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How LinkedIn could make recommendations actually worth something: Eliminate the implied obligation to reciprocate

At first I kind of liked LinkedIn’s system for posting recommendations. But I quickly realized that, when friends and colleagues recommended me, I felt obligated to reciprocate. That caused me to view all LinkedIn recommendations in a very different light. Apparently I’m not the only one; there’s at least some anecdotal evidence that some hiring man­agers are suspicious of LinkedIn recommendations. And it seems to me that I’m seeing fewer recommendations in the RSS feed showing my contacts’ updates.

(It’s no longer an issue in my own case: For some time now, my LinkedIn page hasn’t shown the rec­om­men­da­tions I’ve gotten, because I don’t want to have to think about whether a given recommendation could be deemed “advertising” under legal-ethics rules, nor to deal with the associated paperwork headaches if the answer turned out to be ‘yes.’)

LinkedIn ought to consider making its recommendations semi-anonymous: It should identify the category of the recommender — for example, “You have been recommended by a colleague at ABC Corp­or­a­tion” — but not include the recommender’s name at any point in the pro­cess. That way, the person being recommended wouldn’t be able to reciprocate even if s/he wanted to, and therefore won’t feel any pres­sure to do so.

Anonymity invites abuse, certainly. But LinkedIn subscribers already can manage that risk by selectively deciding whether particular ‘rec­om­men­da­tions’ should appear on their pages.

A colleague hoping for reciprocity could still put iden­ti­fy­ing details into the text of his own recommendation. But that would probably decrease his chances of success.

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