Facebook is creeping into every nook and cranny of our personal online experiences so it’s no surprise they’re taking a crack at the professional market. My friend Brad Lovett has been looking at this issue and offers this insightful guest post:

Looks like Facebook is taking a whack at LinkedIn. Let’s take a look at the opportunities for networkers and social media marketers with this new business networking innovation called BranchOut.

Linked-In has stood alone as a professional and business social networking site. With 90 million business-minded members, it’s a no-nonsense place, where you generally won’t read about what someone had for breakfast, or little Jimmy’s sniffles. This is a world of professional profiles, resumes and career-related discussions, as well as 600,000 groups for virtually every industry.

Facebook for business?

With the launch of BranchOut, Facebook is giving LinkedIn a punch in the chops.  BranchOut is an app that piggybacks on Facebook’s existing structure, just like Farmville and other independent add-ons. But BranchOut is no kiddie game — it’s all business.  You can install the app, create a professional profile, and start “building your empire” without affecting your normal everyday Facebook page (though it will post content on your wall).

Everyone’s favorite thing to do is create yet another social media profile, right? BranchOut soothes the pain.  If you have a LinkedIn profile, you don’t have to create a new one for BranchOut. One click allows you to import your LinkedIn profile. No muss, no fuss, no tweaking. Of course you can edit your profile once you have imported it from LinkedIn.  Your Facebook profile headshot will appear, but you can easily replace that.

Once you’ve signed up, BranchOut gathers the workplace data from user Facebook pages. You’ll be able to invite friends to BranchOut, and write a quick blurb to endorse or recommend them, as well as ask for endorsements from your friends. It’s a little easier to get someone to write one line for you than a longer LinkedIn recommendation … plus those one-liners are great to place on a job-seeking or business website.  There’s also a function which allows searching for job postings (free for 30 days).

A company search allows you to find connections who work at a specific company.  Like LinkedIn, BranchOut will illustrate how many extended connections you have, but will also award virtual ribbons based on your number of connections.  Kind of like being the mayor of your Rolodex I guess.

Feedback from early adopters

As you might imagine, this innovation has caused quite a stir among recruiting professionals eager to get a bead on 600 million sales leads!

To get a more practical view, I asked a couple of friends to take a dry run of BranchOut and tell me what they thought. My invitation led to an interesting conversation on my Facebook wall between Chris Theisen, Director of Digital Communications at Hare Auto Group in Indianapolis, and Jennifer Baty, who is a Wealth Management Analyst and Financial Planning/ Investment Manager in transition.

Chris remarked that many people don’t like the fact that BranchOut posts to users walls, though he personally doesn’t mind it. Chris uses his personal Facebook page primarily for family, friends and fun stuff, but he does have business contacts on Facebook.

Jennifer prefers to keep the line drawn between her personal and professional life and doesn’t think much of the service: “That professional line is blurred online these days. Granted, a lot of my friends are in some sort of marketing but people do business with people they like.”

“I like reading about the trials and victories of my friend’s job search, their rants and vents about their  co-workers, or their “Woot! I just got a raise.” Anything else that’s industry-specific or too corporate, I really could care less.  If I want to read those kinds of updates, I put on my career hat and head over to LinkedIn or Twitter.”

Fake posts?

John Bottom, a frequent contributor to the {grow} community also posted his feedback, noting that the site automatically posts information about you — as if the information was written by you. “It’s bloody annoying when social media networks automatically post information ‘as if’ it is coming from you,” John wrote. “Can you imagine a company doing this in real life?”

Well this is real life, albeit a strange one.  BranchOut is nowhere near ready for a serious challenge to the entrenched LinkedIn, but keep an eye on it. You can’t automatically dismiss any new network attached to the Facebook juggernaut.

Brad Lovett has had a long career in radio and television, and now is immersed in the wonderful world of social media. Brad is a graduate of Mark’s social media marketing class and is actively seeking opportunities to put his integrated social and traditional media knowledge to work. Read Brad’s blog and follow him on Twitter!


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