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RSI - Executive Search Firm News | Company Newsletter, August 2009

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RSI Executive Search Firm Company Newsletter, August 2009

Issue: #31
Date: August 1, 2009
Author: Kellie Davis


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Reaction Search International Executive Search Firm - Executive Search, Executive Recruiting & Sales Search, Sales Recruiting Specialists This Month in the RSI Newsletter
» Linkedin Recommendations: Yes or No?
Executive Search Firm Newsletter Executive Search Firm Newsletter

Linkedin Recommendations: Yes or No?

Social networking has grown at such an incredible pace over the past few years that nearly every active professional in the workplace is a member of at least one networking site, namely Linkedin. With a reported 35 million users, Linkedin distinguishes itself from other social networking sites by virtue of allowing members to share their work experience and professional achievements and receive recommendations for their work from supervisors, coworkers, and clients. Since its launch in 2003, Linkedin has received many accolades for its value in facilitating networking opportunities between professionals that may otherwise be unattainable in the "off-line" world.

However, like any other admired entity, it has attracted its share of criticism, primarily in regards to exaggerated risk exposure on behalf of hyper-cautious commentators. For example, the basic premise of Linkedin involves connecting professionals with other professionals, which requires members to share their work experience, companies they have worked for, etc. To create an online networking environment that has potential to transition into offline opportunities, such as meeting with a potential client or employer, Linkedin sponsors a recommendation feature.
Essentially users contact individuals in their network to request a recommendation. Most users, of course, ask for a
reference from current or previous supervisors and/or clients they have performed work for. The theory behind the
recommendation feature is to legitimize the users work history and accomplishments to current and future members of
their Linkedin network. Sounds like a great idea, right? Sure. To the majority of Linkedin users; however it has recently received some negative attention from those concerned with the consequences an online recommendation may
bring into the offline world.

 

 


Continued...

For instance, let's consider a scenario where an employee approaches his boss and says, "Laura, I've recently joined
Linkedin and would like to have your reference available on my profile discussing my performance at ABC Company.
I've sent you an email with details." In most cases, the supervisor would oblige and sponsor a recommendation for their employee, most likely highlighting a particular strength or accomplishment on a project. Following that
recommendation, however, the employee is terminated for performance related reasons. This is where critics of the
recommendation feature on Linkedin advise employers and supervisors to avoid writing online references out of fear that it exposes them to litigation in the event that the employee is eventually terminated, particularly for performance reasons.

Although critics advise against recommending employees on Linkedin, the courts have provided justification to continue the practice based on recent rulings that involved social networking. In the Eastern District of Pennsylvania the court countered evidence presented in a case involving an individual that was accused of violating the Exchange Act because of their online connections by stating:

"…the Court assigns no significance to the Facebook "friends" reference. Facebook reportedly has more than 200
million active users…Regardless of what Facebook's apparent popularity or usefulness may say about the nature of 21st
century communications and relationships, the site's designers' selections of icons or labels offer no substance to this dispute….Indeed "friendships" on Facebook may be as fleeting as the flick of a delete button."

 


Continued...

In other words, the court acknowledged that relationships or recommendations online do not necessarily represent the
actual nature or substance of a connection outside of the online world. While the courts seem to be dismissing the
validity of an online connection, it is prudent that employers do implement social networking policies that discuss the problematic nature online references may pose in the future. Policy tenets could include focusing a recommendation on a specific achievement on a project to avoid giving acclaim to the recipients overall performance, especially if it is not up to par; not writing recommendations for new employees, at least until they have reached a valid work achievement; and training supervisors on how to decline online recommendations if the employee has an unfavorable review, on probation, or is failing to meet performance objectives.

The nature of social networking is still very much in its infancy and we are only beginning to understand the
repercussions, good and bad, those online relationships, or in this case, recommendations may bring. Whether or not an employer engages in providing Linkedin recommendations is ultimately up to them; however, if employers take preemptive action to establish policies on how they will manage social networking, it is likely that they will also avoid the negative scenarios imagined by critics.

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