Have you been “invited” to BranchOut? Here is a look at the pros and cons of using BranchOut to grow your new consulting business.
BranchOut: What is it?
Facebook purposely put up a barrier between people’s professional lives and their personal lives by dividing the site into two sections: Facebook and Facebook Pages. Pages are for business and the personal account is for friends, relatives and your cousin Vinny. However, the two do mix, collide and mingle. Referrals, customers and jobs often come through Facebook via friends.
BranchOut and other similar apps like BeKnown (run by Monster) are external professional applications that are designed to interface with Facebook. They are primarily geared to job seekers but they can also be used by self-employed consultants. Accountants, lawyers, designers and even very specialized professionals such as Lean six sigma contractors can use these services to grow their client lists. Six sigma is a business management strategy that is used to ensure quality and cut waste in all types of business processes. Consultants that specialize in Six sigma are often brought into a company in order to eliminate waste and inefficiencies. “Six sigma” is a good example of a searchable keyword that potential clients might use on BranchOut.
Applications like BranchOut are run by separate companies and each application has it’s own privacy contract. In other words, if you trust Facebook with your information, that trust should not necessarily extend over to these third party applications. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust them either; just pay attention and do a little homework about who they are before joining any Facebook applications.
LinkedIn is the undisputedly social media leader for career networking and business building. In this author’s opinion anyone who is looking for clients or building a business should seriously look into joining Linkedin. LinkedIn is ranked 10th in the United States by Alexa, 12th globally and it has 4.5 stars based on 54 reviews. According to a New York Times interview by Randall Stross with David Hahn, VP of Product management at LinkedIn (Sifting the Professional from the Personal,) 75 of the Fortune 100 companies are LinkenIn clients. A LinkedIn profile is like investing in promotional pens; you never know when a great prospective client might see your name and call.
BranchOut: the Basics
BranchOut is a San Francisco based corporation located at:
651 Brannan Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
The contact name is Jeremy Koerber. According to InsideView, BranchOut was established in 2008, it has 15 employees and it is listed as an Application Service Provider of prepackaged software. They are not listed with the Better Business Bureau of San Francisco. The contact for the company in GoDaddy is listed as Jeremy Koerber. According to his LinkedIn profile his past includes almost 4 years at Roost.com, 7 months at Progent, and 8 years at Art.com and Allposters.com. Education is listed as Salano Community College, 1993-95, degree: computer science. The phone number is for the East Bay, Alameda County. According to Alexa the site has average load time, it is ranked 3,397 in the United State, 9,361 globally and there are not yet any reviews (?).
This basic information is provided for three reasons. 1. These are the types of background searches that savvy customers or employers will probably perform on your business. 2. Any user is giving BranchOut access to their Facebook information and friend lists. 3. Sections of it are outdated/misleading/incorrect and yet this the public Face of the company. Furthermore, there are several articles published on the Internet acting like BranchOut is a direct competitor and an established company like LinkedIn. It’s not; at least not yet.
What BranchOut Offers
BranchOut is an application that lets you create a professional identity and use it with your Facebook account. The idea is basically to provide a more convenient professional interface between you and your Facebook friends for business. It also lets people search through job listings and professional profiles using keywords. Moreover, BranchOut lets users search through friends to determine where they work and what they do. The idea of this application and BeKnown by Monster is that it lets a person use their Facebook friends for career building and networking.
Opinions are Drastically Divided About BranchOut
Amor Toor and others have gone so far as to write that BranchOut is a spammy application that will spam your friend’s walls causing as much harm as it does good. Lou Adler writes that he is “under whelmed” by the search capabilities of BranchOut compared to LinkedIn.
On the other hand Mark Fidelman sees BranchOut as creating “a distinctive social experience for employers and employees.” BranchOut does “social polling” and the entire interface is more game-like than Linkedin. Members are encouraged to “like” things and people and they get “ribbons” for adding new users and can award “badges” to friends. Both LinkedIn and BranchOut collect all types of data from these various interactions and then they presumably sell it.
BranchOut takes recommendations one-step further by including “Leaderboards” that encourage users to compete with one another for votes. These badges seem to go well with the “belt” mentality of Six sigma training. Overall the organization of the application is much more social than the businesslike LinkedIn. The convenience and the sociability of the application are its two strongest points. The fun social aspect of the interface is engaging and this is valuable.
BranchOut collects data about a user’s friends without their friend’s consent. This seems to be the one thing that disturbs users the most about BranchOut. This is the basis for the solicitations and it is how the application spreads itself so quickly. As Lisa A. Sullivan points out in her article, “Branch Out May Cause me to Delete my Friends,” some people use Facebook for social reasons and they should be able to opt-out of BranchOut. Despite a follow up post by Lisa that suggests this is now possible, after analyzing the latest Facebook privacy controls it seems impossible to protect friend lists without removing the platform application entirely.
In summary, take a careful look at any Facebook application and the company that is running it before deciding to “opt-in.” Acquiring clients, customers and even employees can be tedious, difficult work. For some, being able to use a fun Facebook application like BranchOut may be the difference between continuing to search and grow your business vs. giving up and this is very valuable stuff.
About the Author: Craig Calvin is Brand Manager for sixsigmaonline.org, leading online six sigma training website.