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Would you trust a LinkedIn endorsement from someone wearing a banana on his head?

Stop me if this has happened to you. You open your inbox one morning and see a message from an old work colleague named Bob, sent via LinkedIn. It looks something like this:

Eager to find out what wonderful things Bob has to say about you, you click the “See endorsements” link in the message, where you are then thrust into a series of ethical and moral dilemmas.

First, of course, is the question, What about Bob? Should you reciprocate and endorse him back? It is after all the polite thing to do, even if Bob is a knuckle-dragging troglodyte with personal hygiene issues who couldn’t spell “cat” if you spotted him the c and the t. Everyone has some good inside them and – more important – Bob might one day be in a position to offer you a job.

So you dutifully visit Bob’s profile, endorse him for his Strategic Planning and Microsoft Excel skills, and add a few new ones to his CV, like “Eating” and “Breathing.”

But wait, you’re not done. LinkedIn now wants you to endorse four more of your contacts for their various and sundry skills. In fact, LinkedIn’s going to make it easy for you by letting you endorse all four at once by clicking a single button. And, because you’re in a generous mood, it will let you click that Endorse button again and again and again.

In less than a minute, you’ve become a virtual recommendations engine, spewing out kinds words about gracefully aging colleagues and people you may have once met at a cocktail party, maybe. And of course, having received your endorsements, most if not all of these folks will feel obligated to scratch your virtual back by endorsing you in return.

It is stupidly easy. Just messing around, I endorsed 100 people in less than two minutes — click click click click —  and I could have seemingly kept going forever, if I didn’t get bored.

The question, of course: Are these endorsements worth the paper they’re not printed on? That depends on whom you talk to.

If you’re using the service as intended, says LinkedIn spokesperson Julie Inouye, you should only be connected to people you actually know, and you should only be endorsing them for skills they actually have. From that perspective, offering one-click endorsements is much easier and faster than asking people to crank out a written recommendation.

“It takes the writers block out of the equation,” she says. And it gives your colleagues a chance to add skills you have but may not have thought of to your profile, she adds. For example, her LinkedIn profile boasts 14 endorsements for event planning, a skill that someone else suggested for her.

From LinkedIn’s point of view, endorsements have been wildly successful, coming in at a rate of more than 10 million a day – more than 500 million since LinkedIn rolled out the program last September. Some 95 percent of the new skill endorsements suggested by colleagues are ultimately accepted by the endorsees.

On the flip side, LinkedIn has made it far easier to make connections with near-total strangers; once you connect with someone, it serves up an endless stream of suggestions for more people you may or may not know, based on who is in your network.

Two or three years ago LinkedIn used to be much tougher about who it let in your network. You could only ask to connect with people who worked at the same company, or if you got introduced via a mutual acquaintance, or if you knew their email address. To keep from getting completely waxed by the explosive growth of Facebook and Twitter, however, LinkedIn clearly decided to make things easier. Now all you need to know is how to click your mouse.

Of course, you have some control over the endorsement process. You’re not forced to endorse anyone; just click the little x in the upper right corner of each box.  (You will have to do this every time you use LinkedIn, however; Inouye confirms that there’s no way to keep the endorsements products from nagging you.) You can unsubscribe from emails notifying you about endorsements from others. And you can control what skills are displayed on your profile.

If a colleague endorses your Pole Dancing skills, for example, you have the option of showing or hiding that on your profile. (Though why you’d want to hide that I have no idea.)

You can also see the name and photos of every person who’s endorsed you along the way. That of course raises more questions. Like why did my old colleague Owen endorse me for Publishing but not Social Media? And why did Aaron E., a person I’ve never met, endorse me for a job I haven’t had since he was a small child, and why does he appear to be wearing a banana on his head?

I look at LinkedIn endorsements the same way I look at Klout – a temporary ego boost that ultimately means very little. When I asked my non-banana-wearing colleagues what they thought of LinkedIn endorsements, most of them replied, “Not much.” One, however, had an interesting take.

Bobbie Carlton, principal of Carlton PR & Marketing, said she’d been pondering this question for a while and finally decided that endorsements are a kind of litmus test that tells you what other people think you do for a living.

“It’s like a word association game – ‘Say the first thing that comes to mind when I say someone’s name’,” she says. “I have to believe endorsements will eventually serve a higher purpose; if I am looking for someone with a specific skill, the people with the most endorsements might rise to the top.”

Of course, that’s also somewhat dependent on which skills LinkedIn offers you the chance to endorse, and how promiscuous you are with your own endorsements. For me, what rises to the top is Blogging, which gets twice as many endorsements as Editing and Journalism, and five times as many as Writing. That’s the reverse of how I’d describe myself, but it might be how I look to the world at large.

My name is Dan Tynan, and I endorsed this blog post. Honestly.

This post originally appeared on ITworld.

One Response to “Would you trust a LinkedIn endorsement from someone wearing a banana on his head?”

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