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Shooting Myself In The Foot On Linkedin

Leave it to me to discover anti-social networking and shoot myself in the foot on Linkedin.

I recently decided to test the efficacy of social networking applications by increasing my activity on Linkedin. I’ll let you know how it is going in coming weeks. I spent a couple of hours this past week enhancing my profile on Linkedin by adding my blog to it and inviting about 75 people to “join my network,” which is Linkedin lingo for “friending” people on Facebook—connecting with them. I then asked a handful of longtime clients to “recommend” me in my role as CEO of Advisor Products. The results were nice. Several advisors responded immediately by saying great things about me and my company. It was recognition that I genuinely appreciated. I’ve worked hard to turn my company to the next level in the last three years and this was recognition. It felt great. And then the sweetness turned ugly.

One of the people I asked for a recommendation, a long-time client and an advisor I respect, responded with glowing praise for me and my company. But he also asked that I reciprocate by recommending him.

I wrote back explaining that I could not recommend him. I have 1,800 clients that Advisor Products works with and recommending one advisor over another was something I wanted to avoid.

Last night, the advisor emailed me and asked me to delete his recommendation for me. He said that he works with reporters and they recommend him and could not understand why I would not do so. I was trying social networking to see if it could help my business. Instead I offended a client who now resents me.

I emailed him back explaining that the recommendation he gave me was for me in my role as CEO of Advisor Products and not in my role as a reporter. The recommendation was about the services Advisor Products offers, not about my work as a reporter covering the industry.

I also explained that I could not recommend him as an advisor because he was not my advisor. I buy no services from him and can’t in good conscience act like I know whether he provides good advice and good service because I am not a client of his—although everything I know about him would lead me to believe that he’s a great advisor and runs a very fine client-oriented business, I don’t have hard evidence of this. Moreover, if I say this about him, the other 1,800 advisors who use my service may feel slighted.

At the same time, however, he can recommend me because his firm has been a client of Advisor Products for more than 12 years. My company has been hired by his firm every year for all these years and has been providing service to his firm many times every year. His relationship with me was different from my relationship with him.

Moreover, I don’t think it is proper for reporters to be offering sources or potential sources recommendations. Quoting someone in a story as an expert is an endorsement in and of itself. Offering up blanket recommendation of an advisor is not something I want to do. When I quote an expert source about his opinion on PMS software, creating intentionally defective grantor trusts, or how to know whether a private placement is a good investment, I am finding experts in that particular area. I don’t want to be on record recommending an advisor’s practice just because he is expert in one particular area. And how do I know if he gives good service or investment advice? People recommending advisors that they know almost nothing about are irresponsible. Just ask any of Bernie Madoff’s investors.

Other advisors who in the past have asked me for recommendations have always understood my position and dropped the request after I declined to recommend them and explained why. I’d like t know what you think.

All day, I’ve been thinking this. I feel terrible. Was I wrong? Should I have given this advisor a recommendation? I think I'm doing the right thing. Please post any comments and let me know what you think.

17 Responses to “Shooting Myself In The Foot On Linkedin”

  1. January 31st, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Mike Thebado says:

    Andrew,

    I can appreciate your dilemma, and applaud the sincere effort you seem to be making to "do the right thing". The ethics and etiquette of the newer social media forums are still evolving, and it is not always clear what the "right thing" actually is.

    For what it is worth, in the situation you describe, I might have given your client the best truthful recommendation I could, and left it up to him whether to publicly display it on his LinkedIn profile. For example, you could possibly have commented on those of your client’s personal characteristics that you are familiar with through your interactions over the years. Clearly you know him well enough to have reached out to him in the first place. You might have been able to comment favorably on the fact that he invests in his business, has been recognized as an expert, authority or resource in given areas, and/or pays his bills reliably and on-time.

    I clearly understand that you cannot recommend your client as an advisor, and you are right not to do so, even by implication. However, you possibly could have identified the scope of your recommendation within the recommendation itself, and still found several areas to comment on in an entirely truthful and positive manner.

    I hope my thinking is at least somewhat helpful, if not in the current situation, in situations in the future. I’d be interested in your reaction, and your thinking on this topic as it evolves.

    I have always appreciated your writing, and wish you all the best in repairing any damage done to your relationship with your client, and in the rest of your activities in 2009.

  2. January 31st, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Andrew Gluck says:

    I appreciate your suggestion and your kindness. But you did not address direclty the main issue. With hundreds of clients–all advisors–how do I say, "yes, I recomend you," to one of them and then "no, I don’t recommend you," to another. I’ll offend a lot more clients by saying "yes" to some and "no" to others.

  3. January 31st, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Mike Thebado says:

    Andy,

    I see your concern. Two thoughts…First, I would be very surprised if more than a very small fraction of your clients ask you for a recommendation. Most people on LinkedIn seem satisfied with a handful of recommendations, and most of those seem to prefer recommendations from their own customers, or colleagues that they have worked directly with.

    Second, for the clients that actually do request a recommendation, if you know them well enough to give them one, take the time and do so. If you really don’t know them as well as one of your partners might, you could refer them to a member of your firm that knows them better. If no-one at your firm knows them well enough to comment at all, tell them so.

    I find nothing wrong with your current policy, mind you. I am just suggesting an alternative that might have worked for the situation that you described. Every approach you could take has its own advantages and disadvantages. Volume is certainly a valid consideration. I just have a tendency to lean towards helping clients and colleagues when I can, provided that I can do so honestly. I am sure that your integrity will ensure that any approach that you take will ultimately work out for everyone involved, even is there are some bumps along the way.

  4. February 2nd, 2009 at 12:35 am

    Bill Winterberg says:

    Advisors walk a very thin line by accepting and posting recommendations on a public LinkedIn profile.

    While I have not heard of specific cases yet, I believe advisor recommendations on LinkedIn run afoul of the prohibition of testimonials. Specifically, SEC and state registered RIAs cannot publish "any testimonial of any kind" under IAA Rule 206(4)-1.

    http://www.law.uc.edu/CCL/InvAdvRls/rule206(4)-1.html

  5. February 2nd, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Bret Tackett says:

    The individual that wanted your testimonial clearly made an unfair request–both legally and ethically, imo. Nonetheless, a wise approach might have been to offer something perhaps more valuable (and relevant) to both of you.
    For example, since you admittedly respect him, maybe offering to interview or quote him regarding a relevant subject might give him more of what he really wants, good PR, while getting you a valid source of info–and ultimately avoiding hard feelings. I’m not sure if that would work in this case. Just my 2 cents.
    Andrew, your commitment to fair and value-added reporting to advisors is much appreciated. Thank you, and please keep it coming.
    Bret – Venice, FL

  6. February 3rd, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Eric Toya says:

    Andy,
    I agree with Mike. In fact, his first comment practically took the words right out of my mouth. It was entirely possible to leave positive remarks and comments that stayed within the bounds of what you actually know about him. Asking someone to recommend you should not come with a quid pro quo. However, it should not come as a surprise that it will be seen that way by some. Given that, it should not be surprising that some will be offended by a refusal to provide a recommendation when they have just provided one to you. That should have been thought out before sending out a blanket request for recommendations.

    From an ethical standpoint, you were "right" to refuse to provide a recommendation, but not "right" to make a blanket request for a recommendation to a group of client for whom you were not prepared to reciprocate. Remember, business is as much about relationships as anything. The potential damage to relationships should have been forseeable.

    I would have approached the recommendations in a much more selective or passive manner. Selective, in that I would only ask for recommendations from those whom I am prepared to reciprocate if asked. Passive, in that I would invite many to join my network, but hope that some of my clients thought highly enough of my service or professionalism to take it upon themselves to write a recommendation. You won’t get as many this way, but is the goal to accumulate as many recommendations as possible?

  7. February 4th, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Mark Stempel says:

    Andrew,

    I would have done the same thing. Not everyone is going to like it when you act from your truth.

  8. February 4th, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    John D. Buerger, CFP® says:

    Andrew – You are right on. Recommendations are not something that is owed to someone on a quid pro quo basis. Social networking is like Business Networking. It is about cultivating relationships and giving (as well as receiving which follows naturally).

    It is not a barter or tit-for-tat trade or like any other type of transaction.

    Everyone should take those recommendations you see on Facebook, Linked-In or any other social networking site with a grain of salt. They are a good starting point – but not the end of your due diligence.

  9. February 4th, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    Georgia Bruggeman says:

    You absolutely did the right thing. I am surprised you even have to think about it. Life is not a popularity contest. His request makes me question all recommendations I see on Linked In or Plaxo. And I ama client of Advisor Products.

  10. February 5th, 2009 at 9:24 am

    Sharon Hoover says:

    Andy, continue to trust yourself and stand on your integrity. While I can see your client’s point of view, I do not agree with him. In order to provide the kind and quality of services you do, it is imperative that you take the stand you did in this case. And as you are experiencing, sometimes we take a hit when we do the right thing. Not to worry. At the end of the day, being able to live with yourself is what’s most important. I’m pleased to know you.

  11. February 14th, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Sam Fawaz says:

    While I agree with Andy’s stance, I think that LinkedIn recommendations are much ado about nothing. Members quickly realize that this "you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours" approach dilutes the value of the recommendations to virtually nothing and they will die a slow death. There’s no equal for a personal referral, especially in our business, and these recommendations just don’t have much value long term for smart consumers.

  12. February 14th, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Andrew Gluck says:

    Sam’s assertion that LinkedIn recommendation aren’t worth much is really interesting. This area needs to be explored.
    To me recommendations are worthwhile. It’s not scientific but it is one more piece of evidence to be considered when evaluating hiring or working with someone.
    A recommender’s qualifications are posted with all recommendations. You can see how long the recommender worked with the person being recommended, the service provided by the person being recoemmended, whether the person was rehired and qualitative comments.
    The "I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine" aspect of recommendatoins seems unavoidable. It does detract from the value of recommendations. So does the fact that some people aggressively ask for recommendations while others are too humble or too busy to do so. These are imperfections that cannot be dismissed and limit the confidence one place in recommendations.
    However, that does not make recommendations worthless. It simpoly means it is one piece of evidence that must be considered–along with a person’s references, resume, personality, education, and ability to communicate one-on-one with you.
    The question I will endeavor to answer in coming posts is whether RIAs can even post recommendations on their LinkedIn profiles. Would that constitute a testionial and thus violate SEC rules?
    These and other questions related to LinkedIn will be answered, incidentally, in an upcoming Financial Crisis Webinar Series session. John Comer, a marketing coach to advisors, recently conducted in-depth research about how advisors can use LinkedIn. Register for that session at:
    https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/845154535

  13. February 22nd, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    Tom Grzymala says:

    Andy,

    Although it’s been several years since we’ve seen each other I remember very vividly your bone-in-the-teeth, let the truth be known attitude and your relentless efforts to do the very best. You provided my firm with superior quality newsletter products from day one until I sold the practice in 2003. I’ve no doubt they’re probably continuing to use your great work.

    I agree 100% with your position; you can only recommend someone as an advisor if they’ve advised you. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out and, in fact, I question the integrity of the person you’re referring to. Reputational recommendations are not what it’s all about; ask the many people who’ve gotten bankrupted by Bernie Madoff.

    Stay well and love to hear from you Andy.
    God bless,

    Tom Grzymala

  14. May 12th, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Katie Hawkey says:

    I know I am a little late in my comment, but I just came across this article while researching an upcoming presentation. I am a 27-year-old web marketing consultant and I’m charged with teaching 45-65-year-old C-Suite execs to utilize LinkedIn and Social Networking sites. I found this a really fascinating article.

    One question I’ve got to ask… why did you feel the need to respond at all to this client?

    In my opinion, because of the way people use these sites, it is not necessary to explain a LACK of activity. People interact with so many people at one time, they can’t really keep track of who has responded to them and who hasn’t.

    Not responding to a request for a recommendation is not "saying no" as you suggested above. It’s just not responding – which is a surprisingly acceptable form of behavior on these sites.

    However, I should mention that, as far as I’m concerned, it is expected on sites like these that if someone recommends you, you will return the favor if their work merits it – Imagine if your neighbor borrowed a cup of sugar from you and then the next month, when you needed to borrow a cup of sugar your neighbor was like "Oh! I can’t lend you a cup of sugar! I’m a very popular person. Think of how many people I know! I couldn’t possibly lend sugar to everyone so I’m afraid I can’t lend any sugar to you or everyone else will think I’m withholding free sugar from them!" That logic just seems like they are being stingy on the sugar.

    You didn’t have to recommend him as a someone you’d hire – LinkedIn specifically allows you to specify what your relationship is with someone – you only needed to say that, as his vendor, you found him easy to work with, or he had engaging projects that improved your company’s exposure, or whatever. Or, if you can’t honestly saying anything nice, then do as your mother told you and just don’t say anything at all. :-)

  15. May 12th, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Andrew Gluck says:

    Katie: While I agree with a lot of what you said, I disagree with some critical points.

    I agree that I probably just should have ignored the request. But that’s not my way. I felt I owed him an explanation.

    I also have come to adopt a much more conservative stance on offerng recommendations to anyone and to RIAs and IA repsrenstatives in particular. RIAs can’t directly or indirectly publish testimonials of any kind.

    It seems likely that when an IA representative or RIA is “recommended” on LinkedIn, it constitutes a testimonial and thus violates Sec 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940. According to a treatise entitled, “The Regulation of Investment Advisers” by Thomas Lemke and Gerald Lins, “It shall constitute a fraudulent, deceptive, or manipulative act, practice, or course of business” for any RIA to directly or indirectly, publish, circulate, or distribute any advertisement that “refers, directly or indirectly, to any testimonial of any kind concerning the investment adviser or concerning any advice, analysis, report or other service rendered by such investment adviser.”

    Advisors cannot stop other from recommending them. So a client of an IA represtative could conceivably post an unsolicited recommendation on his own LinkedIn profile page without violating the rule. But the advisor would be wise not to publish this tesimonial on his LinkedIn profile.

    I will be writing more about this topic on my column in Financial Advisor magazine.

    But apart from the compliance issue arising from recommendations of advisors over LinkedIn, I disagree with your assertion that withholding my recommendation was stingy. I will only recommend people I know really well.

    The Madoff fraud was in part created by people who failed to do proper due diligence about Madoff. I’d be shirking my moral responsibility by publicly recommending any financial advisor that I have not been a client or done due doligence on for at least a few years.

    Recommending an investment advisor is not like recommending a web developer, hair stylist, or restaurant. It’s more akin to reocommending a plastic surgeon or oncologist. The stakes are high.

    And as someone who has covered personal finance and the advisory business for 25 years, I fear people might place some weight in my recommendation, and I take that responsibility seriously.

  16. May 18th, 2009 at 8:01 am

    Resume Builder | Blogger says:

    Hey Andrew,

    Just like situations in offline networking, you can’t please everybody on social networking sites. There are just people who can’t understand your sentiments.

    These are just a few of the downsides in social networking, sometimes too much effort can backfire in the least you expected. But at least you have gained some benefits for your profile.

  17. May 18th, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Katie Hawkey says:

    Andrew,

    I will agree that one should never post a recommendation for someone s/he would not stand behind. But we all should act in this way, whether you are a journalist with 25 years experience, or a web consultant just starting out. The worth that others put in our words is not how we should determine whether or not to act with integrity.

    Though I’m no longer saying you should have given this guy a recommendation, I can’t quite let you off the hook – because you *asked* this guy for *his* recommendation – which means you knew and respected him enough as an individual to place value in his opinion *and* it means you asked him for a favor.

    One of the things that make Social Networking sites unique are their focus on the individual – not companies. It’s one thing for a company to send out a survey asking for a testimonial about a product or service – that’s something a company can do and not expect to have to write recommendations for all of their customers – it’s a very different thing for an individual to ask another individual for a personal recommendation. That is one person asking another person for a favor – not only is he taking the time to write the recommendation, but he is also putting his reputation on the line for you.

    If you can’t return that favor with tit for tat for legal reasons or because you have not used his service, then that’s fine. But those weren’t the reasons you sited in your original reply to him – "recommending one advisor over another was something I wanted to avoid." But you were willing to seek his recommendation over others – "I then asked a *handful* of *longtime* clients to “recommend” me." From your client’s perspective (or at least my perspective) you were willing to give him preferential treatment when asking for favors, but not when returning them.

    My recommendation, and I hope I haven’t thoroughly offended you by now, would be to be diligent about being true to "your way" in all steps of online Social Networking. From setting up your profile, to sending out communications to others, to responding to those communications. I really feel strongly that by requesting a recommendation, you asked this man for a favor. With what sounds like a successful 25 year career behind you, I’m sure you can think of many ways to return this small favor to your client that doesn’t involve jeopardizing your integrity or compromising yourself legally.

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