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Can I write a LinkedIn recommendation for a mentor?

Are questions about how to use LinkedIn on-topic here? If so, are questions about how to use other websites (say, Facebook or Twitter) also on-topic?

Does it matter that the individuals potentially being connected via LinkedIn don't work together (and at least one may not even be in the workplace at all, and may be a student)?

If the product in question weren't a website, but rather was a product like Word or Excel, would it matter?

Just trying to understand how far The Workplace should go to help people use websites/products/etc ...

EDIT...

So now this one about using LinkedIn is off-topic? https://workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/63160/linkedin-privacy-who-viewed-my-profile

  • Don't forget about webapps.stackexchange.com for questions that are specific to that platform, and less about the concept being discussed more generally (i.e. they wouldn't apply to other professional sites, some of which do exist). – WBT Feb 21 '16 at 17:32
  • unfortunately my experience with Linkdln is limited to receiving unsolicited spam all the time (I don't have a Linkdln account). The few profiles of people I know that I have read were a pack of lies. So I don't think much of it and therefore don't see it as valid for the Workplace'... just a mild opinion though – Kilisi Feb 27 '16 at 21:32
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I think this is trickier than it might seem. My thoughts, which are totally undecided at this point:

  • Questions about the mechanics of LinkedIn would be off topic
    • How do I update my profile?
    • How do I get LinkedIn to stop stalking everyone I know?
  • Questions about how to use LinkedIn when interacting with coworkers/colleagues seems like it would be on topic
    • How to ask for recommendations?
    • Etiquette of when to connect with people, etc

That seems reasonable, though I will admit I'm not sure.

The line between "how do these sites work" and "how do I use them when navigating the workplace" is quite blurred.

  • Agreed. Basically if the question can substitute LinkedIn for any similar service or platform then it should be fine. While editing the question I actually considered removing references to the site but I had to admit that I don't actually know of any alternatives and it seemed silly to try to generalise a concept that would be immediately understood with the two words "LinkedIn recommendation". – Lilienthal Feb 15 '16 at 16:41
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    Hmm. So asking how to connect with colleagues on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter would likewise be on-topic? Or is there something special about LinkedIn? – Joe Strazzere Feb 15 '16 at 16:56
  • @JoeStrazzere I'm... not sure... that's a really good question :-) It feels like LinkedIn is more "on topic" than Failbook. I mean Facebook. :) – enderland Feb 15 '16 at 17:00
  • @enderland - so that does answer the question. You believe questions regarding one website/product are more on topic than other, similar websites/products. If it were a piece of software ("how to I use Word to print thank-you letters for the interview contacts I have listed in my Excel spreadsheet?") - that would presumably be on-topic as well? (just trying to expand and explore the thought process here). – Joe Strazzere Feb 15 '16 at 17:05
  • @JoeStrazzere I think it might be that the focus of LinkedIn is professional/workplace related. But the others are not. Though I'm really not definitively sure on this. – enderland Feb 15 '16 at 17:06
  • We have plenty of question about using Glassdoor, which I think falls into a similar category. LinkedIn is to Facebook as Glassdoor is to Yelp? They perform similar functions, but the former is more focused on the professional workplace environment. – David K Feb 15 '16 at 18:56
  • Right. But are questions about using Glassdoor considered on-topic? If we are expected to selectively permit questions about some websites, but not others, it would be nice to have a list of "allowed" versus "not allowed". – Joe Strazzere Feb 15 '16 at 23:08
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    @JoeStrazzere I don't think it's a black/white list for sites, but just comes down to "Is the question about the workplace?" - and due to their nature, almost every question about LinkedIn/Glassdoor is about the workplace. But I'd still see a question like "Should I be friends with my manager on Facebook?" as on-topic here due to the impact that could have on the professional relationship. – Philip Kendall Feb 16 '16 at 21:33
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I would argue that questions about LinkedIn are 100% on-topic. It is a social website that is designed for professional usage.

While some questions about Twitter or Facebook might be on-topic, LinkedIn markets itself as a professional network and in some circles is a requirement.


I'll preface this with, these are my opinions, and am glad to see discussion around it, but:

  • So would discussions about how to use Monster.com more efficiently also be on topic? - Yes its probably on-topic, because Monster.com is a job network and employment site, so its about getting employment or finding employees.

  • How about help with a formula for Excel - would that be on topic as well? - No, Excel is a tool for analysis and recording (often used by professionals), but isn't about being a professional.

  • In general, as long as the website or software tool is for professionals, that makes questions specifically about it on-topic? - No, if the tool is about being a better well connected professional, then yes it should be on-topic.

Obviously, on-topic/off-topic isn't a binary yes/no, but a spectrum.

  • Thanks for the answer! So would discussions about how to use Monster.com more efficiently also be on topic? How about help with a formula for Excel - would that be on topic as well? In general, as long as the website or software tool is for professionals, that makes questions specifically about it on-topic? – Joe Strazzere Feb 18 '16 at 12:37
  • @JoeStrazzere I've edited answers to your questions above, obviously they are my opinion only, but I think there is some wiggle room for software thats on-topic. – user9158 Feb 18 '16 at 20:38
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    Thanks for the enhancements. I agree with your assessment that it isn't a binary yes/no answer. I suspect there will continue to be disagreements with on/off-topic votes here. And I suspect it will continue to confuse new community members. Perhaps that's the best we can do. – Joe Strazzere Feb 19 '16 at 12:15
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Our definition of LinkedIn as a social network may be misleading. For a lot of people LinkedIn is the place to hire talent, to find a job and generate Sales leads.

Most of LinkedIn's revenues comes from talent services and premium subscriptions. For many people LinkedIn is part of the workplace.

I used LinkedIn for Sales activities. I also viewed profiles of people I wanted to hire and gave recommendations to people whom I worked with.

I was recommended as a mentor, too. I used my LinkedIn profile when applying for a job.

When you do all this, you usually face the same questions that you face in real-life relationship. Is it appropriate to ask my boss for a recommendation letter on paper? And LinkedIn? Shall I make a cold call to the same client three times a week? Shall I send an inMail to the same client three times a week?

LinkedIn is making a huge effort to become part of the Workplace, just look at all the mobile apps they release for contacts, sales and talent screening.

Due to LinkedIns efforts, pushing LinkedIn off-topic looks short term to me. They will most probably get there in the long run.

I agree that technical questions regarding LinkedIn are off-topic here.

The "Can I write a LinkedIn recommendation for a mentor?" question for example looks pretty workplace related to me. I have the experience and would be glad to share it in an answer.

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If the question is appropriate, it will make sense with the mention of LinkedIn deleted. Mark's example can be edited to "can I write a recommendation for a mentor", for example, and that's actually a better question. From what I've seen, that is true in most cases; the principles are the same whatever the platform online or on paper or in person or as smoke signals.

Unless the question is completely specific to LinkedIn, I suggest rewriting to generalize.

(Claimer: I admit to a personal bias against LinkedIn in particular, after they started trying to get people to endorse my competence in skills I never claimed. As far as I'm concerned, once they started doing that they poisoned their database beyond redemption. But my concerns would apply equally well to competing systems, including Stack Exchange's own job hunting tools.)

  • Online vs. offline can be different (visibility, durability, volatility), but I agree that a question that applies to LinkedIn should also be able to apply to other online career-profile sites including SO Careers. – Monica Cellio Mar 4 '16 at 14:07
  • So do you feel that questions about how to use LinkedIn not on-topic? – Joe Strazzere Mar 5 '16 at 19:00
  • Questions about how to use LinkedIn, specifically, should probably be directed to LinkedIn support. I don't think they have a presence here. Questions about how to use online resumes in general would be more within scope. Or we can explicitly define them as within scope, if folks really prefer that; it's over the edge of where I think we've recently bounded workspace but that's just one man's interpretation. – keshlam Mar 5 '16 at 19:07
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I'd like to propose a tangible way to determine if a question is off topic for being too product specific:

Would this question fit better in the FAQ or tutorials of the product's manual? If so, the question is off-topic.

Can I write a LinkedIn recommendation for a mentor? is discussing social norms of the professional workplace:

But on LinkedIn there's no such option available when specifying my relationship to this person so I thought it might not be appropriate to write a recommendation for a mentor.

I'd argue this question is on-topic and should be reopened as it relates to workplace relationships. LinkedIn will likely not take a stance on this in their documentation because the topic of "appropriateness" is fairly subjective. That makes it a useful question for us.

Linkedin Privacy (Who Viewed My Profile) is discussing a specific feature of LinkedIn and should be considered off topic. LinkedIn has an article about their privacy feature, and the information the asker is looking for should be added to that article.

From the comments on other answers:

"how [do] I use Word to print thank-you letters for the interview contacts I have listed in my Excel spreadsheet?"

This is an interesting question because it might plausibly fit on some Stack Exchange site. But not here. We shouldn't be writing how-to guides of this nature and I'd much prefer Microsoft addresses technical stuff in their own documentation.

  • That's not a bad approach. But it would be easy to suggest that the topic of "How do I include recommendations for a mentor?" would fit nicely in a FAQ for LinkedIn. – Joe Strazzere Mar 9 '16 at 11:53
  • @JoeStrazzere, I agree! But asking how do I do X on LinkedIn? is a fundamentally different question than asking about how socially acceptable is doing X on LinkedIn?. The first deals with mechanics specific to LinkedIn (and should therefore be considered off-topic), the second deals with social consequences (and should therefore be on-topic). – HPierce Mar 9 '16 at 15:01
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    If the OP had removed all references to LinkedIn, and just asked "Is it socially acceptable to write a recommendation for a mentor I didn't work for on social media?" it would make it easier to consider it on-topic. Maybe. – Joe Strazzere Mar 9 '16 at 15:05

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