Requested Recommendations on Social Networks: Why I Won’t Do It

“Looking at LinkedIn Recommendations, They are Puffery”
I’m currently doing research on what skills marketers are looking for in their social media team, and interviewed one hiring manager yesterday. She told me she didn’t value the references on LinkedIn and told me that “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. I agree with her, when I see recommendations on LinkedIn, my alarm goes off, I know most are not objective.

Why These Reccomendations 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, here’s why:

  • Filter One: I question how honest and authentic recommendations are when the system primarily has features that vet out unwanted reviews. 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. 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.
  • Filter Two: 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.

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.

Potential Solutions
RSomers suggested that LinkedIn reduce the number of recommendations people can give.  Like UserVoice or Deal Ideastorm they give a certain amount of points anyone can use, forcing people to be choosey and selective in where they put their vote.   Also, Get Glue has interesting technology to do this for the media side –maybe they can apply this to job candidates too.

References Will Always Have Their Place
I triggered a discussion on twitter, and had a variety of responses, many who see the positives. At least two people told me they received their jobs from recommendations they’d received on LinkedIn, but not because the content was objective, but because it triggered a notification in the references stream –causing word of mouth to happen.   Luke said he got his job from a LinkedIn recommendation, and says ‘who’ reccomends him is more important.

Recommendations in any form still matter, but become more relevant if they come from someone who are at the top of their game, or have a relationship to the buyer.  This isn’t to say that none of these are helpful, they have their time and place in the marketing process. While a plethora of glowing references on a company or professional profile on LinkedIn may seem like typical marketing –in the end, smart buyers and employers will dig deeper to find where sellers and candidates shine –and need some polishing.

I Won’t be Giving LinkedIn Recommendations
Although I’ve only given honest recommendations in LinkedIn, I won’t be giving anymore recommendations on that platform (at least for the foreseeable future), 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.


  • Recommendations that are vetted by the requestor will  never be fully viewed as objective –savvy buyers know that, and can figure out how to get the information through private conversations or other reviews.
  • Reccomendations still matter, but who they come from, and in what context matters ever more, indicating you liked working with someone is still valuable –even if they are filtered.
  • Buyers should look for references (positive and negative) from more organic locations like blogs and Twitter, where the candidate/seller has less control over filtering and scrubbing the content.
  • Canidates and sellers need to prepare for the open reviews of good –and bad–reviews about their company and resume.
  • LinkedIn very valuable, and has many other features of note. This isn’t a knock on them, but instead on the marketing and pitching process in general.

Related:  Impacts of Social Media on Customer Reference Pages

Update: Russ Somers has extended the converation on his blog: Evaluating LinkedIn Reccomendations

LinkedIn’s communications savvy Kay Luo, contacted me and gave some best practices around how recommendations should work, as such, she gave a recommendation to my own account, which I accepted.  If they have any best practices around recommendations, I’ll be happy to link to them from this post –furthering the conversation.

Update: July 24th, LinkedIn has responded from their blog, discussing the benefits of recommendations and the social economy.  They suggest that you give recommendations to five people unsolicited, although I’d suggest don’t feel obligated to meet a number, just do it when you believe in it.  I really appreciate them being part of the conversation –so we can make these systems better.

60 Replies to “Requested Recommendations on Social Networks: Why I Won’t Do It”

  1. Jeremiah, I think a LOT of this could be settled by removing the “Please Recommend Me” feature.

    I don’t respond to them, and every LinkedIn recommendation I have written has been unsolicited. I consider it genuine, and won’t recommend someone whose future screwups will tarnish my reputation.

    Take the beggary (and the resulting mutual back-scratchery faux etiquette) out of the equation, and it goes further.

  2. Jeremiah,

    Depending on the job description/requirements LinkedIn recommendations can be more or less important.

    For example, having many recommendations on LinkedIn shows – if nothing else – that a person can identify a target audience online (those that will provide positive reviews) and engage that audience to perform an action on his or her behalf.

    That can be a very valuable skill for a Brand Ambassador, or anyone involved in public relations, community outreach, or a hybrid social media/social business position.

  3. I had a conversation on this very topic with one of my sisters who is in the Banking/Financial sector. An obviously hurting area of the economy. A co-worker of hers asked her to give her a “IN” recommedation in exchange for a recommendation on her. Her immediate reaction was it would be perceived as entirely contrived.

    A more valuable service from “IN” would be allowing users to request and create contacts as references, and allow those references to be reached via the platform and be candid and real, vs. scripted.

  4. Jeremiah,

    I agree with Ike. It would be a rare day for me to write solicited recommendation. However, I don’t see much wrong with allowing people to omit random negatives from people who may simply disagree with them on some point (over actual knowledge of job performance).

    If someone expects to find substance from any Linkedin recommendation, the process of vetting puff is as simple as picking up the telephone or sending an e-mail. Sounds crazy, I know.

    Still, I think the solicited reviews are less troubling than the “mutual back-scratchery” as Ike called it. Recommendation exchanges from people who have never worked together, but happen to praise each other’s ideas for no other reason than a demonstration of friendliness.

    All my best,

  5. Good thoughts – I blogged on the same topic after our interchange at

    Interesting to note that your basic rationale is similar to what I heard from hiring managers many years ago about reference checks by phone. Even the Unabomber can come up with three people who will say positive things about them. As is so often the case in this space, this is a case of people continuing to do what people do. Job-seekers continue to present themselves in the most positive possible light. Technology simply amplifies that behavior.

    That said, Isaac is right on that the “please recommend me” feature drives most of the garbage-y recommendations. I understand why they put this feature in when they were trying to drive usage of the recommendation feature early on. If I were them, I’d remove it now so that the feature has a shot at meaning something.

  6. I disagree and think that LinkedIn recommendations have value. Yes, there is the log-rolled mutual back-scratching component, but honesty trumps that. If I am honest, I won’t
    recommend someone that I don’t feel has done a superlative job for me or with me in a past engagement, simple as that. There is some negotiation that happens out of band
    before the rec is posted, and you can develop a sophisticated series of controls or point systems or whatnot, but the fact remains that you want some form of mutual trust and communication for all this to work.

    Yes, people have gotten jobs via LinkedIn. There are forums that I subscribe to where local (to St Louis) jobs are posted first before Craigslist or anywhere else — the smart folks scan these forums frequently and many people have gotten work as a result.

    Yes, I have gotten gigs from my LinkedIn activities, and I have also gotten sources for my freelanced stories from LinkedIn contacts. It is a very useful tool for me. And one of the other things that I like about LinkedIn is that it offers in a single place what people are saying about my work history, which helps when I am pitching a new client and they can see that I am someone who has been around this industry and the Internet for many years.

    I will continue to use the recommendation engine at LinkedIn. While imperfect, it is the best way that potential clients can get a picture of the kind of work and relationships that I have over the years.

  7. Sharon, for what it’s worth I’ve landed a job via LinkedIn (sample of 1, so take with a big grain of salt). And recommendations were one of the key things that led them to contact me, I later learned. But then I’m lucky enough to have some unsolicited recommendations that don’t look like puffery.

  8. I think recommendations have some value but now that the numbers people have are increasing, the value is diminishing. Speaking as someone who has several and who has written several, I think they serve a purpose in giving some insight into the person concerned. Recruiters or other interested parties will get a sense of the strenghts of an individual through the tone of recommendations and i think that is useful.

    But would I base a recruitment decision on LinkedIn recomendations? No. Would I use them to shape my line of interviewing and to get a sense of the person I’m meeting? Absolutely.

  9. @Sharon Elin Yes. My current job is a direct result of LinkedIn. By the way – what differentiated me from the other candidates was the fact that I was the ONLY one who responded to the job details over LinkedIn.

  10. Russ

    The difference between the contrived recommendations on a social network is different than a phone call. Why? It’s easy to get the reference to talk about “areas of improvement” in private. Believe me, as I’ve gotten people to talk from customer reference calls for my research –you’d be surprised.

  11. Russ, Great post, I cross linked from my post.

    Andy, I agree, this is one data point that shapes the over model in making a decision. The thing is, I think we can find a better way to do it that’s more trusted.

  12. I’m inclined to think that recommendations are a good thing. That’s why LinkedIn included them in the first place.
    Sure unsolicited ones are better than the canned ones… and a recommendation that comes from a high-level executive looks better than a pat on the back from a client… but if your goal is to vet a person out for business purposes, recommendations offer a glimpse of how they may fit into your personal culture.
    Personal Culture?
    Sure. Companies have corporate culture. Why can’t individuals?
    If I get a request to link… or a friend suggests someone for me, I look at their job title first to see if has relevancy to my life, and then I look at their profile (including recommendations) to see how other people feel about this person.
    When I started accepting recommendations for my network, I made them all public. It was pointed out to me that some of mine are from business associates and may not hold as much weight as ones from executives. True, but I realized that anyone who wants to say nice things about me is entitled to and that each person’s intention is to continue that business conversation.
    I prefer LinkedIn’s current methodology to something akin to Yelp where you are not sure if the business paid for its endorsements. With LinkedIn, you are guaranteed that someone wants to promote your talents.
    Sounds like a pretty positive way to present yourself.
    No charge for my 2 cents…

    If you’d like me to recommend your talents, feel free to look me up on LinkedIn (in/msinger)

  13. Ah, the humanity.

    Funny how the more connected we become, the less connected we are, don’t you think?

    As an old guy, I remember when a recommendation meant something. And now I see them on LinkedIn,, and they mean . . . shall we simply say “less”?

    On the other hand, We’ve entered an age where just about the ONLY way to get someone’s attention is through an introduction. (Again, insert old guy reference here).

    So what does that mean, that knowing someone means something but having them say nice things about you means nothing?

    I disagree that there’s no value to these recommendations, but to my chagrin, I can’t quantify that.

  14. Jeff, there’s value –but just less than I think was intended. Instead look for organic –not requested then curated– recommendations. (I’m older than I look)

  15. No one should make a decision based on one piece of evidence (for example a LinkedIn endorsement). Of course, no one is going to post a less than positive recommendation on his or her profile. I think that is a given!

    I totally disagree with what seems to be the premise here – that LI endorsements are not trustworthy because they can be requested, because the profile owner has discretion regarding what to post and because some people offer many endorsements.

    Re: the “endorsements are requested and posted with discretion” factor: That is the nature of recommendations in general. No savvy job seeker gives a reference without first vetting the endorser to determine what he or she will say!

    Re: the “number of endorsements offered per profile” factor: If a professional with a long work history who interacts with many people has positive things to say about many of them, that diminishes the value of each endorsement? Should we hand out endorsements on a curve? Only give a certain number of good ones?

    The real value of a LI endorsement is that it is tied to the writer’s profile, so is verifiable, and it is easy to find. I think you do a disservice to those who work around you by refusing to post recommendations – either the “organic” ones you would offer spontaneously or in response to a request by someone whose work you truly appreciate. It sounds to me that you are saying you will purposely make it more difficult for a colleague or employee to benefit from your endorsement. Why?

    Finally, a quick comment on your suggestion that blogs and Twitter are better, more organic content…Maybe. However, does that necessarily make them more true? How easy is it for someone with a vendetta to write a negative post or tweet that may or may not be on target?

    I agree with your suggestion that the buyer needs to beware when it comes to recommendations – on LinkedIn and elsewhere. Finding information from a variety of sources is best, but that does not diminish the value of a LinkedIn endorsement.

  16. Social media networks and other outlets have so many wonderful features and are useful in so many ways, both personally and professionally, but I agree that you need to take some things, like references with a grain of salt. Of course, the same could be said for references offline too.
    I believe highly in the ideas Tara Hunt has put out in The Whuffie Factor rather than relying on just references. Build your credibility (Whuffie) by illustrating your knowledge, abilities, work, etc. across online and offline mediums. Be able to show a discussion thread where you offered great insight or where your work was highlighted–that’s more impressive to a potential employer.

  17. Dear Jeremiah,

    In a non-monetary market reputation is value, and values can be exchanged. We can compute and find algorithms that stop closed circle and calculate “recommendation inflation index” – think this is happening on LinkedIn with most of recommendations.
    Recommendations are a basic part of reputation is a social environment, the behavior of people must to be changed.

  18. Well, in my opinion you should evaluate Linkedin recommendations not by what they say, but by what they don’t say. I train recruiters in using Linkedin and one of my tips is to read the recommendations, but look for similarities.

    Because what you say is true, they won’t ever be negative. But usually they are honest, in my case they always are. But you need to read them in a different way. If someone gets recommended for being such a nice collegue and there isn’t one mention about being a hard working or intelligent, you know the social aspect is ok, but he or she might not be that good at his or her job.

    If all the recommendations are about being excellent in the work, creative, hard working, and nothing about begin fun to work with, expect a start that might not be a good team player.

    Doesn’t work all the way, but it’s an indication.

  19. An interesting post and comments. My 2 cents? I think that recommendations go both ways. I don’t ask for recommendations – it just feels too self-aggrandizing (maybe that’s because I’m a self-effacing Canadian?!). But I’m also selective in who I will recommend (on LI or otherwise). Because who I recommend also reflects on me.

  20. I was thinking about this recently as I’ve received a few recommendations in the past few weeks. Your idea about limiting recommendations people can give is interesting. I think it has some flaws, however.

    I think you can liken it to SEO’s and link juice. Users have to be stingy with their recommendations, and they will only recommend people they think will be of benefit to them the most, in one way or another. It could be favors down the road, considerations for a position or just associating your name with that person.

    I would be willing to bet nine times out of ten someone would recommend a VP over an intern, when the intern likely needs that recommendation much more.

    That’s my $.02

  21. This is an interesting discussion and like so many other options available on networking sites, what initially seems beneficial becomes less than attractive when abused. I only have 4 recommendations, yet I value each one for its authenticity and truthful ring. I initiated the recommendation, not by specifically requesting it, but by sending an honest, and heartfelt recommendation to a former co-worker who may or may not need my recommendation. I find that these recommendations are valuable to me as a personal recognition of my strengths, values and ethics. If they happen to aid in the selection process for a targeted employer, that’s an added benefit. Sometimes I believe that cynicism and skepticism override honest and truthful recognition of value, and that is a sad reality.

  22. An interesting post and one which is relevant to a subject I am interest in – social shopping.

    These sites,, and are examples and are trying to offer consumer to consumer product reviews and ratings to help inform purchasing decisions.

    I believe there is a great opportunity in online communities to share product tips and experience although the problems around whether you can really trust the reviews, conflicting opinion and level of detail given are present.

  23. Diane

    Even if you opt-it to provide a heartfelt recommendation without a colleague’s request, how would a hiring manager know that?

    A hiring manager or recruiter knows that all recommendations are ultimately reviewed by the candidate too.

    LinkedIn could create a feature that allows *you* to recommend inviduals or rate or rank people and work. Have you seen

  24. I’m in complete agreement on this one. Just removing the “begging” option isn’t enough. For recommendations to have real value, the receiver can’t have the option to review and reject. It’s become a silly game.

  25. I think you have to take them for what they are. Just like you would not give a perspective employer any reference contacts who could possibly give you a negative reference, you wouldn’t ask someone on LinkedIn to recommend you if you thought they would say something negative. I see where you are coming from, but I don’t totally agree that they should be completely dismissed. It’s just one more avenue to look at someone.

  26. I agree with your argument that Linked In recommendations have become very watered down. I get asked to write a recommendation every so often and typically refuse unless I have truly worked with and support that individuals skills. Over the past 2 years, half the individuals who asked for recommendations were former school mates or colleagues that I either didn’t like, couldn’t remember or never worked with on any level. I’ve never asked anyone for a recommendation but probably should since I’d end up with 10 fluffy ones.

  27. I worked for a large corporation and got talking with one of the recruiters about Job Postings. This company always posted jobs inhouse but never hired until they had done a “Nation Wide Search”. Because of the climate of where I was living at the time it was difficult to recruit anyone to come and live there. Her job was to write the Job Descriptions to attract the potential candidates. They were beautifully crafted and so overblown to anyone within the company who knew what the job actually entailed. So I guess this works both ways. Most jobs require much less actual skill than the descriptions which are written. And not trusting an online source in this day and age? Smart people are more careful about what they put out to the public these days.

  28. I’ll be honest, when I first used LinkedIn I gave recommendations for people I thought were complete imbeciles or who I didn’t even like … I haven’t really used LinkedIn in probably a year and it has never done anything for me aside from sucking away precious life that I will never get back.

  29. All of my LinkedIn recommendations have been unsolicited and hopefully benefited those that I took the time to recommend. I would agree that one should not rely on LinkedIn but it can be used as a step in learning more about a person. Same for testimonials of all kinds.

  30. Jeremiah, you have every right to not give a requested recommendation. But putting all such recommendations in “bad light” is just plain silly. By your standards every recommendation is jaded. Who’d going to ask someone who does NOT like their work to give them one? What they do accomplish is show that someone did care enough to at least point out the persons strong points to perspective partner or employers. No one is perfect and the likelihood of finding a persons flaws before you hire them is fairly limited. (unless they blogged about them)

    Simply limiting the number of recommendations a person can give in no way insures their accuracy or honesty. Technology does not solve everything. In my opinion the more data I have the better and like all things in life you have to USE YOUR BRAIN and interpret the data.

  31. This is a fair comment. The only recommendations on LinkedIn profiles that I pay attention to are those written by people I know & trust. Even then I will contact them off-line to seek out those “areas for improvement”. Fortunately I don’t know anyone who would hire or partner with someone based purely on their LinkedIn recommendations. Is that unusual?

  32. Jeremiah, Wonderful blog.

    I do, however, disagree with you on whether a recommendation in LinkedIn are legitimate and valid compared to other forms or mediums. I see little difference between asking people/clients to provide you a reference on LinkedIn vs. via a phone or email contact for a prospective employer or client. In either scenario, would you ask someone that you do not believe would provide a positive recommendation of your professional work? That would not make sense. Overall, whether on LinkedIn or via phone/email, an individual would either be willing to provide at least a minimally favorable reference or they would not respond or decline.

    Regardless of the medium, I believe that people will generally ask other people act as a reference or provide a recommendation because they feel it will be positive. Right?

    Keep up the great work,

    Jeremy Lundberg,

  33. I can see your point from a corporate perspective. From an entrepreneurial perspective, I’d disagree as linkedin recommendations can actually be useful in terms of testimonial for your business. I think that the use of it…i.e. whether it’s in a corporate setting or an entrepreneurial setting can influence the perspectives as to whether a recommendation is really a bit of puffery.

  34. Please fix the mistype in phrase “¢Canidates and sellers need to prepare for the open reviews of good “and bad“reviews about their company and resume”:

  35. Jeremiah, I like how you outline your perspective and get others to think about or refine their “rules” for using LinkedIn. It's an evolving matter for me, so I appreciate seeing what others are doing, writing my own short takes as I go. Before finding your post today, I carved out a small territory at regarding the “return the favor” feature, which commenter Issac calls “mutual back-scratchery faux etiquette.” (Maybe that's what I'm resisting, and Russ' implication that it dilutes meaning is also where my head is.) It's nice to see some other similar thinking even if we all don't agree with all points.

    As for the who got jobs via LinkedIn part of the discussion, count me in that group. 🙂

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