There was a time, not so long ago, when Facebook was just the domain of the procrastinating college student ignoring their overdue essay to stalk that girl or boy that they talked to one time at a party. It was an insular community, one which separated you both from the frightening reality of life past university, as well as the mundane existences of those back in your hometown, still living with their parents or, God forbid, still in high school. A golden age of social networking if there ever was one.
The days of Facebook distracting college students and college students alone is now over. Your grandfather has Facebook now. So does your 6-month old niece. And after years of driving down grades and delaying sales reports, Facebook is now trying to help you get a job rather than lose one.
So what the hell is BranchOut?
To be perfectly fair, BranchOut was actually launched well over a year ago, in August 2010, but saw limited success in its first incarnation. Previously based around silly co-worker quizzes (“Who is most likely to get to work early and leave late??” for example), the application underwent a round of serious updates, aiming towards professional legitimacy. The basic idea of BranchOut, as it stands now, is to make connections with people in the industries and companies which interest you through your current friends on Facebook. It is based on the principle of earning employment through personal connections rather than scanning online job postings or handing out resumes door to door. The company tag line is “It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know!”.
Currently, the go-to online networking tool for professionals is LinkedIn. Operating since 2003 and based on the same idea of expanding your network of contacts, LinkedIn has had a definitive head start on BranchOut, as far as online professional networking is concerned.
As the longest running and most widely used networking tool today, LinkedIn carries a certain amount of weight in the professional world, which is difficult to supplant. Facebook has no such glossy veneer, and is more often associated with drunken spring break photos and debilitating procrastination than with professional networking.
But BranchOut has taken important steps to distance itself from Facebook's more unprofessional characteristics, while also harnessing its unique advantages. Only your academic and employment histories carry over from Facebook to BranchOut, along with your profile picture, which can be easily kept respectable. You are given the option to immediately send BranchOut invitations to all of your Facebook friends, en masse, giving you an instant portfolio of easily made connections. The sheer number of people using Facebook is the advantage that puts BranchOut in the same league as a site like LinkedIn. Facebook currently has over 845 million users around the world, including 483 million who check their profiles daily. If BranchOut can pull that kind of traffic across to its site, it may not be long before it usurps LinkedIn's place atop the professional networking kingdom.
But no matter how many users a networking site may have, it won't earn any sort of respectability if companies don't buy into its potential. With enough job-seekers, though, employers inevitably follow, and as many as 3 million jobs and 20,000 internships have already been made available to BranchOut's 200 million users. So while LinkedIn still holds a certain amount of notoriety as the professional world's go-to solution for networking needs, the sheer volume of BranchOut's potential clientele may push the upstart site into the spotlight.