When did LinkedIn become the social media for brown-nosers?

PikachuLinkedIn is a useful adjunct to the social media of Facebook, MySpace and many other incarnations.  The professional network is a terrific idea but it has several problems – one is misuse or misunderstanding LinkedIn’s function, the other is the ridiculousness of Endorsements.  Given that LinkedIn is as popular in the OHS profession as in any other, the problems, as I see them, are worth discussing.

Linking to Strangers

According to Wikipedia:

“One purpose of the site is to allow registered users to maintain a list of contact details of people with whom they have some level of relationship, called Connections.”

From the user’s perspective this is the principal purpose of LinkedIn .  One is able to maintain informal contact with current and previous work colleagues.  When one’s work status changes, the linked network is advised.  As many contact details as one wants to include are placed on an individual’s profile.

There is a sense to linking peers and colleagues but this purpose, in my opinion, is seriously degraded by total strangers requesting to be linked to you.  In many ways, people are using LinkedIn in a similar way to those people who collect Pokemon – the number of connections is the sole aim.  These collectors are easily spotted in any face-to-face conversation on the topic of LinkedIn, someone will eventually speak proudly of having over 500 connections, even though they are unlikely to know half of them.  This phenomenon reflects similar occurrences on Facebook but LinkedIn was intended to be different from Facebook, more professional.

The use (abuse?) of LinkedIn in this manner, and the exploitation of LinkedIn by recruiters, has rendered this social media option as another Facebook instead of an alternative, or supplement, to Facebook.  So is it still useful?

LinkedIn works well if one keeps the connection principle in mind.  Link with people you have worked with, or know you or with whom you have done business.  This reinforces an existing relationship.

One of the problems with stranger connection requests is that the request includes no detail of why the connection is wanted. The default request states:

“I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”

This is accompanied by a tick box option of where you might have known this person from.  When I receive these types of request, I firstly ignore them and then advise LinkedIn that I have ignored the request because I don’t know them.  If these people want to link with me I want more information about them and about why they want to link.

If they like my blog articles, there is an email hyperlink at the bottom of every article for them to make contact with me.  If they find the article interesting, or wrong, there is the capacity to make a comment.  My LinkedIn profile includes an email address for people to introduce themselves, if they wish.  Any of these options will provide a context for the connection request and a stronger base from which to, potentially, build a professional relationship.  However few take this option.

The downside of my ignoring the request is, according the Wikipedia,

“… if the invitee selects “I don’t know” or “Spam”, this counts against the inviter. If the inviter gets too many of such responses, the account may be restricted or closed.

I suspect few inviters are aware of this but it seems a potentially effective way of reducing the Pokemon collectors.  However it will only work if people understand, what I consider to be, the principal purpose of LinkedIn “to maintain a list of contact details of people with whom they have some level of relationship”.


Just as unsolicited connection requests are dubious, a recent addition to LinkedIn – Endorsements –  are even more facile and sycophantic.  Australia was one of the first areas to trial Endorsements – the option of endorsing a LinkedIn member’s expertise or competence in various professional areas and skills.

LinkedIn has always included testimonials where colleagues or customers have written about the quality of their relationship with the LinkedIn member.  This could be exploited but seems to work fairly well as the testimonials are relevant, have been thought about, and pertinent.  But Endorsements are a tick-the-box shortcut.

If Endorsements come from colleagues or customers, there is a sort of validity about them but most endorsements seem to come from people who one has never worked with or provided services for.  These Endorsements are hollow and serve no purpose other than, perhaps,”sucking up” to a LinkedIn member.

For instance, I have been endorsed for “Training Delivery” by 12 people.  I am not a qualified trainer and have provided no training for many years, even then I would categorise the training as a semi-formal discussion session.  Endorsements for some of the occupational health skills are most likely to reflect my safety-related writing, conference appearances and so on but there remain endorsements from people I have never met or spoken with about occupational health.

Lucy Kellaway spoke about Endorsements in a recent podcast for the Financial Times.  In the podcast she describes Endorsements  as

“…moronic, irritating and serves no purpose at all – apart from proving beyond a doubt that the tens of millions of endorsers on LinkedIn possess two skills in particular: brown-nosing and time-wasting.”

Re-listening to her podcast encouraged me to have a look at my LinkedIn profile settings and to adjust the profile.  I have removed the endorsements option from my profile as, although some of them were flattering, I realised that flattering was all the endorsements were.  I decided I did not need to collect this type of Pokemon.

I also reread some of the recommendations on my profile from former customers and work colleagues and I realised how many I still meet, have coffee with, or argue with on points of safety practice and how many of these people I consider friends.  Surely one of the points of social media is to strengthen existing relationships rather than create a fake and fanciful persona.  But then I am old enough to remember the joy of visiting old friends in person and laughing with them about old and new times. LOL is no equivalent for a tear-soaked belly laugh with good friends.

Ultimately LinkedIn is simply another internet-based tool and a tool that is not really needed unless one wants to establish, maintain or increase one’s internet presence.  If I was not a writer and blogger, I would seriously question any need to have an internet presence of the type offered by LinkedIn.  As it is, over coming weeks I will be reassessing LinkedIn’s role in my professional life.

The best advice I can give is that, if one is going to use any tool, learn how to use it properly first, be it a hammer or social media.

And to those recruiters out there, give me a call or send me an email or, even better, invite me for a coffee and a muffin and a chat.  In this way you will be able to assess my suitability for your clients and I am sure your clients will be happier with a person who can do the job rather than one with over 500 followers and hundreds of dubious endorsements from total strangers.

Kevin Jones

Categories advertising, communication, OHS, podcast, Professional standards, safety, social media, technology, UncategorizedTags

13 thoughts on “When did LinkedIn become the social media for brown-nosers?”

  1. I know this an older discussion ,but somehow just stumbled upon it…

    \”Ultimately LinkedIn is simply another internet-based tool and a tool that is not really needed unless one wants to establish, maintain or increase one’s internet presence. If I was not a writer and blogger, I would seriously question any need to have an internet presence of the type offered by LinkedIn.\”

    This is an interesting view and one I’m not sure I agree with. There’s no doubt over the last year or so I’ve really changed significantly the way I use LinkedIn.

    The changes came about because 2 connections who are also good friends complained about the amount of interaction I was having on the platform- it was filling their feed and inbox with stuff that was interesting and relevant but in terms of sheer volume, it was way too much.

    As a result of that feedback, I reviewed the groups I belonged to and what I was doing in them and then culled it back quite considerably, to the point now that if it doesn\’t have a direct link back to my work or professional interests, then I generally won\’t engage with it.

    We\’ve also started to use LinkedIn for the publishing of articles/blogs relevant to the industry as opposed to just linking to news features- the results have been fantastic! We\’re getting great feedback and interaction with both existing and potentially new clients.

    Like other platforms, LinkedIn is one where you\’ll get out of it what you put in. Too many claim it has no benefit yet they make no effort to engage with people or to get involved in the group discussions. I\’ve learnt an immense amount of things via the group discussions. But….as I said earlier, it can also work against you as it can be too much, too often.

    I\’m curious now it\’s a few years on what your thoughts are?

  2. Interesting take on LinkedIn! I will have to start following you, I am interested in Australian OHS. Occasionally I blog about Canadian OHS, specifically OHS in the Alberta oil and gas industry. I have a feeling that we face the same issues when it comes to OHS in our respective industries. Cheers!

  3. >When did LinkedIn become the social media for brown-nosers?

    When more than 25% of recruiting agencies used it as the first port of call.

    Currently the figure is 47% of Australian agencies are using it as the sole port of call.

  4. I have to agree with the comments around the aspect of endorsements. I have had people \”endorse me\” for petrochemical – an area of which I have no experience (although I would like to!!). For those I have rejected the endorsement.

    Similarly is the \”opening up\” to become more of a social network than a professional network – for instance my Mum, as much as I love her, is on here!

    I think it has great potential and a good tool – but it has been \”hijacked\” for commercial and entertainment reasons.

  5. Kevin you may not be a trainer but I learn more from your blogs regarding safety than a number who do meet the technical qualification of what is a trainer .

  6. I extricated myself from LinkedIn because it caused me great angst. After I joined, everyone who I had emailed for the past three or more years was sent a message inviting them to be linked in with me.

    Also my email account was hacked into as a direct consequence of joining LinkedIn and stupid advertising material was sent to the same large group under my email address.

    It was an intellectual error on my part joining LinkedIn. I had successfully avoided the banality of Facebook, but I dropped my guard on this occasion.

  7. LinkedIn is like all communication tools. It requires a balance between filtering (censorship) and freedom of expression. I suspect like all social media it will continue to morph from its original intent to current social need.

    As you\’ve identified Kevin, if people want to communicate directly or share valid comment, we have the box at the end of our blogs, failing that e-mail, or god forbid, the telephone. Do we all remember how to talk on the phone.

    If nothing else, LinkedIn gives me a chuckle as I find myself endorsed by someone I don\’t know for something I have little expertise in.I\’m happy to share my ignorance with all who seek it.

    My advice with all social media is to professionally milk it for all it is worth. Yet personally keep it at arms length.

  8. Totally agree Kevin. LinkedIn has cheepened over recent time. I only use it for people I know, or have known over my career. The number of daily people who I don\’t know contacting me daily is increasing and annoying.

  9. Spot on..

    Once the recruiters seriously started using it, the benefits of Pokemon behaviour increased ten fold.
    And students are told to go network with industry to make the contacts that get the job, blah blah. That used to mean meeting people, it now means connections and likes. (oops my age is showing..)

    I will often send a reply to unknowns asking \’please remind me where I know you from?\” occassionally (very ocassionally) I have had a \’aha\’ moment on someone I met at a course, or from the long distant past who\’s now married. Mostly I get no reply and the stranger slinks away.

    The other important consideration is you are not only connecting yourself, but all those connected to you. So if your list is full of real friends and colleagues, letting the stranger in is of huge benefit to the stranger and of none to your mates.

    1. Sue, I also tried engaging with inviters, asking for more information but I also got few responses. I am sure there are marketers out there who have evidence that physically meeting someone establishes a stronger relationship base than online options but my experience says this has been true for me.

      I do think that social media can rekindle relationships and strengthen existing ones but a sustainable relationship comes from meeting them.

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