 25 million users really quickly when they introduced a mobile app, that automatically enabled you to invite 50 friends with one click (and set up profiles for them to claim). I documented their growth in users HERE. The decline in users was almost as rapid as the rise, and the constant spamming of invites proved universally unpopular. Having alienated many Facebook users, the business is now building a network off Facebook, in theory to rival LinkedIn. Because of the way that the endorsements are easy and take no effort to complete the comparison with BranchOut, and the question over the value of the endorsements are inevitable. The interesting thing about the “BranchOut” method of growth was that Glassdoor adopted the same method when they launched their Facebook app, with one click invites to 50 friends at a time. This has been so successful for Glassdoor that they have been able to grow user numbers quickly by over 9 million, and significantly grow the number of reviews on the site to make them genuinely global and valuable, hence the recent huge investment. The difference here is that people saw Glassdoor as valuable when they got there, not a feeling they shared about BranchOut. These two examples show that when you ask users to do something when they log in, and make it as simple as one click, they usually comply. That is the BranchOut legacy, and is a method LinkedIn have followed to spread the endorsement of skills quickly.

To understand the reasoning behind this we need to look at why populating the skills profiles is so important to LinkedIn. It has been possible to add skills to profiles for about 18 months now, but because a profile showed 100% complete without it, very few people actually added skills to their profile. This was a bit of a problem because the LinkedIn search and recommendation algorithm that drives the channel was built on skills and location. Endorsed skills provide much better results than free text job titles or summaries, hence the drive to skills. The skills endorsements are also important because they should give us much better results to need than the free text and inconsistent recommendations in the old style LinkedIn. If LinkedIn can get an accurate breakdown of skills for every user, and get them endorsed by other users, it adds a very useful dimension to the channel, particularly for search, as skills, rather than experience become the new currency.

Much of the criticism from some of the great and the good is that the new style of endorsements are just too easy, and are taking credibility away from the channel. If we have learnt anything about social media, it is that users don’t like change. Just when we get comfortable, the channel goes and changes things and we feel like they are changing our place. They rarely tell us it’s coming either, which gives us no time to think about it. One day we log in and it all looks and feels different. As a result, I expect to hear some complaint around new things, but the noise over endorsements seems to be gathering momentum.

I was a bit surprised about the approach from LinkedIn, but I have kept an open mind to see what the real impact would be on profiles, after all, I was hearing that these endorsements had little value, because they were so easy, just like BranchOut. Now that we are about 6 weeks in, the endorsements are starting to have real impact. For a start, nearly all the active profiles on LinkedIn now have enough endorsements to get a good picture of the skills of the user. this is because the skills on the profile are defined by the user and endorsed by others. This has real value in search and recommendation, where the results have become noticeably more relevant as the endorsements have grown.

I’ve also noticed that on the whole, users are being fussy over their endorsements. They might not have as much knowledge of the users to give a detailed endorsements, but they don’t appear to be saying yes to everything. Endorsements to some degree are earnt on reputation, and are not being given on mass because it is easy. To test this theory, I have looked at 5 people I know quite well, and the top 5 things they are endorsed for. I haven’t found anything I would dispute or disagree with. These are the 5:

> Matt Alder

  1. Digital Strategy – 62
  2. Employer Branding – 51
  3. Digital Marketing – 35
  4. Social Media Marketing – 23
  5. Internal Communications – 9

>Glen Cathey

  1. Technical Recruiting – 80
  2. Internet Recruiting – 55
  3. Talent Acquisition – 51
  4. Sourcing – 51
  5. Recruiting = 31

>Andy Headworth

  1. Recruiting – 31
  2. Social Media – 23
  3. Talent Acquisition – 21
  4. Social Recruiting – 18
  5. Social networking – 15

>Laurie Ruettimann

  1. Social Media – 62
  2. HR Consulting – 45
  3. Social Media Marketing – 34
  4. Human Capital – 26
  5. Blog Marketing – 24


>Bill Boorman

  1. Recruiting – 27
  2. Social Media Marketing – 23
  3. Recruiters -21
  4. Social Media – 20
  5. Public Speaking – 15

If you don’t know all the names on the list, check a few who you do know. Knowing each of these individuals, I would agree with all these lists. This gives me confidence in the endorsements held by the people I don’t know, and in the search results and recommendations based on the endorsements. Despite the criticism  this looks like being another really useful feature, based on the results rather than the noise of the moaners.

In the process of researching this post, I also got to see the new profile layout that are slowly getting rolled out. This changes the look and gives some extra really useful data. If you want to see what yours will look like when you get it check the profiles for Laurie Ruettimann and Glen Cathey.

Now go check the endorsements of people you know, and see if you still think they are of little value,


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