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The LinkedIn Endorsement Game: Why and How Professionals Attribute Skills to Others

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The phenomenon of endorsing people for their professional skills on LinkedIn is more and more evident, and it grows along with the expansion of this broadly used professional networking website. This article focuses on the ease with which people endorse others and also accept endorsements and the potential impact of this action on people’s knowledge authority profile. An online survey was answered by 120 professionals from all over the world. The findings reveal some considerations regarding the interrelation between the act of endorsement and how personal, rather than epistemic, its criteria are. Implications for recruiters and educators are discussed.
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The LinkedIn Endorsement Game: Why and How Professionals Attribute Skills to Others
Chrysi Rapanta1 & Lorenzo Cantoni2
1 Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal
2 Universitá della Svizzera italiana, Lugano, Switzerland
Abstract
The phenomenon of endorsing someone for his/her professional skills on LinkedIn is more and
more evident and it grows along with the expansion of this broadly used professional networking
website. The easiness with which people endorse others and also accept endorsements and the
potential impact of this action on people´s knowledge authority profile is the main focus of this
paper. The implemented survey revealed a contradiction: although people tend to endorse others
for a known skill, their level of satisfaction when they receive an endorsement increases when it
comes from a personal connection. Implications for recruiters and educators are discussed.
Keywords: LinkedIn, Social networking, Epistemic authority, Perceptions, Skills endorsement
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The LinkedIn Endorsement Game: Why and How Professionals Attribute Skills to Others
LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com), founded in 2003, is a professional networking site, which
enables members to present and promote themselves professionally and expand their network of
connections with other professionals through a chain of trusted links. In contrast to other social
media, such as Facebook or Twitter, which focus on the social relations aspects of networking
per se such as “keep in contact”, LinkedIn is the most influential web tool in terms of
professional use (Lacoste, 2015). Also, it is the only business-oriented site that allows members
to endorse other members for their skills, while at the same time it does not offer many (if any)
possibilities for social networking (O’Murchu, Breslin, & Decker, 2004). However, it seems that
the tool itself encourages the users to use skills’ endorsement as a social networking function:
“Endorsing your colleagues also helps keep strong connections with the people in your network.
You may find that after endorsing a colleague from the past, it’s easier to reach out to them
because you’ve recently been in touch” (LinkedIn Help, 2014).
The phenomenon of skills endorsement on LinkedIn expands together with the currently
most used professional network on the Internet with more than 332 million members in over 200
countries and territories (About LinkedIn, 2014). Mainly being a professional networking
website, Linked is broadly used by recruiters and job seekers (Skeels & Grudin, 2009) as an
effective tool for finding the right candidate or the right job, respectively. At the same time,
LinkedIn also serves as a social networking site (SNS) such as Facebook or Twitter, with
personal use sometimes being more extended than its professional use (Jennings, Blount, &
Weatherly, 2014). Not surprisingly, a question several career coaches have tried to answer is
whether LinkedIn endorsements, deriving from a person’s contacts both personal and
professional, count at the time of judging about a candidate’s value. They tend to agree that it
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does count; thus, they give specific guidelines on how professionals should ask for being
endorsed and on what number/types of skills (Bernstein, 2014; Llarena, 2014). Nonetheless, the
question we are addressing in this paper is whether LinkedIn endorsements are worth being
counted as a trustworthy skills attribution from a recognized source of expertise.
Our motivation derives from an extended discussion regarding the use of “valid” or
reliable criteria in order to judge a person’s knowledge authority, on one hand, and from the
concerns expressed by both professionals (Thompson, Hertzberg, & Sullivan, 2011) and business
communication researchers (Jennings et al., 2014) regarding the risks behind the uninformed use
of social media tools and functions, when it comes to influential judgments. Especially in regards
to the LinkedIn endorsement function, Technology consultant Mark Schubin even created a
LinkedIn group against endorsements, which has attracted more than 500 professionals since
2013 (Kaufman Hogan, 2014). Some of the reasons behind this limited but important negative
attitude towards the use of the act of endorsing others for their more or less known professional
skills will be discussed in this article.
The paper is structured as follows: First we present a literature review covering several
philosophical issues related to skills endorsement as a social media function; then we present our
research goals and method making clear that this is an exploratory study and as such descriptive
statistics are mainly presented as part of the findings, which follow in a separate section. The
paper ends with a discussion regarding its theoretical and practical implications.
Literature review
Endorsement is “a public or official statement of support or approval”
(http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/endorsement). There are many factors that might
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be behind virtual endorsement acts, meaning the endorsement taking place online, among which
psychological, technological, and motivational (Lee, Hansen, & Lee, 2016). Regarding the
psychological factors, extraversion and agreeableness were positively related to virtual
endorsement act, whereas openness to experience was negatively associated in a study focusing
of Facebook (Lee et al., 2016). The same study showed that the use of the “like” button is more
prompt to function as a response action rather than a thoughtful behavior. The ease of use behind
this act of a “quick and simple click” also applied to the endorse button function in sites such as
LinkedIn. Moreover, in LinkedIn the person herself may suggest the list of skills for which she
would like to be endorsed. For this reason, virtual endorsement on LinkedIn is considered a way
of self-presentation, through which the job seekers brand themselves towards the potential
recruiters (Chiang & Suen, 2015).
In addition to the factors mentioned above, skills endorsement on LinkedIn may also be
considered as an act of a mutual attribution of knowledge authority, ie. the endorser publicly
accepts that the endorsee has the skill that (s)he assumes to have, and the endorsee, through
accepting the endorsement, approves the endorser’s position to know about the attributed skills.
This game of mutually attributing epistemic authority through the function of virtual
endorsement has not yet been an object of research, to our knowledge. However, as part of our
effort to investigate whether the phenomenon of endorsement is more of a social act or has some
epistemic weight, we will hereby explain some main notions related to the act of knowledge
attribution, namely epistemic authority and source credibility. In continuation, we will describe
how these concepts have been treated thus far by the social media literature in general.
The assignment of epistemic authority involves the joint influence of informational and
motivational factors (Kruglanski et al., 2005). This means that in addition to the information
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being “given”, one would need to be motivated to “take it,” that is to use that information in
order to form such an impression. Such motivation is influenced by both the expertise and the
trustworthiness of the source itself. However, research shows that the latter, i.e. the
communicator’s intent to give valid information, may be considered as more persuasive than the
former, i.e. their position to judge whether this information is true or not (Mercier & Sperber,
2011). The concept of trust, thus, becomes an epistemic concept, very much related to
knowledge through testimony: if A believes p, then B has reasons to also believe p based on A’s
epistemic character, meaning her/his honesty and competence (Origgi, 2004). As Raviv et al.
(2003) explain, “individuals trust information dispensed by epistemic authorities, assimilate it
into their own repertoire and rely on it” (p. 17). This renders epistemic authority dangerous as it
can influence exclusively on the formation of one’s knowledge (Kruglanski, 1989). Moreover, as
suggested by the so-called lay epistemic theory (Kruglanski, 1989, 1990), any source is a
potential epistemic authority to the degree that it is perceived as such and gains trust from others.
In this sense, epistemic attributions are formed on the basis of epistemic authority beliefs,
and they should be treated as beliefs. As expected, such beliefs gain more credibility when they
agree with one’s self-perception as an epistemic authority (Kruglanski, et al., 2005). The issue of
Web credibility and its perceived value on basis of social necessities or cognitive heuristics
rather than on “traditional” ways of assessing authority has been extensively discussed in the
literature (see Metzger, Flanagin, & Medders, 2010 for an overview). The power of social media
to create communities in which individuals support each other in various ways, including the
mutual trust attribution as cognitive authorities (i.e. people who really know what they are
talking about), has undermined the role of an epistemic authority (i.e. a person accredited as
being in position to know based on credentials).
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As a result, cognitive or epistemic authority becomes a social concept, as it is a matter of
social perception and recognition of someone being an authority on something (Wilson, 1991).
Defining cognitive authority in the social media has become a quite complex task, as the function
of knowledge co-construction among peers who put together their forces to construct one “truth”
is more and more evident on Internet. An example is Wikipedia (Tapscott & Williams, 2008).
This collectivity of knowledge also known as “commons knowledge” (Lievrouw, 2011) has
created an unclear scenery regarding the notion of expertise as knowledge possession. If
knowledge belongs to everyone and can be created by everyone, then everyone is a potential
expert. “Commons knowledge can be seen as a dynamic, organic, bottom-up process that
provides a grassroots alternative to expert consensus, with all the advantages and risks that that
implies” (Lievrouw, 2014, p. 2634). Tapscott and Williams (2008) argue that what participants
in projects like Wikipedia oppose is not expertise per se but claims of privilege or priority based
solely on professional or institutional status (ibid, p. 2638). Another concept linked to the
definition of knowledge authority in relation to the social media is reputation, i.e. the extent to
which users can identify the standing of others, including themselves, in a social media setting
(Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, & Silvestre, 2011; Marchiori & Cantoni, 2012).
As cited in Kuss and Griffiths (2011, p. 3536), a survey of 170 US university students
showed that the endorsement of collectivist values by users of a social networking site (SNS)
results in higher levels of satisfaction, which relates to independent self-construal, i.e. adoption
of individualist values. In other words, if a SNS user does what others do, she/he feels better
defined as an individual. This paradox has its origins in the so-called social identity
psychological concept. According to Brewer (1991), social identities are “categorizations of the
self into more inclusive social units that de-personalize the self-concept, where I becomes we
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(p. 476). This is especially risky when the communication process of mass self-communication is
also encouraged, which is the case of social media. Mass self-communication refers to the mass-
distribution of a one-way message from one to many (Castells, 2007). When the message refers
to an individual value (like in the case of self-nomination regarding a particular skill or position),
but the process is based on interdependent construction (like in the case of social media), there is
the risk that self-values are biased from the so-called wisdom of crowds. As Metzger et al.
(2010) comment, “the result may be a shift from a model of single authority based on scarcity
and hierarchy to a model of multiple distributed authorities based on information abundance and
networks of peers” (p. 415).
As Kietzmann et al. (2011) argue, online reputation is a matter of trust, but “since
information technologies are not yet good at determining such highly qualitative criteria, social
media sites rely on ‘mechanical Turks’: tools that automatically aggregate user-generated
information to determine trustworthiness” (p. 247). In the case of LinkedIn, reputation is built
based on the endorsements from others. The fact that endorsements are more interactive, less
time-consuming, and less informative than the recommendations, provides an easy way of
defining someone’s qualities through a system of self and others nomination. Users are able to
suggest a set of skills for themselves and then their connections can endorse them for these skills
or add other skills to their profile. Moreover, when a LinkedIn member presents herself as an
expert in certain skills areas and then she is also endorsed for them, her epistemic authority
grows as result of people’s trust that what she says is true. The question is whether such an
authority should be taken as a formal measure of expertise or not.
The phenomenon of social identity creation is present in this function, mainly for two
reasons. First, because a person’s connections most of the time know them from common
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activities and workplaces where they showed the skills they are endorsed for. Second, which
applies also when the former is not the case, endorsement itself is part of a social game in which
at the time person A endorses B, B is defined by A as more qualified than before (at least in the
LinkedIn profile) and B is perceived by A as a person with authority to nominate others as
skillful professionals in one or more particular area(s). In other words, LinkedIn endorsement
function appears to be a knowledge authority attribution game, in which a peer assigns another
peer as an expert, and at the same time is also considered one, from the mere action of attributing
authority.
Research Goals and Questions
The goal of this paper is to identify the motivation behind professionals’ endorsement
behavior using LinkedIn, and to make connections between participants’ drivers and their
expressed perception of knowledge authority. More precisely, we aim at identifying whether the
phenomenon of skills endorsement is based on criteria of proven expertise or on other factors,
such as the social aspect of peer-to-peer favoritism, the ease of using the endorsement button, or
feelings of satisfaction created as result of receiving an endorsement.
In order to study this unexplored issue, we focus on the following questions:
RQ1. What is people’s behavior regarding endorsement? When and how do they endorse others?
RQ2. What are the main reasons behind people’s act of endorsement? Why do people endorse
others?
RQ3. Which are the main beliefs/attitudes regarding who should endorse/be endorsed and why?
Method
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As mentioned above, the goal of the present paper is exploratory, given the fact that no
studies on the particular issue have thus far been observed. As such, no existing instruments were
found. We, thus, constructed our own survey questionnaire following the guidelines provided by
De Vaus (2013), in regards to the type, content, and order of questions. More precisely, we
included five types of questions concerning: a) what people do, b) what people believe, c) what
people know, d) what is people’s attitude, and e) participants’ attributes. This order is considered
as the most adequate as it increases the level of difficulty and also the interest of the participants.
In this way, more sincere answers are expected.
Our survey consisted of 16 questions, 9 of them being related to our research questions
and the other 7 asking for information regarding participants’ demographics. All of the 9
content-related items were close questions, 7 of them asked for rating on a 5-level Likert scale,
and 5 of them were multi-item questions. The survey items covered several aspects of the
phenomenon of LinkedIn endorsement, in accordance to our research questions, such as: a)
behavioral, e.g. “have you checked your skills section in LinkedIn”, “have you ever endorsed
any of your contacts on LinkedIn”, etc.; b) motivational, e.g. “I endorse someone because he/she
is really good at a particular skill and I know it from personal experience (e.g. we worked
together, we went to the same school/University, etc.)”, “Receiving an endorsement from
someone on LinkedIn makes/would make me feel more satisfied/ recognized/ respected/
networked than before”, etc.; c) attitudinal, e.g. “The more qualified the endorser is, the better
for the endorsee”, “Everyone who wants to maintain a good professional network should do and
accept endorsements”, etc. The full-text survey is presented in the Appendix. The internal scale
reliability for the 9 content-related items was above the satisfying level (Cronbach’s alpha =
0.731 > 0.7).
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Process
The survey was posted online using the Survey Select tool. The online questionnaire was
distributed in the following ways: a) through posting it on the authors’ LinkedIn status profile, so
it was accessible to all our LinkedIn contacts (1840 in total); b) through personal LinkedIn
message invitation to some of our contacts; c) through e-mail invitation to our professional and
personal contacts; and d) through social media (Twitter, Facebook). Each time invitees were
encouraged to share the survey with their own acquaintances.
Participants
In total, 439 professionals opened the survey link, of which 120 actually did the survey.
Among them, 72% were Europeans, 11% Asians, 10% Americans, and 7% Africans. Exactly
half of the participants were male and the other half female. The professional areas to which the
participants belonged were: academia (25.7%), research (18.3%), business advising (11.9%),
education and educational management (10%), student (5.5%), engineering (5.5%), media and
communication (4.6%), marketing and sales (3.7%), law and medicine (2.8%), hospitality and
tourism (1.8%), and other (8.4%). The majority of the participants (45.3%) were in their middle
career age (33-49 years old), followed by those aged between 18 and 32 years old (38.7%), and
16% being in their later career years (over 50 years old).
Findings
In relation to RQ1, we found that the majority of respondents had checked and/or managed their
skills section on LinkedIn before, at least once. As it can be seen on Table 1, 71.7%
(accumulative percent) check their skills “always”, “frequently”, or “sometimes”, whereas 62.4%
also manage their skills section with the same frequency; another 77.5% has endorsed another
person at least once for her skills (Table 2).
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Table 1. Distribution of Participants who Checked/Managed Their Skills Section on LinkedIn
Checked skills
Managed skills
Percent
Frequency
Percent
Always
2.5
4
3.3
Frequently
20
13
10.8
Sometimes
49.2
58
48.3
Almost never
25
34
28.3
Never
3.3
11
9.2
Total
100
120
100
Table 2. Percent of Participants who Endorsed Others on LinkedIn
Endorsed others
Frequency
Percent
No
27
22.5
Yes
93
77.5
Total
120
100
In addition, more than 50 participants declared that they have endorsed ten or more other
people, but only three of them recall having added new skills to the endorsees’ profile. Figure 1
shows the percentage distribution of the number of contacts endorsed by the participants who
had at least once endorsed someone on LinkedIn (N= 93).
As far as the reasons for endorsement are concerned (RQ2), the most common reason is
due to the endorsee’s skills, followed by the LinkedIn prompts as the second most frequent
reason (LinkedIn invites through ad-hoc messages to endorse people in one’s network). When
participants were asked to express general reasons why to endorse somebody else on LinkedIn,
the fact that the endorser knows about the endorsee’s skills through their direct experience was
the most common reason followed by the case that they were already endorsed by that person
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(thus, they felt the “duty” to endorse them back). Figure 2 shows the distribution of reasons on a
5-grade scale of agreement. We implied the two most common reasons from the sum of
“always”, “frequently”, and “sometimes” answers for the same reason.
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Figure 1. Number of contacts endorsed per person Figure 2. Distribution of expressed reasons for endorsement
The general feeling that the participants perceive when they get endorsed by someone
else is in general positive: ranging from feeling satisfied (56.8% for all agreement statements)
and networked (55.9% for the same type of responses as above), to feeling recognized (51.4%)
and respected (35.1%). Such positive feeling grows when the endorser is an expert in their field,
a work colleague or someone at a higher position, as shown in Figure 3, whereas it remains
neutral when the endorser is a friend or relative or someone who hasn’t been endorsed before by
the same contact. Also, it is interesting that the percentages of disagreement raise when the
endorser is someone who doesn’t know the endorsee personally, meaning that participants feel
more satisfaction when the endorsement is formed on the basis of some type of personal
relationship (e.g. work).
Regarding RQ3 (beliefs and attitudes towards endorsement, the following items were
taken into consideration: 1) LinkedIn endorsements increase a person’s knowledge authority; 2)
LinkedIn endorsements increase a person’s career opportunities; 3) The more qualified the
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endorser is, the better for the endorsee; 4) The more endorsed by others a person is, the stronger
their endorsements for others are; 5) Only professionals who own certain skills have the right to
endorse others for those skills; 6) Everyone who wants to maintain a good professional network
should do and accept endorsements. Table 3 shows the means, medians, and standard deviations
of the 6 items for 107 responses ranging from 1 to 5 levels of agreement (1=Totally Agree, 5=
Totally Disagree). The item more near to the level 2 of agreement is item 3 that establishes a
relation between the endorser’s qualifications and the value of the act of endorsement. The items
answered as more near to “disagree” are items 5 and 6 coded as “endorser skilled” and “value
network” correspondingly.
Table 3. Descriptive Statistics of Beliefs and Attitudes Towards Endorsement
N = 107
Knowledge
Authority
Career
Opportunities
Endorser
Qualified
Endorser
Endorsed
Endorser
Skilled
Value
Network
Mean
2.9
2.89
2.28
2.86
3.01
3.05
Median
3
3
2
3
3
3
Std. Dev.
0.96
0.97
0.93
0.93
1.06
1.15
Figure 3. Distribution of levels of satisfaction according to reasons for endorsement
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At a second level of analysis, we were interested in identifying any factors related to the
endorsement behavior. For this, we performed several cross-tabulations combining variables,
such as: 1) Endorse someone (yes/no) with age, gender, experience level, and education; 2)
Reason for endorsement with beliefs about the act of endorsing and its epistemic power; 3) How
the endorsee feels related to who the endorser is; and 4) Recommend LinkedIn (yes/no) with
reasons for endorsement. For points 3 and 4 we did not find any particular tendency; hereby, we
will present the main findings for points 1 and 2.
Regarding age, as Table 4 shows, there are no major differences among age intervals,
with the only exception of 40-49 aged people, whose relative percent of endorsing others is the
lowest in the sample (of the 20 participants in this age category, almost half had never endorsed
others).
Table 4. Cross-tabulation Between Endorse Others (Y/N) and Age
Age
18-25
26-32
33-39
40-49
50-59
60<
Total
Endorse
Others
No
1
3
9
8
2
0
23
Yes
7
30
19
12
12
3
83
Total
8
33
28
20
14
3
106
In terms of gender, the distribution of people who endorse rather than not endorse was
homogeneous for males and females. Finally, investigating the profile of the participants who
had never endorsed anyone on LinkedIn, we found out that it doesn’t present any specific
differential characteristic, apart from the fact that people in the middle of their career tend to
endorse less than others. Table 5 shows the corresponding cross-tab analysis.
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Table 5. Cross-tabulation Between Endorse Others (Y/N), Education And Experience Level
Experience
Education
Beg.
Med.
Sen.
<Second.
Prof/Tech
Univ.
Postgr.
PhD
Endorse
No
3
13
6
0
0
1
8
11
Others
Yes
22
31
26
1
2
9
35
36
Total
25
44
32
1
2
10
43
47
Finally, we focused on the reasons for endorsement, as expressed by the participants who
did endorse at least one person, and their beliefs about the epistemic power of their act. Among
the epistemological statements checked, only two were found to have a strong relation with two
of the stated reasons for endorsement. The more participants stated that LinkedIn endorsement
increases either a person’s knowledge authority or career opportunities, the more they tended to
agree that a person’s skills is the main reason behind their endorsement behavior. The opposite
tendency appeared in relation to staying in good terms with the endorsee as a main reason for
endorsement. In other words, participants tend to believe that LinkedIn increases a person’s
knowledge authority or career opportunities due to her skills and not due to her social
networking status. Table 6 shows the contingency between these four variables for N=82 (the
number of participants who answered the corresponding questions).
Table 6. Cross-tabulation Between Reason Skills, Reason Good Terms, Knowledge Authority
and Career Opportunities
Knowledge Authority
Career Opportunities
Str.Agr.
Agree
Neutr.
Disag
Str.Dis
Total
Str.Ag
Agree
Neutr
Dis
Str.Di
Total
Reason
Skills
Str.Agr.
1
17
12
6
1
37
3
13
16
4
1
37
Agree
-
13
13
3
-
29
1
8
15
5
0
29
Neutral
-
1
3
4
1
9
0
3
1
4
1
9
Disagree
-
1
1
-
1
3
0
1
0
1
1
3
Str.Dis.
-
1
-
1
2
4
0
1
1
0
2
4
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Total
1
33
29
14
5
82
4
26
33
14
5
82
Good
Terms
Str.Agr.
0
5
1
0
0
6
2
2
2
0
0
6
Agree
0
9
2
0
0
11
2
2
5
2
0
11
Neutral
0
3
8
2
1
14
0
3
6
4
1
14
Disagree
0
6
12
4
0
22
0
10
9
3
0
22
Str.Dis.
1
9
6
9
4
29
0
9
11
5
4
29
Total
1
32
29
15
5
82
4
26
33
14
5
82
Note: For “Reason Skills x Knowledge Authority”, the p-value is .0047 (significant at p < .05); for the pair “Reason
Skills x Career Opportunities”, the p-value is .0116 (significant at p < .05); for the pair “Good Terms x Knowledge
Authority”, the p-value is .1409 (significant at p < .05); finally, for “Good Terms x Career Opportunities”, the p-
value is .0388 (significant at p < .05).
To summarize, the majority of the participants were active users of their skills section in
LinkedIn, and they had endorsed others at least once. The most common scenario behind
endorsement was that the person knew about the endorsee’s skills through their personal
experience. The second most common scenario was that LinkedIn prompts were the reason
behind someone endorsing others especially when they did it as a reply to a previous
endorsement of themselves. These findings are not in full accordance to two main tendencies
observed in terms of epistemological beliefs of the participants regarding LinkedIn. A first
tendency relates to perceiving LinkedIn as a skills-based tool that can be used to increase
somebody’s epistemic authority, including their own. Doing this, a person’s career opportunities
might also increase, as perceived by the participants. Nonetheless, being endorsed by a stranger
does not seem to raise participants’ satisfaction as much as in the case of being endorsed by a
real expert in the field. Personal relations seem to matter, but they refer to workplace-based
relations and not to friendships or relatives. At the same time, staying in good terms is not
something that people who perceive LinkedIn as a tool increasing knowledge authority and
career opportunities aim to when they endorse someone.
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Discussion
Social media have become a main means for constructing one’s personal, professional,
and social identity and reputation (Kietzmann et al., 2011). In the case of LinkedIn, the
management of a member’s skills section where each participant is prompted to identify in which
areas they want to be endorsed for, is an example of socially-constructed online reputation.
Moreover, due to the fact that in LinkedIn the main knowledge to be co-constructed regards
someone’s experience and professional status, the reputation deals with an authority image
perceived as such by someone’s network. What is interesting, though, is that at the same time a
person’s reputation is being constructed through endorsements and additions of new skills, the
same person can endorse others for the same or other skills. To identify who owns the expertise
and who can be considered a “real” authority on the basis of such subjective attributions
becomes a challenge, and, in our opinion, a social networking game.
Situated in a larger professional relations puzzle, the act of skills endorsement on
LinkedIn may be perceived as a self-presentation effort, as Chiang and Suen (2015) argued.
However, one of the main findings of this study is that people rather endorse because someone
already endorsed them or just because LinkedIn prompted them to do so. Given that this is true,
LinkedIn endorsement becomes a social networking action rather than an influential tool that
leads to concrete results regarding somebody’s professional profile and authority. A
contradiction in the results is also evident: although participants tend to perceive LinkedIn
endorsement as a skills-based action preferably performed by real experts or people in high
positions, they also tend to be satisfied when they get endorsed by someone from their personal
network (eg. friend, relative, etc.). In combination, our study shows that when someone receives
an endorsement from a current or previous colleague, then it is highly likely that he/she is going
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to endorse them back. In other words, everyone has the right to attribute knowledge authority to
others as long as they more or less know what these persons are up to in their jobs.
What previously described reveals an opportunistic rather than a strategic attitude
adopted by the study participants when it concerns LinkedIn endorsement. Although they
generally see it as way to increase their career opportunities, they do not systematically endorse
others in similar professional areas as theirs in order to stay in good terms. They also seem to
value a person’s skills before they endorse her. However, the fact that they prefer being endorsed
by contacts who know them personally shows that LinkedIn possibly functions as a social
networking site without any particular effort from the members’ side to obtain more accurate
expert recommendations on the mentioned skills. Following the Facebook “like” attitude, in
which members just express their positive feeling towards an act or statement, LinkedIn
apparently does the same with people’s professional skills. At the same time, the fact that
members are encouraged to do it and also in a very easy way (just by a click) adds to the
possibility of endorsement being a heuristic action.
Therefore, it is responsibility of all LinkedIn members and of people managing the tool to
guarantee that an ethical code is followed at all steps of the endorsement, from the moment of
self-nomination till the final acceptance of others to give credit to the endorsee. At the same
time, recruiting agencies should not give as much consideration to the quantity of a candidate’s
endorsement as they might not mean much about their actual professional performance (of
course, this might convey other different meanings: e.g.: positive relationships). A more in-depth
qualitative study, for example using focus groups of different types of professionals, including
hiring consultants, might shed more light to the breadth and risks of this widely spread
phenomenon.
The LinkedIn Endorsement Game
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19!
Last but not least, the fact that people who are in the middle of their career and in a very
productive age phase of their lives (40-49 years old) do not tend to endorse others is probably a
positive sign of reflective behavior from part of highly qualified people towards attributing
epistemic authority to others, and a possible example to follow. The role of education in regards
to the use of social media in general and the distinctions between social and professional
functions, as in the case of LinkedIn, is crucial, confirming what other researchers have also
claimed (e.g. Meredith, 2012; Sacks & Graves, 2012; Jennings et al., 2014).
Conclusion
The present study focused on the emerging phenomenon of virtual endorsement when
used for scopes other than a manifestation of a personal “like” behaviour such as the one widely
expressed on Facebook. We were concerned with whether the endorsement on the social
networking site of LinkedIn regarding professional attributes and skills is based on criteria of
epistemic validity or it is rather a heuristic action that forms part of an interpersonal relations
game of mutuality and “face”. The results of a survey answered by professionals with different
characteristics revealed that the majority of people make and receive endorsements without
carefully calculating the epistemic weight of knowledge authority attribution that lies behind the
phenomenon of attributing a particular skill to someone. This has direct implications for business
educators as the use of social media is becoming more and more evident in business. Introducing
philosophical considerations related to concepts such as the ones discussed in this paper (i.e.
epistemic authority, source trustworthiness, social identity, etc.) as part of a social media ethics
training may be helpful. Future research shall pay particular attention at the formation of beliefs
of young adults regarding the value of evidence and source credibility at the time of judging on
their own and others’ level of knowledge authority as part of their profesional profile.
The LinkedIn Endorsement Game
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