Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Devaluation of Recommendation

Online social networks and communities have become a very real way for many to build relationships, and to do business in much the same way as it is done offline. We browse the communities for people and groups of like minds, we introduce ourselves, and we connect with other people. As relationships grow and members feel comfortable with each other, the chances of being asked by a member to write some sort of recommendation is more likely than not. This is an opportunity to feel honored that the person thinks enough of you that your recommendation of him/her would be respected, and it gives the member requesting the recommendation the credibility he/she is seeking. Or .... it can devaluate the value of recommending fellow members, altogether.

One definition of recommend is "to praise or commend another as being worthy or desirable". If there has been no communication, or interaction, or experience with the person requesting the recommendation, just how valid or valuable is the recommendation being made? The other concern is for those giving the recommendation.

We base what we buy, who we hire, what movie to watch, which organization to join .... and so on ... very often, on the recommendations of others. We do that because we believe and respect their opinions ... and their "word" that they have enough experience to give a valid opinion or recommendation. When people simply "dole" out recommendations for whoever makes the requests, the value of that person's "word" simply becomes less valuable.

There is an "art form" of requesting a recommendation and giving a recommendation.

As the person requesting the recommendation:

  • Have something concrete upon which to base your request. This could be in the form of blogs, articles, verbal communication, and other materials related to what it is you actually do.
  • Ask for recommendations from those who have actually experienced your work, service, or products. At the very least, those who have had some kind of interaction with you at some point. The more the interaction, verbal or written, the better.
  • Don't concentrate on the "request." Concentrate on building relationships first. If they have no interaction with you, and there has not been some kind of relationship built between the two of you, don't put them in an uncomfortable position of writing something that is not based on actual fact, or having to say "no" to your request.
  • Don't minimize the value of someone else's "word" or opinion/recommendation by thinking that "It's just a short paragraph, so what's the big deal?"
  • Be prepared for people to decline your request. Especially, if you have had very little or no interaction previously. If the request is declined, you owe it to them to at least thank them for their time to respond. The smart thing to do would be to ask them their reason, and ask what you would need to do to help them reconsider at a later time.
  • Give them a reason to want to recommend you.

If you are the person receiving a request for a recommendation:

  • Think first about the value you place on what you say, your opinion, and who you feel should be recommended for what they do. Have valid reasons, easily backed-up, for making the recommendation.
  • Hopefully, you have some kind of relationship with those making the request, (even if it is that you have read their book, or subscribed to their blog, or you are in the same groups, etc.), and you can find valid reasons why you would personally recommend this person. Look for the good, but do keep it honest.
  • Refrain from doling out recommendations in hopes of building a list of your own recommendations. This does become transparent at some point, and doesn't do much for your own credibility.
  • Should you decline writing a recommendation for someone, do it in a way that is respectful of the other person's feelings. Never attempt to humiliate that person. You can send a positive message back to that person, stating that you would, at a later time, be interested in reconsidering the request, but you don't have enough information at this point to give an honest recommendation. Let them know what it would take to make them feel more comfortable.
  • Do not compromise your own values at the sake of losing a follow/friend/connection, or making someone mad. This is the very person you probably should not be recommending in the first place.

Having recommendations, testimonials, and referrals is more important than ever .... especially as the internet becomes an integral part of our lives. We most certainly should ask for recommendations and testimonials, in which to build our credibility. And most of those whom we ask will more than likely want to contribute to our success. There is, however, a right way to go about it, and a wrong way to go about it.

Here's a concept to consider, as well. Rather than wait for someone to ask for your recommendation, why not send someone you know a well-deserved recommendation or testimonial, and make their day a little brighter. Who says we have to wait to be asked for a recommendation, in the first place?

There are several online communities that offer special tabs specifically for recommendations or testimonials. It's a perfect opportunity to make someone's day, and to also be able to share what others think of you, your products, and your services, as well as to recommend you for employment. The value of what's being "said", however, is still in the sincerity of the person offering the recommendation. And that's saying a lot ... or nothing at all.