Are LinkedIn endorsements unethical for PR pros?

Earlier this week, I gave a presentation to a group of employees at a local client. The topic: Enhancing your reputation online in today’s digital age.

It’s not a topic I talk about a lot, but I was doing it as a favor to a friend–and, it turned out to be a lot of fun.

Of course, one part of the presentation talked about LinkedIn. And one employee asked question that got me thinking: “What do you think of endorsements on LinkedIn?”

linkedin-endorsements

The employee (an attorney) was asking because she doesn’t have any and was wondering if that would hurt her reputation.

My first question: Why don’t you have any endorsements?

Her response: My professional organization doesn’t allow it.

As in, the Texas Bar Association!

Wow–that’s pretty surprising, right?

That got me thinking: We all know these LinkedIn endorsements are kind of goofy. People who have never worked with us endorse us for skills of all kinds. In many ways, the endorsements mean nothing. I’m hardly the first person to make that statement.

But, worthless endorsements is one thing. UNETHICAL endorsements? That’s something different.

However, I think that’s what we may have in the PR industry as well.

I got to looking and we may have a similar issue on our hands in PR. Just look at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Code of Ethics (I was grilled on the code when I earned my APR years ago, so this came back to me fairly quickly).

In the section titled “Free Flow of Information”, it states:

Core Principle Protecting and advancing the free flow of accurate and truthful information is essential to serving the public interest and contributing to informed decision making in a democratic society.

Key terms: “Accurate and truthful information.”

It goes on to say:

A member shall:

  • Preserve the integrity of the process of communication.
  • Be honest and accurate in all communications.
  • Act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the practitioner is responsible.
  • Preserve the free flow of unprejudiced information when giving or receiving gifts by ensuring that gifts are nominal, legal, and infrequent.

Key phrases: “Be honest and accurate in all communications” and “act promptly to correct erroneous communications for which the practitioner is responsible.”

By reading those statements, you could reasonably come to the conclusion that many endorsements on LinkedIn are unethical.

Case in point: Many of the endorsements that I’ve received over the years come from people I’ve never worked with directly and probably don’t know all that well. So, if you think about it, those endorsements really aren’t any indication of my skill or ability (most, in my case, are probably largely based on writings on this blog). That said, many of the top “skills” I’m endorsed for really are my key strengths: Strategic communications, social media marketing, blogging, public relations are all in my top 10.

But, this may be a very real issue for us all (and PRSA, as it relates to the Code) to consider.

Are LinkedIn endorsements unethical when they don’t hit on your key skills, and/or when they’re given by someone you’ve never worked with before?

Definitely worth a discussion. What do you think?

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