In my email inbox at the moment are a number of requests for testimonials on LinkedIn. In some cases they are easy to write. I have either used those person's services or know enough about their ability to be able to say something constructive that will add value to their profile.
In other cases, while I may know the individual concerned either socially or through various networks, I don't really have anything I can say that will stand out and make others want to meet them.
This area of online networking can be a minefield for many. Should you automatically offer a testimonial to someone who has provided one for you? What should you say in such a testimonial?
Personally, I don't see the value in any reputation-based system that operates on the basis of 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours'. Such systems can only carry weight if the ratings and testimonials contained therein are based on genuinely positive interactions and experiences.
I will write a testimonial based on my experiences. Testimonials that say what a nice chap you are carry little weight in the commercial world. Testimonials need to demonstrate your abilities, the difference you make to clients, your value to prospects.
If you have a strong relationship with someone else and you are both in a position to offer strong, positive testimonials to each other, that is fine. It should be clear to the reader from the content of the testimonial that it isn't simply a mutual appreciation society.
If you want to offer someone else a testimonial based on what they have done for you or for someone you have introduced them to, there is no need to expect one in return. Similarly, if someone endorses your services, don't feel the need to reciprocate unless appropriate.
A simple rule of thumb; if you receive a phone call from someone who has read your testimonial and wants to ask you more about that person, can you stand by what you have said and explain your reasons for endorsing them in more detail?
If the answer is 'yes', then great. If not, perhaps you shouldn't be endorsing them at all... yet.