Who Will the FTC Fine for Endorsements or Recommendations on LinkedIn?

I am not an attorney. I don’t play one on television. And I am not giving legal advice. But I am what some people call a LinkedIn “mega-user.” With 30,000 first-degree connections, I constantly get requests to endorse or recommend people. The requests are always pretty much the same: You endorse/recommend me, I’ll endorse/recommend you. In other words, you lie about me, I’ll lie about you. I got so fed up with these requests that I wrote a post on my own blog titled, “LinkedIn Liars.”

As far as I am concerned, the idea to have endorsements and recommendations was a very good one. The problem is that, instead of wanting to give them value, members have turned the endorsements into little more than “awards” similar to those that players get for accomplishments on video games. And the recommendations are not much better.

But here’s the serious problem:

When you endorse or recommend someone on LinkedIn, what are you doing? You are publicly announcing that the product or service that the member offers is of real value. In most cases, given that the profile is for a person and not a company, you are stating that the member is a professional whose credentials and expertise you endorse. Put differently, you are giving them the equivalent of the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.”

And that means, since you are doing it publicly, on the Internet, that the profile may constitute an “ad” for the individual and your endorsement or recommendation may, therefore, be the equivalent of an “expert endorsement.” After all, a profile, in many if not most cases, is the individual’s advertisement for employment. There’s no difference between an ad saying “Buy my widget” and a profile, however subtle, saying, “Hire me.”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, “Whenever an advertisement represents, directly or by implication, that the endorser is an expert with respect to the endorsement message, then the endorser’s qualifications must in fact give the endorser the expertise that he or she is represented as possessing with respect to the endorsement.” In other words, if you say Joe is a great marketer, but you have never worked with Joe and don’t even know him, you may have committed fraud and, by permitting the endorsement to be on his profile, Joe may have as well. You lack “the expertise that…you [represent]…as possessing with respect to the endorsement.” You are a liar and lied on an ad. And that’s when the FTC knocks on your door!

The Small Business Administration’s guidelines are even clearer: “All endorsements must be truthful and not misleading… In essence, they must reflect the endorser’s actual experience and opinion.” Again, no “actual experience” and you are simply a liar.

Now because LinkedIn endorsements are just photos and not words – actual testimony, as stated, they are nothing more than silly “awards.” (And yes, I have them on my profile…but only a couple of recommendations – all honest!) But recommendations are different. Actual text and context are being offered. And if they are bogus, and if as a result, for example, an employer decides to hire someone, or a client/customer decides to utilize someone’s services, that may very well constitute fraud and result in the FTC taking action. And who knows, someone may decide to sue you for misleading them! Moreover, financial advisers could be in serious trouble with the SEC if they permit recommendations on their profiles.

My advice, don’t lie. If you don’t know someone, don’t write a recommendation for them. And if you have bogus recommendations on your profile, get rid of them.

As recruiter, I give no weight at all to recommendations. I actually want to speak to references. But, in one case, when a candidate for one of my executive recruiting clients kept on telling me how great he was, and using the fact that he had scores of recommendations on his profile, I brought my lap top into the conference room, logged on to LinkedIn, looked at his profile and asked him for the contact information for the first recommender. He said he didn’t have it on him. I then asked about a few others. Same response. So I told him to send me the contact information for the first 10, that I would choose three to actually contact and, if their comments were positive, I would submit him to my client. Not surprisingly, I never heard from him again.

Don’t lie!

This post was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/20141009155112-2335221-who-will-the-ftc-fine-for-endorsements-or-recommendations-on-linkedin?trk=mp-reader-card

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