The Largest Professional Network on Facebook vs. The Largest Professional Network, Period

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This post was written by Heather Hildreth. She is a a third year physics major at the University of Virginia. While she does enjoy physics very much, she has also learned after writing numerous twenty plus page lab reports, a life in the lab is not for her. She would much rather pursue a career relating to patents and IP law. Last summer, she interned at Cooper, White, & Cooper, LLP in San Francisco, California, and was able to get her feet wet in the legal environment and practice her analytical writing skills. Originally from Northern Virginia, it would be ideal for her to get a job at the PTO or a firm close to Washington, D.C., but she will take whatever opportunities she can find! Thankfully, she has another year and a half until she graduates in 2013, leaving her enough time to start looking for jobs and enjoying her last moments in the physics library (aka the exclusive nerd library) at her school. Feel free to connect with her through LinkedIn or Google+, where she often share articles she finds about new research and inventions relating to physics.

By now, most people have at least heard of BranchOut, “The Largest Professional Network on Facebook,” a relatively new start-up (created 2010) that provides a LinkedIn-like Facebook application. Since this application uses Facebook as a platform, it has the potential to gain up to Facebook’s 600+ million users and any new users that will inevitably obtain Facebook accounts. The question, however, is if this site will realize that potential. Note that while BranchOut runs on the Facebook cloud, it was not created by Facebook.

BranchOut is not anywhere close to even 100 million users thus far, while LinkedIn has one hundred thirty five million worldwide, according to its site. These numbers make sense because LinkedIn was created in 2003 and since then has generally been considered the most useful and most used professional networking site. It is also considered very professional and has a “strictly business” reputation, which may have to do with its simple layout, but probably has more to do with its older, white-collar users. In fact, many of my LinkedIn connections are so old that they don’t even have a Facebook, not that I would want to connect with them via Facebook. However, since many of my connections are older and higher up in their careers, I don’t really have much to talk to them about, and as a result, I don’t log onto my LinkedIn account nearly as much as I log onto Facebook or Google+.

BranchOut, however, provides more of an opportunity to interact with others due to its Facebook platform, and it’s easy to start an account because a new user does not have to re-add as many connections since Facebook friends using BranchOut are automatically connections. This feature is crucial for huge growth, as can be seen by the Google+ example: part of the reason why many have not created a Google+ account is the fact that they don’t want to re-add all of their Facebook friends. However, this feature is also most likely the reason why I can’t find my older LinkedIn connections on Branchout: older users without Facebook accounts don’t want to create them and re-add all of their LinkedIn connections.

Even if they did, many younger users may hesitate to add them on BranchOut, fearing that these older, more authoritative connections can see Facebook profiles. Luckily, these fears would be based on a lack of knowledge on the BranchOut privacy features: it is possible to add a connection on BranchOut without becoming a Facebook friend of that connection, and BranchOut keeps users’ Facebook profiles separate from BranchOut profiles, though it is possible for updates from BranchOut to appear in a Facebook feed (but not vice versa). This lack of exchange between Facebook and BranchOut profiles allows the BranchOut environment to remain professional, but I still consider LinkedIn to have safer privacy settings, since even adding someone a user doesn’t know can result in stricter “adding” privileges; namely, the user must provide an e-mail address for all future connections he/she wishes to add, unless those connections add him/her first.

Should people start switching over to BranchOut? LinkedIn has been a staple for those wishing to network, so keep that account for now. However, it definitely wouldn’t hurt to create a BranchOut account. The success of BranchOut does depend upon the continued success of Facebook, but I and many others have come to accept the fact that Facebook will probably be around for a while. Also, the time saved from not having to re-add a large part of connections is far greater than the time it takes to copy and paste information from a LinkedIn profile onto a BranchOut profile or import a resume (though importing a resume can result in a pretty messy profile) and further down the line, more and more professionals will be on Facebook, assuming Facebook sticks around. Right now, BranchOut consists of very young users and targets college students, as can be seen by their Marketing Associate Program, which hires college students to spread the message of BranchOut to their peers. However, as this generation starts to grow older and as more people start to give in to Facebook, BranchOut will be set up to be far more useful than LinkedIn because a vast majority of professionals will be on Facebook and finding connections will be easier.

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