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Are LinkedIn recommendations as valuable as we are led to believe?

Consultant Graham Jones looks at the influence of LinkedIn recommendations and how recent changes made by LinkedIn have affected their value to businesses 

This might come as a surprise, but Donald J. Trump, the President of the USA, has no recommendations on LinkedIn. Zero. But there again, neither does Hillary Clinton. She has no recommendations either. And before you get too hot under the collar about me picking on these two, Barack Obama has no recommendations on LinkedIn either. Nor does Oprah Winfrey, or Richard Branson, or Bill Gates. I’ve checked them all – and more besides. The people who have achieved greatness or notoriety appear to have done so without the help of LinkedIn recommendations. Goodness me, even the CEO of LinkedIn has a mere seven recommendations; I’ve got 52 more than him…!

It would appear, at a cursory glance, that LinkedIn recommendations are, frankly, worthless. You don’t seem to need them to get on in the world and be a success. So why are we all bothering to get recommendations?
Testimonials of any kind do have value. They show people who know nothing about us what other people think; testimonials provide “social proof”. The phenomenon of social proof is where our behaviour is influenced by the beliefs of others. If everyone in our circle of contacts says that a particular product or service or person is great, we will also tend to believe that as well.
But if people like Donald J. Trump can succeed without the apparent benefit of such social proof on LinkedIn, why on earth are we all asking each other to be recommended? Are we wasting our time, when something else could be more valuable?
Donald J. Trump has received considerable social proof – just none of it is on LinkedIn. Yes, I know that social proof is within a selected and particular community of people in the USA, but they all like him. Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gate have tons and tons of social proof, with people talking about them in the mainstream media every day. Successful individuals in all walks of life have vast amounts of social proof. Indeed, they court such proof in everything they do. They know that the more social proof they get for themselves and their businesses, the more successful they become.
Also, it is worthwhile remembering that many successful individuals achieved their notoriety and social proof acceptance long before the existence of LinkedIn, which is only just a teenager itself, having launched in May 2003.
What those high-success individuals show us is that social proof is vital in helping us achieve, but that we should not just look for such proof in one place. Successful people get social proof on TV, on radio, in newspapers and magazines as well as in public meetings and events. In other words, to these individuals, the testimonials they get are literally everywhere in every medium.
These days, many businesses appear to focus on just two places for such testimonials, their websites and LinkedIn. The result is that social proof becomes concentrated and is not widespread. Successful people spread their social proof activity far and wide.
In other words, LinkedIn recommendations are valuable, but as part of a much broader social proof system. If all you do is get recommendations on your website or on LinkedIn, what happens when people look for information about you or your products and services elsewhere? They miss that important social proof.
Another feature of the high-success individual is that they get a significant amount of their social proof in mainstream media. So how much media activity are you doing? How often do independent journalists write about you and say that you, your company or your products are fantastic?
LinkedIn recommendations are valuable, but only as part of a wider social proof strategy for you and your business. You do have one of those strategies in place, don’t you?
Also, LinkedIn recommendations could take on a slightly higher level of importance too. LinkedIn has just undergone a design revamp. Part of that design makes recommendations stand out a little more than they used to. That means your LinkedIn recommendations are now more visible to people. If you don’t have any or just a handful, that becomes even more apparent to users of LinkedIn. Would you engage someone to help you who you don’t know and who has no LinkedIn recommendations?
If you do not have a wider social proof strategy and you rely on LinkedIn recommendations, the new design means that if you do not have enough people recommending you, then you stand out as less valuable than your competitors.
LinkedIn recommendations are not the only way of gaining social proof, but their importance has been slightly increased following the design revamp.

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