I don’t think there is any other aspect of online reputation for companies and individuals, as undervalued and taken lightly, as the giving and managing of recommendations. While it remains true that (in a positive sense) recommendations can be the pat on the back we need to get that coveted job, improve our influence and relevance, and many other side benefits, it is also the case that recommending or asking for recommendations without exercising good judgement can provoke a boomerang effect that can damage us by undermining (sometimes irretrievably) our credibility and hurting our online and offline presence in various other ways. Personal branders watch out!
Golden rules of online recommendations
This is the right time to proclaim the two golden rules of online recommendations that, unbelievable as it may sound, are often overlooked by many – blinded at times by their generosity, at others submitted to direct or indirect pressure and in the worst case scenario motivated by the desire to take advantage of people’s goodwill – always with nefarious consequences:
Never ever recommend any person, product or service that you have not tried and tested yourself and with which you have not had a positive experience
Never ever ask for a recommendation from anyone who has not had the opportunity to try and test your product or service and/or value you and/or your work
I hasten to add their intimately related aspects implicit in these rules:
1) These two principles are applied even when the product or service has been created by someone you personally know or are acquainted with such as a colleague, friend or relative. Even more so, it especially applies when that is the case, since you will be at much greater risk of bending the rule and lowering your standard.
2) In the case of product or services (obviously not people), the first principle applies equally when these products have been created by companies or individuals you trust, and with whom you may have had positive experiences and given good feedback before. This a lesson to those who recommended Google Buzz a few years back, simply because it was a Google product, learned the hard way. If you haven’t personally tried it or remain unconvinced, don’t recommend it!
3) It’s better to have to weather the storm for not recommending something or someone we remain unsure of than having to pay the higher price of providing a recommendation than one day can turn against us. Terrain blank cheques are always more expensive in the end. If a company or individual requests a recommendation from you knowing that you have not had the chance to test their product or service or assess their value or lack thereof, the alarm bells should start ringing.
What constitutes a recommendation?
The fact is that, at times, it is difficult to know what constitutes a recommendation in certain social media. While in the professional social network LinkedIn, it is crystal clear what a personal recommendations stands for, and we are given the chance to show it or hide it in our profiles. We come across many cases where the simple act of sharing content on Facebook, Google+ or Twitter may be rightly or wrongly interpreted as a recommendation in itself. This is why it is highly advisable to be explicit about recommendations when you are indeed intent on recommending by adding the hashtag #recommedable or other adroit comment or explanation. If we have shared content to simply stimulate the debate, we ought to be clear about it in the ensuing comments and replies and distance ourselves from the opinions therein contained.
It is becoming increasingly common (especially due to the growing importance of online influence and having influencers becoming evangelists for our cause) soliciting recommendations, retweets and all kinds of endorsements on the web and the social media. This is why it is of the utmost importance to follow an understandable and coherent recommendation policy with clear guidelines. Otherwise we run the risk of jeopardizing our hard-earned trust, an asset it is extremely difficult to put back together once it has been shattered to pieces. This policy must extend to the active asking of recommendations as well when we request them from people who haven’t heard from us and are not acquainted with our work, and when we expose ourselves to a rapid loss of credibility tantamount to that of those who recommend us in the dark.
Whenever we recommend any person, product or service, our honesty, credibility and good judgment are always at play. Generous as we may wish to be with recommendations, these ought to be always based on a sincere and objective evaluation that can be truly helpful for others. And that is always recommendable.