BranchOut vs. LinkedIn, and Recruiting Passive Candidates in 2011

Although there were some naysayers about my predictions for job growth in 2011 (Dec 14, 2010 ERE), it’s more clear that 2011 will be banner year for professional hiring, coupled with the added impact of employee churn. Even if the prediction is somewhat premature, get ready for it anyway. What else are you going to do?

With that as a backdrop, consider the impact Facebook’s new career network BranchOut will have on the world of recruiting in general, and its direct effect on LinkedIn in particular. It’s certainly a knock-off, but as a start I would have expected a more original name. LinkedIn is less about its name and more about the depth of its interconnectivity and its growing ability to automatically connect people with open opportunities.

Since BranchOut is just starting up, it’s less robust and less useful then LinkedIn, but this will change, so start building your empire (their term). Let me start off this comparison with my point of view (POV).

As a discussed in a recent article on how POV affects decision-making and evidence-gathering, this is an important frame of reference to understand. (Note: this is also a good article to read on why hiring decisions are fundamentally flawed.) Following is what I’d like to see in a networking for recruiting tool like BranchOut. My head-to-head evaluation will be based on how well LinkedIn and BranchOut meets these objectives.

The Adler POV — A Wish List of Features for Sites Like LinkedIn, BranchOut, and ZoomInfo

  1. Quickly be able to create and post a compelling ad pushed to everyone in the database who is a high potential prospect or is directly connected to one. This way you’ll find those who are passively looking. If the ad is compelling and career focused, you’ll interest those on the margin to apply or forward it to those in their network.
  2. Instantly search the universe of members to identify a target list of 200 or so potential prospects who instantly make a great pool. Percentage-wise these will mostly be passive, but it will quickly get your career opportunity in front of the right people.
  3. Be able to use the full search list to broadcast a compelling career-focused email message that is opened and read at a high percentage rate. With this capability you could develop a slate of four-five high-quality prospects in a day or two.
  4. Have the capability to instantly recommend potential “ideal prospects” to current and past employees. These need to be automatically pushed to these employees.
  5. Quickly prepare and send emails to non-employees who might be connected to potential “ideal prospects.” Automatically making the connections and pushing is the key here.
  6. Forbid the posting of boring job descriptions that emphasize skills and experiences and offer lateral transfer. The best people are looking for career moves. Everyone else is looking for a lateral transfer closer to home and/or more money.
  7. Put all of the administrative stuff at the end of the job postings. Why any job board or site would lead off with admin stuff makes no sense from a Marketing 101 standpoint.

That’s enough for now, but you get the point. I have many other features on my features wish list, but the idea is that underlying the sites’ ability to collect and connect people is how to use this information for recruiting in a productive way. Since most corporate recruiters are working 10 or more assignments at one time, efficiency is a key measure of a site’s usefulness. On this basis, this is how I compare BrandOut to Linkedin on the above measures.

(Note: for full disclosure purposes and added POV insight, I work closely with LinkedIn on a professional level and have used it for multiple executive search assignments over the past few years. In addition, I know its inner workings quite well. I just started using BranchOut, so my rankings are preliminary at best. I am willing to be corrected.)

Search capability and connecting. Since I have a bigger list of connections on LinkedIn than BranchOut, the comparison isn’t perfect, but I was underwhelmed by BranchOut. Searching by company to find connections you might have is arduous at best, and in my mind, basically useless. I’m sure BranchOut will add a more robust advanced search capability, but right now this is a feature that should not have been released. Searching for people is a bit more robust, using some type of “instructionless” Boolean-like search query; however, connecting with these prospects is more difficult than calling direct to the company switchboard (circa 1980-1990). I’m working three executive searches right now, and I found BranchOut a pure waste of time. LinkedIn Recruiter provides direct identification of prospects, but I feel constrained by the small limit on InMails allowed. Despite this, the LinkedIn InMail feature itself is professional, and gets a high read rate. BranchOut’s outbound email seems like an afterthought. Overall, for my ranking on the search and connecting capability LinkedIn is a professional recruiting tool (3.5 out of 5 stars), where BranchOut is child’s play (1 star for effort).

The target audience. LinkedIn is a robust tool for corporate and third-party recruiters targeting the professional worker. It provides both outbound (send emails) and inbound capability (post ads). BranchOut is for everyone. Facebook always had the ability to post ads, but it seems the only way to connect with people through BranchOut is via some direct one-by-one connect using its simple internal chat/email system. For my three current searches (controller, director audit, HR VP), BranchOut gets a goose egg, and four stars for LinkedIn.

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Networking. In my mind networking is the key to successfully recruiting top professional talent. As part of this it’s important to quickly be able to find people and then see and connect with their connections. Automating this matching and connecting capability is where the current technology is, and on this measure LinkedIn is a major league product with BranchOut not even playing in the same game. Even the non-automated version of LinkedIn lets a recruiter see a prospect’s connections in order to “cherry pick” and qualify potential referrals. This is an invaluable feature and earns LinkedIn four more stars, with 1.5 for BranchOut. (I’m assuming with more connections this would have been more effective for me, so I’m giving BranchOut the benefit of the doubt here.)

Usability. Steve Jobs should have architected BranchOut. He understands system-level thinking in an extraordinary way, addressing functionality, usability, integration, design, and purpose. At this time, BranchOut is not a well-thought-out offering based on what real recruiters need to accomplish on a day-to-day basis. LinkedIn is much better, but far from perfect. Hiring top talent is a multi-step process that will result in great hires when implemented properly. BranchOut doesn’t improve this process at all. At best it’s just an inefficient way to source candidates who you probably could find somewhere else. LinkedIn improves on the name generation and networking process, but still requires too much manual effort for the critical direct contact piece. So on this usability level only gets three stars, but that’s still three more than BranchOut.

Despite my negative BranchOut review here, it does have the resources and capability to become a world-class product. Probably more important, it has all of the connections. It could get there if it adopts some higher level system and process-level thinking, especially in the area of automating the job to person connection and referral process. As Stephen Covey said, “begin with the end in mind.” Somehow this was forgotten in the BranchOut design process. Instead, it seems like they just want to compete with LinkedIn by glomming some basic features together with a bit of razzmatazz and duct tape.

For me the big missing point is that recruiting top talent is not about name generation. Instead it’s using the power of the network to quickly connect people of all levels with jobs that allow them to maximize their personal growth and performance. Since 78% of the professional U.S. workforce is either now looking (LinkedIn survey) or hoping to change jobs in the next year, this is where the action needs to be, and BranchOut isn’t there yet. Regardless, watch out and get involved. The world of recruiting is changing more rapidly than most companies can respond, and those who do will be the winners.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).

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21 Comments on “BranchOut vs. LinkedIn, and Recruiting Passive Candidates in 2011

  1. Lou – great review and advice. Your “wish list” calls for a recruiting-centric search and messaging platform that I don’t think exists today. You should design a product from the ground up that’s driven by the rich “information architecture” reflected in your piece.

    LinkedIn comes close but BranchOut clearly misses the mark. They’ve got a great team and investors but their perspective comes from Tickle and SuperFan, not recruiting.

  2. Sounds to me like another tech team got together and built a product minus the end user that will be actually using it. I’m getting these branch out requests daily which I haven’t opted in for. Reason being…how much data do I want to share with the world? Doesn’t facebook know enough about me already?

  3. They have to be popping champagne corks at LinkedIn this morning; the single visible deadly threat to their franchise just (temporarily?) immolated itself with an insipid name (are you kidding me?) and a me-too offering that does not remotely respect the real power of LinkedIn or exhibit any understanding of recruiting practices.

    “Facebook Professional” would encapsulate one of the world’s most powerful brands with a clear purpose and reason for existence, while BranchOut sounds like an incubated startup from Austin, Boston, or San Jose for clipping coupons, tagging webpages, or finding something to do Saturday night.
    If this is indicative of the strategic acumen of Facebook’s current management, it’s going to be a long few years for them……

    Lou, you’re a mighty prolific author, bound to hit and miss, but this post is a hit- you are dead right that the key is to streamline the real value- the connections- and not just the data value of sourcing names and titles.

  4. @Martin,

    It’s worth noting that BranchOut is not part of Facebook. It’s a facebook app being offered by a third party called BranchOut. You can learn more about them at http://www.branchout.com.

    I know nothing about Facebook’s plans, but it’s reasonable to think they might be looking at getting into this space themselves. However, BranchOut isn’t their move.

    As for Lou’s comments, I think the biggest problem with all these services is the amount of email they generate. I get piles of clumsy emails from recruiters, trying to convince me to call them for jobs I have no interest in, and am often not even the right candidate for.

    I’m already tired of reading about who’s eating what for dinner on Facebook. I don’t need or want more emails saying things like “if you are or know a pipefitter with offshore drilling experience who speaks Malay and Greek, please call me.” So the suggestion of an easy way to send emails to people who may know someone strikes me as playing into the increasing backlash against social spam.

  5. Blake thanks for the clue-bird shot to the head- I stand corrected !

    Thats about the tenth time today I have been wrong about somethng, par for the course.

    LinkedIn is still in danger then, assuming Facebook gets their act together.

    I did read that people who post status items about what they ate, how they slept, etc. have lower incomes and lower education levels. Could be urban legend, but rings true in my FB network anyway…..

    Say hi to Krystal for me 🙂

  6. Blake, Martin et al – you’re right about the emails – unless it’s very targeted it will be counter-productive and we’ll all be back to square one. However, with that said, I do know a Greek pipefitter …

    Lou

  7. @ Lou:
    “Although there were some naysayers about my predictions for job growth in 2011 (Dec 14, 2010 ERE), it’s more clear that 2011 will be banner year for professional hiring, coupled with the added impact of employee churn. Even if the prediction is somewhat premature, get ready for it anyway. What else are you going to do?”
    …………………………………

    If 8.5%- 9.6% unemployment by the end of 2011 (see below) is “a banner year”, what’s “a lousy year”? Of course, if these disaffected 78% of surveyed LI people are representative, and they all quit their jobs….
    What I’m going to do is recruit under the assumptions of continuing high unemployment- where hiring managers will be looking for the very best (who are either happy where they are or receive multiple offers) and prepared to pay for only the rest, and millions of solid, qualified people are scrambling for whatever they can get, which will probably be something that pays a lot less than they are making, because there are 5-6 unemployed for each opening.

    @Martin: You’re dating yourself.

    Cheers,
    Keith
    http://web.rollins.edu/~wseyfried/forecast.htm

    Recent Forecasts

    CNN-Money survey (Dec 22): lists forecasts of key economic variables by 23 economists; average forecasts for 2011 – unemployment in Dec 2011 = 9%, economic growth = 3.3%, inflation = 1.8%; average forecasts for 2012 – unemployment rate = 8.1% in Dec ’12; economic growth =3.4%; inflation = 2.1%

    Economic forecasting survey, Dec 2010 (WSJ): economic growth = 2.6% in 2010Q4, 3% in 2011; unemployment at 9.4% in June 2011, 9% at end of 2011; inflation = 1.8% in 2011

    Wells Fargo Securities Economic Forecast (latest forecast: Annual Forecast, Dec 2010): economic growth = 2.6% in fourth quarter, 2.6% in 2011 and 3.3% in 2012; core PCE inflation = 1% in 2011 and 1.5% in 2012; unemployment rate rises to 10% in the first quarter of 2011; declining to 9.6% in the fourth quarter of 2011 and 8.8% by the end of 2012; Fed begins to raise interest rates in the third quarter of 2012

    Livingston Survey (latest survey – Dec 2010): economic growth = 2.5% in first half of 2011 and 2.9% in second half of 2011; unemployment rate = 9.4% in June 2011 and 9.2% in Dec 2011; inflation (CPI) = 1.6% for 2011 and 2% for 2012

    Fed Forecast as of Nov, 2010: economic growth = 3-3.6% in 2011 and 3.6-4.5% in 2012 (note: these are from 4th quarter to 4th quarter while other forecasts compare yearly averages); unemployment rate = 8.9-9.1% in 2011 and 7.1-7.5% in 2012 (estimates are for 4th quarter of the respective year); natural rate of unemployment = 5 to 6% (range = 5 to 6.3%); inflation as measured by core PCE index of 0.8% to 1% in 2010, 0.9 to 1.6% in 2011 and 1 to 1.6% in 2012

    NABE (Bloomberg, Nov 2010): forecasts for 2011 – economic growth = 2.6%, core inflation = 1.3%, unemployment rate = 9.2% at end of year, 10-year Treasury = 3.25% at end of 2011

    Univ. of Michigan Economic Forecast (executive summary – Nov 18, 2010): economic growth = 1.9% in Q4 of 2010, 2.3% in 2011, 3.3% in 2012; core inflation (CPI) = 1% in 2010, 1.2% in 2011 and 1.7% in 2012; unemployment rate averages 9.6% in 2011 and declines to 9% by end of 2012

    Survey of Professional Forecasters (latest survey Nov 2010): economic growth = 2.2% in Q4, 2.5% in 2011, 2.9% in 2012, 3% in 2013; core inflation (PCE) = 1.2% in 2011 and 1.6% in 2012 (overall PCE inflation = 1.2% in 2010, 1.7% in 2011, 1.8% in 2012); unemployment rate = 9.6% in fourth quarter 2010, 9% in 2011Q4; average unemployment rate = 8.7% in 2012

    Bloomberg (Nov 11, 2010): economic growth = 2.2% in fourth quarter 2010, quarterly growth rises to 3.2% in fourth quarter of 2011; unemployment averages 9.3% in 2011

    Quarterly economic survey (USA Today – Oct 2010): economic growth = 2.2% in fourth quarter, 2.8% in 2011; unemployment = 9.7% at end of 2010, 9.2% in fourth quarter of 2011; inflation = 1.1% in 2010, 1.7% in 2011

    Associated Press Survey (Oct 2010): unemployment declines to 9% by end of 2011; economic growth = 2.7% in 2011, inflation = 1.7% in 2011

    NABE forecast (Oct 2010): economic growth = 2.6% in 2010 and 2011; unemployment = 9.5% in summer 2011, 9.2% by end of 2011; core inflation = 1% in 2010, 1.4% in 2011, fed funds rate = 0.5% by end of 2011; budget deficit = $1.2 trillion in 2011

    IMF (Oct 2010): includes global forecasts; US economic growth = 2.6% in 2010, 2.3% in 2011

    OECD forecast (see p3 – Sep 2010): economic growth = 2.6% in 2010 and 2011; unemployment rate 9.7% by end of 2010, 8.5% by end of 2011, inflation =0.8% in 2010 and 1.1% in 2011

    CBO (Aug 2010): note – assumes all Bush tax cuts expire and other policy changes that are unlikely (need to make forecast assuming current policy; results in weaker forecast); economic growth (end of year comparisons) = 2.8% in 2010, 2% in 2011; unemployment = 9.3% in fourth quarter 2010, 8.8% in 2011Q4, core PCE inflation = 0.9% in 2010 and 1.1% in 2011; growth in potential GDP = 2.1% from 2010-2014 and 2.4% from 2015-2020

    OMB (July 23, 2010 – see p9): economic growth (end of year comparisons) = 3.1% in 2010, 4% in 2011; unemployment = 9.6% in 2010, 8.7% in 2011 (declines to 6% at the end of 2014); inflation = 1% in 2010, 1.6% in 2011; natural rate of unemployment = 5.2%, growth in potential GDP = 2.5%

  8. Keith, I’ve always been ahead of my cohorts. I retired right out of school !

    Summer of Love indeed 😉

  9. @ Lou: Yes it’s true! I started out in sales selling mammoth and mastodon meat wholesale for this old German Jewish outfit in the Midwest: Neanderthal & Sons. It was good work, and the Neanderthals treated me right, but my teritory was huge, and I wanted to settle down. I met Lou and I wasn’t sure about making such a change, but we talked a long time and I saw that selling mammoth and mastodon meat and recruiting were really similar (the product even SMELLS the same), and the rest, as we say, is pre-history….

    Cheers,

    Keith

  10. Given the advanced state of maturity of Linkedin vs. the nascent state of Branchout, this type of comparision is premature at best. What value is there in pointing out the obvious? It is like comparing Tom Brady to Sam Bradford.

  11. Reggie – it appears you totally missed the point on multiple fronts. Regardless, one one of three fronts, if someone decides to enter and compete in the big league market they deserve to be compared to those already in the big leagues. As Tom Hanks said, “there’s no crying in baseball.” If the product isn’t ready for prime time it shouldn’t have been launched, consider Google’s Wave and Buzz, as proof of time and money wasters.

  12. Lou – I have a lot of respect for your teachings. You even state yourself in your analysis of “search capability and connecting”, that the “comparison isn’t perfect” (so why do it? but I digress). So with all due respect, what “you have missed” is that comparing Windows 98 (Branchout) with Snow Leopard (Linkedin) would be unfair and could only produce a bias that highlights the benefits of Leopard. Benefits that are the product of: time, user feedback, trial and error, upgrades and revisions. Not in any inherent superiority of the current features or functionalities of Linkedin. The Linkedin application that we now use is certainly not the same one that was originally launched. For emerging technologies, I recommend we analyze them on the merits of the functionality that they deliver, not in unfair comparisons with advanced stage best of breed apps.

  13. Points on both sides: once you see a thing done, its soooo much easier to do again- thats how the USSR was able to create its own A-bomb so soon after the US- spies or no spies.

  14. I think Reggie makes a fair argument. Part of the need to push a product out there is to see the response, understand what users like/hate, see where the product falls short, correct it with the feedback you get, and hopefully create something of value to a needy market.

    Cracking the code for what effectively changes the recruitment industry is a formidable task and having been in this space for a while, commend anyone in their attempts, even when they are competitors. It’s a very challenging industry and has resisted change pretty effectively, turning many exciting startups away with head in hands.

    Apart from LinkedIn (and some niche job boards like Ladders & Dice, technologies that I wouldn’t exactly describe as ‘innovative’), there’s hardly even a handful of innovations that have very effectively survived (H3, Jobster, etc.).

    It’s a challenging industry with many moving parts. It will take some trial and error to provide a more everyday product that appeals to the needs of many. LinkedIn is the only moderately recent technology to deliver value to all people involved in the job space, and most would argue that LinkedIn is far from ‘innovative’ themselves (asked this question on Quora with pretty consistent answers…).

    So the point I make is: “Failure is success if we learn from it.” – Malcolm Forbes. In time, what we find useless today could be useful tomorrow. We’ll see.

    In support of Lou’s argument, there is nothing wrong with making comparisons today. It’s our responsibility to do so, as long as there are comparisons to be made (i.e. both products are actively being offered/utilized). If you are going to put yourself out there, be prepared to have people come back and say ‘I’d prefer to use the incumbent’. If you hear that often, then make some changes and hope you didn’t storm out of the gates too early to sully your brand name.

    Moreover, and continuing on Reggie’s analogy, it’s like Fantasy Football. Instant gratification is absolutely in order and I have to decide between drafting Tom Brady or Sam Bradford? If you ask today, I think you know the answer. If you are thinking 2-3 years down the road, perhaps Sam survives the league long enough to be a stronger option.

    The bumps and bruises can help create a better product, as long as we don’t run out of time/money.

    Lou, as always, thanks as for your insights and fearless contributions,

  15. The flaw with Linkedin and all other social network sites that try and offer recruiting services is that they restrict what the end user can do because they want to get paid for these services at the same time, and many of us don’t want to pay to use the network we have developed. I find I get better results using google to simply search linkedin than logging in and using linkedin by itself.

  16. Hi Lou,

    Much of your wish list is present within worky.com. Search and “push” your job to your selection, e-blast, shortlist etc. etc.

    Whilst we allow one-click import from LI and FB, we are a separate network from there on. Profiles are promoted within search engines etc. We see it as an inclusive network, rather than a closed network like LI. It’s more about self promotion than “networking for the sake of it”.

    We’re new, have survived 50k beta members, and due to launch soon. All thoughts appreciated. Join as a hirer to see targeting options.

    With the tech now nearing completion, we are keen to hear from partners in various countries to participate in the launch.

    Many thanks
    R.

  17. Worky is a GREAT name. Too many startups fail to encompass the function in the name-if you are already a megabucks corp, not so important.

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