LinkedIn's 'endorsements' create some questions for advisors

By Andy Stonehouse

I was in an airport shuttle with some fellow writers last week when the question was first posed. "Are you guys getting bombarded with these LinkedIn endorsement requests?"

I was a little perplexed at first, as I tend to run my social media experience — as many of you over the age of 25 do — in a fairly low-key kind of way. I would rather write an email than sign in on FourSquare, mess with Pinterest or Spotify anything.

I'm able to keep up with the sometimes-infuriating (make that, "frequently infuriating") changing of the rules of the game on Facebook, and I have a vague handle on the other basic platforms — all tools of the trade for anyone on the Internet, but of increasing importance to advisors.

So LinkedIn's newest change caught me a little by surprise, as it might have in your own social media circle. Today I got my first actual endorsement requests and ... on the surface, the whole scheme seems like the world's biggest back-patting contest.

If you haven't had the pleasure so far, let me explain that now, in addition to getting a litany of LinkedIn connection requests from a. folks you do know, b. folks you should know and c. folks you have absolutely no idea why you'd want to be socially connected to them (it's all like a slightly more business-oriented version of Facebook, but can be just as vague and random at times) — well, now you'll be getting requests from your actual connections, asking to endorse their particular skills and expertise.

The skills and expertise seem to be keywords electronically extracted from your existing profile — basically your online CV — and for whatever reason, LinkedIn has concluded that by simplifying this process (rather than the actual Personal Recommendations, which are a bigger commitment of time — and friendship/relationship trust), you and your connections can do a little Mutual Admiration Society project to talk about elements of each other's skill set.

However, in my first experiment with it, I was asked to vouch for a number of my journalist (or ex-journalist) friends and endorse something vague — and not verb related. Like, "newspaper." I guess that means they're acquainted with newspapers, or have newspaper skills, or a newspaper background — not that they're ink-stained newsprint themselves.
I'd be interested to see how this endorsement request development is going to touch those of you in the financial and retirement advisor business. Will you be asked to vouch for a colleague or a client and their trustworthiness, their financial intuition, their savvy, their friendliness or their promptness? And just where do these skills and expertise lists come from, exactly?

Ultimately, I realize it's an attempt by LinkedIn to continue to up the ante and provide a more compelling and user-friendly platform with more useful and potentially sales-friendly information on its participants — before another start-up platform or app comes along and steals more of the business.

The question you might ask, if you do feel like playing along and beginning the "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" game (and the "endorsement" system looks like it could be the new Words With Friends for the particularly LinkedIn-addicted), are my endorsements neutral and apolitical enough to keep me out of trouble?

I know that the more heavily licensed portions of the financial advisor world have consistently run into compliance issues when it comes to what they can and cannot say through social media, so I'd be careful before treading into the endorsement waters.

And, if you're like me, you look forward to a period five years from now when the current mind-wrenching onslaught of social media has peaked and coalesced into something useable, straight-forward and less time-wasting. The way I see it, we're still in the middle of the Brick Phone era that mobile phones went through. The future will be much better, I hope.

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