Critics of LinkedIn Endorsements or People Who Should Switch to Decaf.

Lately, I’ve been reading from people who are ripping heavily on LinkedIn for the new Endorsements feature, which enables one to endorse a colleague for certain characteristics they’ve listed. You can list in the neighborhood of 50 or so traits that someone can endorse you for.

The argument is that:

1) Endorsements take away from someone supplying Recommendations

2) They’re not of real value

3) LinkedIn is trying to be more like Facebook with their own version of a “Like” button

Only one of those has any possible validity and that’s only because I haven’t talked at length with the people at LinkedIn to know what’s in their brains.

Let’s take the first issue. If I ask someone for a Recommendation, they’re going to give it. Recommendations aren’t hard. Around 3-5 sentences should do it. If you really have a hard time writing 3-5 sentences about someone who has provided you exceptional service, I have questions about your ability to conduct business at all. It must not be important for you to write emails, letters or any other kind of communication. Because really, it’s only a nice note that’s needed here. You don’t have to write “War and Peace.” It’s the fact you are sharing a positive statement about someone. That’s it.

The point of me saying this is that if they’re asked explicitly and your service is good, few if any are going to say, “I’ll just give them an Endorsement instead.” What they will do if they’re not explicitly asked for a Recommendation – and if you’re good – is give you an Endorsement. Like me, you may have some Endorsements from some people who you’ve never even worked with. Some will say that’s a flaw and makes Endorsements less than authentic.

Sorry, is a bad thing if you’re a social media marketer to have many people endorse you for Blogging? No. Are you going to reject their endorsement? No. That’s stupid. And that’s the point some critics are missing. There are at times different sets of people who give Endorsements vs. the set of people who give Recommendations. The latter is often a person who has greater intimacy and knowledge of your services, the former is not. But Endorsements give the acquaintance an avenue they never had before. If you think that this means you can somehow game the system with having 100 people Endorse you, you’re giving far too much weight to this function.

Great for Our “At A Glance” World

I have a buddy who is so good at what he does, he has over 80 Recommendations. That’s certainly impressive and he’s earned every one of them. But do you want to know something? There’s no way in the world I’m going to read every one of them. It’s actually a deterrent to me reading much else in his profile after a while because fatigue sets in. You scroll and scroll and scroll and…we get it. Lots of people like you.

On the other hand, if I look at his Endorsements, I can get an ideal snapshot for what he does best. It’s not an accident that we’re often endorsed for the things we’re most known for. So anyone can check out his Endorsements, see what he’s strongest with and move on. If we didn’t have Endorsements, it would be more daunting for some of us to go through Recommendations alone. Let’s face it. We’re in a world of short attention spans. We need to get it quickly and now. Endorsements help us absorb one’s strengths in a few seconds rather than reading too much. You go to my page, you see Social Media Marketing, Creative Direction, Blogging, Copywriting, Content Marketing, etc. right away thanks to Endorsements. You get that that’s my thing. My core strengths. Easy enough, right?

The LinkedIn version of the “Like.”

Was the Endorsement feature absolutely necessary for LinkedIn to create? Let’s put it this way – do you find the Facebook “Like” button necessary? To me, I have a sense of what the Like button is and isn’t. I know it’s not hard to “Like” anything. It’s not a rousing endorsement. It doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s a little click of minimal commitment. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less and maybe some people noticed you Liked something along the way.

I have the same perspective about Endorsements. Does it have as much weight as someone going in-depth in a Recommendation about their challenges and how much they enjoyed working with me? Of course not. In that instance, they’re giving me a real semi-case study. The other avenue doesn’t. But is having another way for someone to express a positive sentiment about me a bad thing? Nah. That’s sort of looking a gift horse in the mouth if you ask me. It is what it is – a light thumbs-up. Which is better than no thumbs-up.

Better yet, Endorsements serves an “intro” section of sorts before we get into the other sections. Which makes it all the more important to put more energy into beefing up everything else in your profile. What video, eBooks, articles and PowerPoints can you attach to your summaries? Why do you have any hangups about asking for a Recommendation from someone you worked with 7 years ago (the relationship was good back then, wasn’t it?). These are the big credibility builders. And the elements that often get neglected.

Now, if you want to get into the true benefit to LinkedIn in competing with other tools?

That’s a whole other story. If I think Endorsements ramps up the functionality of LinkedIn and makes it that much better of a tool, the answer is I don’t. For all intents and purposes, it’s a fluffy section. It doesn’t rock my world or change the game. Kind of how I feel about the LinkedIn redesigned layout, which is perhaps cleaner but isn’t profoundly better. Does it make it identify prospects better, communicate with others more efficiently, find the best communities and encourage greater interaction, etc.? That’s what LinkedIn could do better.

And if it’s not careful, Google Plus will nibble away at it, bit by bit.

The Chicago Chatter Hotlist: 12/19

The 10 Big Topics we’re chatting about most at this very moment in Chicago via social media:

1. 2 Inmates Escape From High Rise Jail

2. Obama taps Biden to head task force on gun violence

3. Newtown

4. Robert Bork dies

5. Snow and high winds heading to Chicago, messy commuting possible

6. Noah’s triple double lifts Bulls over Celtics

7. Bears (Urlacher comments on fans; Bush shelved for the year)

8. South Korea elects first female President

9. Field Museum to cut staff and research

10. Chicago Public Schools meeting with Wal-Mart to learn how they do business with women and minorities

Research via Trendsmap

We Don’t Have To Be The First To Report

There’s an epidemic among social media bloggers, tweeters, YouTube uploaders and the like to be the first to report something across the social media sphere the moment it happens.

But…do we always really need to?

If broadcast news has taught us anything, it’s that reporters get it wrong. And in a world that’s become increasingly more real-time, their reports in error get pumped through every major social media channel in an instant. When a terrible event happens in which a shooter massacres elementary school children in Connecticut, you want to get it right. You don’t want to be wrong on that. But lo and behold, many broadcast news journalists were – they identified the wrong person as the shooter at first.

But is the traditional media entirely at fault? No. Social media is just as at fault.

That’s right. If you ever spread a rumor about someone in high school, is the person who started the rumor to begin with the person who is entirely to blame? Of course not.

In social media, we get it wrong a lot. Too much, too often. In fact, we’re not afraid to share silly hoaxes at the drop of a hat in an effort to be the first to tell it (Morgan Freeman is dead! Oh wait. No, he’s not.).

Here’s the deal, folks. If you want to be taken seriously in any possible realm, you have to have the first impulse to want to get it right by taking in the facts you know and commenting thoughtfully rather than sharing blindly.  Social media can be a powerful tool for disseminating information in ways we still don’t completely understand. It can telegraph the change of a regime in Egypt as it’s literally happening but it can also identify the wrong shooter in Newtown, Connecticut just as quickly. Blame it all on CNN? You’re just the messenger? Nice try. They were wrong, which you picked up on and spread the wrong information on Twitter in a feeble attempt to look, what, like you were more “in the know?”

We have enough sharers. We have enough Retweeters. We have enough e-mail forwarders.

We don’t have enough people in social media wanting to take a breath and give their own perspective. If we did, we’d allow ourselves the grace period that can occur when journalists get the story wrong, state a correction and then we can comment on the total story in front of us. It’s easy to Retweet. It’s not easy to hold back for a moment and blog just a little later in the day.

Ironically, if you truly wanted to stand out from the crowd, you may gain far more respect for being in the latter camp. And consequently stand out all the more.

No, You Can’t Evaluate My Website.

Every now and then, I get one of these offers by a web development company to evaluate my website to see what I’m doing well and what I’m not.

You probably have too.

It goes something like this:

“We would like to provide you with a complimentary site evaluation. We will pinpoint any issues we see within your company’s website. Then we will provide recommendations on how to increase web traffic…”

Sounds like a reasonable enough thing, right? You’re not paying anything and they’re offering to help. Except for one thing – getting this kind of evaluation often confuses the heck out of the company that’s receiving it and raises more questions than answers.

Why? Because there are some firms – website and otherwise – that are really great at compiling data but have no idea what to do with it. They provide more numbers to people who already may have had a set of numbers, which in turn makes the marketer say, “So, um, which numbers are the most important here and what does all this really mean?”

Ah. Meaning. Insight. Direction. Now there are some important things. You can’t just spit back a bunch of stats at someone and expect them to magically interpret it in terms of next steps. And if the next steps are, “You need to hire us to help you,” that’s lame.

It’s not to say they’re necessarily off in those statistics. It’s to say that they don’t go nearly far enough to clarify.

Like they’re going to say anything the incumbent agency is doing is going to be great. “Hey, Agency ABC is doing a bang-up job so you don’t need our services…”

Riiiiight.

Show me someone who does this honestly and isn’t trying to poach business. Show me someone who can walk away when the work already done by the existing agency is largely great in their view. I don’t doubt they’re out there, but I don’t think they’re plentiful.

If you’re an agency and your client wants to hear this pitch at all, that should be a red flag. Hopefully not that the client wants to work with someone else but that they are open to hearing other voices in the room on the brand that don’t belong to you. The deeper issue there is that there’s a reason why they have this openness to alternatives. Perhaps you aren’t communicating as clearly what it is you’re doing well or where there can be improvement (come on, you don’t communicate just sunshine and rainbows, do you?)

Back to the web evaluators.

Another problem with their free evaluation pitch is that they assume web traffic is your main focus – but is it? Maybe you’re good on traffic but you’re not hitting well on conversions. Or you’re not able to get enough repeat purchases. You know this but they come in with assumptions that may not match your main priority.

Another problem with their evaluation pitch is that the pitch itself is confined to their expertise but doesn’t speak to all the brand components that you’re dealing with. Is the website the only component of your brand? Hope not and I’ll bet it sure isn’t. So they can’t just drive up to your window and say, “Here’s all the things we think you should do.” Because it’s not just about websites or social media or ads or direct mail. It’s about the brand strategy that drives that stuff beforehand. So while Johnny Web Designer can roll up with his worksheet ready to check off all the areas that need improvement in his view, he’s coming into it with little to no perspective on the overall brand. I’m not talking about hits, impressions or Google Analytics. I’m talking about the goals of your company, how your audience behaves, what the voice of your brand should sound like – the deep stuff that has to be sorted out long before a website goes live. Will he take that into consideration? Probably not.

So what’s a web firm to do if they can’t pitch business in this freebie evaluation way? Work harder and smarter. As in there are tools out there for intelligently getting to know the challenges your prospect is encountering. Yes, that means you have to actually study the prospect before barging in the front door shouting, “We can evaluate your website!” Connect the person’s current challenges to what you believe the website may be neglecting. It shows you actually gave a damn.

If it sounds like you have no choice as a result of this but to be more choosy about who you target, you’re absolutely right. Whether it’s a top 10, 50 or 100, it’s smarter to narrow your focus and study deeper than to do the blanket approach and form letter. It’s true for job hunters and when other types of agencies are targeting accounts – and it’s no different here.

If you want to have a sign-up sheet on your own website to capture evaluations, that’s fine. But utilizing it as your prospecting tool is the wrong way to go.  There’s a million web development firms with that approach. If you want to stand out, get to know your prospect better so that when they hopefully do reach out to you, you know plenty about them going in.

You’ve got to work hard to earn the invitation.