BranchOut, the latest connection tool for social networkers, has some folks speculating that this could be the new tool that kills the older, more venerable LinkedIn network.
While BranchOut isn't a social network itself, it seems to aspire to replicate LinkedIn's business networking functions on the most popular social networking site to date, Facebook. Here's how it works--and why it threatens to overtake LinkedIn as a business network.
"BranchOut is a Facebook app that allows you to import your LinkedIn network to Facebook, it then matches that to your Facebook connections and allows you to add those people to your professional network, providing you with the same functionality in terms of places of work etc. that LinkedIn always has."--Incslingers
So while BranchOut isn't an entirely new social network, Rick Marini, BranchOut founder, designed it as a Facebook app, presumably to leverage the massive level of participation for Facebook's 500 million users for those who want to consider using Facebook to reinforce their business connections.
"The BranchOut site directs users to install a Facebook app, which ingests their entire “social graph” (i.e., all of their friends and contacts) and then pulls up a kind of dashboard view of the corporate relationships within that group, along with a search bar that allows you to search for companies your friends might be associated with."--Matthew Ingram on GigaOm
BranchOut is kind of LinkedIn for Facebook users. There is the barrier: in order for BranchOut to work like LinkedIn, the user's Facebook friends need to install the app. And the user must invite all her friends, which means basically re-creating the user's entire LinkedIn network a second time, on Facebook. This is quite a barrier, even if it can be done with just a few spammy clicks. If a user already has a solid network on LinkedIn, what is the motivation for re-creating it on Facebook?
More interestingly, there is the issue of perception. LinkedIn is widely perceived as the purely professional, business-oriented networking site. It's been around; it's venerable and respectable; it's established. Its brand promise is to help its 70 million users make professional connections and link job seekers with hiring companies. LinkedIn is in essence a corporate network, the modern equivalent of the networking lunch. Users expect to divulge corporate affiliations and detailed job descriptions in their profiles and to their connections.
Facebook, on the other hand, is most popular in the hands of GenX and GenY (and let's not forget the 55+ crowd) for sharing photos and personal life updates. Facebook doesn't yet have the business mojo and street cred that LinkedIn has worked so hard to establish. It's more like the pop star who is wildly popular today, but who might be the subject of an episode of Where Are They Now in two years.
I see BranchOut as an attempt to help Facebook grow up and be seen as a real adult instead of the networking world's equivalent of a one hit wonder pop star. BranchOut is a first step in blurring the line between personal and professional networks for the mainstream, a phenomenon that has proven difficult for those habituated to separating the two. Even though I have long maintained that the personal and professional have become one and the same, the fact that these two social networks, LinkedIn and Facebook, have existed side-by-side indicates that users still draw the distinction between personal social networking and business networking.
But as personal and professional lives blur, I suspect that users' networking habits will as well. I see BranchOut as the first obviously public domino to fall in the wall separating the business network from the social network trying to break out of its adolescent shell.