BranchOut Keeps Falling Down, Down

Jun 23, 2012
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

It has been nearly three weeks since I wrote about BranchOut’s meteoric rise and subsequent fall here on ERE. But because of the speed at which this LinkedIn clone continues to disintegrate, an update seems to be in order. It is actually very impressive to see how fast things can unravel when a service apparently doesn’t deliver any real value and initial growth was only fueled by spammy registration tactics.

Since June 1, BranchOut is losing an average of 4.1% of its remaining monthly active users every single day! Its monthly active users currently stands at 3 million; less than two months ago it peaked at 13.9 million.

BranchOut monthly active users April 29 – June 23  Source – AppData, Facebook

Notwithstanding this impressive arterial bleed, BranchOut’s CEO Rick Marini continues to talk up his book and promotes BranchOut as a LinkedIn for the masses. Only the masses are running away from BranchOut, not toward it. In an interview on CNBC the question of plummeting numbers was asked to Marini, to which he responded that when you have success there always will be criticism … great deflection, but no answer. The guy clearly has had his fair share of media training. Sadly enough my inquiry of May 29 to BranchOut regarding this massive loss of users still remains unanswered.

What Is Exactly Happening With BranchOut?

This is a short history of BranchOut from the perspective of its monthly active users:

BranchOut MAU January 1 – June 23, Source – AppData, Facebook

The incredibly rapid growth in the number of monthly active users could only be fueled by a massive number of people signing up for BranchOut; conversely, the rapid decline can only be caused by a drying up of new registrants and nobody returning back to the service after initial signup  This clearly suggests some kind of Ponzi scheme where people signing up invite more people to sign up, turning a trickle into a tsunami. However, if everybody within the Facebook ecosystem has been invited many times over, the tsunami reverts back to a trickle. And if there are hardly any users returning to BranchOut after initial registration the whole thing comes crashing down.

However, the numbers are nothing more than a very strong indication of this assumption. As the monthly active users lag actual usage per day, the number of daily active users is potentially more insightful. The “problem” with this number is that it is also made up of people signing up as well as returning users. Without more detail it is hard to tell what is actually happening on a day-to-day basis. Is there actually a solid foundation of returning users, or is it predominantly new registrants?

To try and investigate this a bit further I have asked two very simple questions: how many people  posted Facebook messages using the phrase “started using BranchOut” or the phrase “your professional profile on Facebook” since January 1, 2012. The reason for asking these two questions is this; BranchOut sends Facebook messages on your behalf. The first message when you sign up for BranchOut uses the phrase “started using BranchOut.” When you endorse other BranchOut users, the following Facebook message is sent: I endorsed <name> on @BranchOut, “your professional profile on Facebook.” The number of messages will give an indication of the ratio between new registrants and returning users.

For the Dutch situation I used Coosto, and this is the result:

Number of Facebook messages with phrases “started using BranchOut” and “your professional profile on Facebook”, January 1 – June 23, the Netherlands Source- Coosto

Since it is hardly discernible, there are only four Facebook messages with the phrase “your professional profile on Facebook” compared to 3,865 messages with the phrase “started using BranchOut.” So, no discernible user activity (0.10% of number of signed-up users) after initial signup. The 0.10% is even lower than the percentage I postulated nearly three weeks ago, when I assumed 0.14% of registered users are actually “using” the service.

At present I have no way of discovering if this picture can be extrapolated to the whole user base of BranchOut. But it can be taken as a very strong indication that hardly anybody finds anything of value with BranchOut which would prompt them to return to the service. There are simply no returning users to be found.

Although BranchOut is declining rapidly, it is still by far the biggest LinkedIn clone on Facebook.

MAU of LinkedIn clones on Facebook, June 23 Source – Facebook, AppData
While Identified can be considered a LinkedIn clone, BranchOut’s identical twin is of course BeKnown, the attempt of Monster to become relevant within the professional networking space. And when we compare these two clones BranchOut clearly has the upper hand, being 12.5 times bigger in terms of MAU. However, it is very possible that the difference is (much) smaller because of the way people can sign up to either service and how Facebook counts activity on its site.

Both BranchOut and BeKnown have integrated with job boards. BranchOut integrated with Totaljobs (UK) and StepStone (all StepStone countries excluding Germany), and BeKnown integrated with Monster of course. Users visiting Totaljobs/StepStone and signing up to BranchOut are taken back to the app on Facebook, thereby being counted in the MAU/DAU numbers by Facebook. Users visiting Monster can sign up to BeKnown through an API, and these aren’t counted in the MAU/DAU numbers.

As a result, the gap between BranchOut and BeKnown is inflated. The size of the real gap is unknown as Monster doesn’t provide any numbers on BeKnown. But since BranchOut is losing more than 4% of MAU each day, the real gap is closing rapidly.

Apart from Marini keeping up appearances, the rest of BranchOut seem to have fallen eerily silent. The BranchOut twitter account more or less completely stopped tweeting since May 31; its blog has seen no new entries since May 23and the community manager has more or less disappeared while she was previously defending the party line vigorously responding to critical comments worldwide. However, a quick check on LinkedIn (!) learned she has moved on, as well as four commercial staff, all in the last month. A sign that things are actually quite different from Marini’s happy talk?

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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