BranchOut vs. LinkedIn, and Recruiting Passive Candidates in 2011

Jan 6, 2011
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

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.

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.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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