The War between LinkedIn, Monster’s BeKnown, and BranchOut

The war for professional networking has just escalated. This week LinkedIn shut off it’s API (programming interface) to the hot new Facebook-enabled professional networks BranchOut and Monster’s BeKnown.  (TechCrunch broke this news.) What they’re essentially saying is “if you want to build a professional network and monetize all that we’ve built, you have to do it without our help.”

If you are not yet familiar with BranchOut and BeKnown, read our detailed blog post from last week.

The Dynamics of the Professional Networking and Recruiting Market

Here is what’s happening:  LinkedIn has now clearly validated the tremendous value of professional social networking – both to recruiters and to job seekers.  With 100 million + users, LinkedIn is rapidly becoming “the” professional resume for mid-career professionals (LinkedIn’s average age is 41).  This tremendous momentum has been hugely valuable to recruiters, who are flocking to LinkedIn en masse.  (I spoke with the Senior VP of Talent Acquisition for one of the world’s largest consulting firms a few weeks ago and he told me that more than 70% of their global sourcing now comes from LinkedIn.)

But as successful as LinkedIn has become so far, it has yet to tap into the vast market of “early career” or “hourly professional” workers around the world.  (More than 90% of the global workforce is in “non-managerial roles” by the way, so this is a very large number.)  We know that there are around 160 million workers in the US alone, so this market is ultimately going to be in the billions of people.

These “young career” or “hourly professional” workers (which includes supervisors and managers in retail, hospitality, healthcare, and other very high turnover roles) has not yet, for the most part, found a professional network.  More and more of my children’s friends are starting to use Facebook (early college graduates), but these people grew up on Facebook – so LinkedIn is not only new, but kind of boring for them.  Corresponding to this, recruiters who want to find younger or hourly professional workers today won’t find LinkedIn a very valuable tool.  So there is a war starting for the “professional resumes” of these younger or lower level workers.

So far, LinkedIn has done an excellent job of focusing on the high-end professional marketplace, which in and of itself is still huge.  But as Facebook grows bigger and bigger, the company ultimately is asking itself “how will we grow to our total market potential without eventually reaching this younger audience?”

Well of course the business world is not going to wait.  Smart venture capital companies like Accel Partners, Redpoint Ventures, Norwest, and a list of smart advisors put $18 million into BranchOut, the first big-time professional network application for Facebook.  By linking directly to Facebook, this application attracts the younger, lower level professionals (and more senior ones too) on Facebook.

Today BranchOut, which mimics LinkedIn in almost every way, has around 2.4 million monthly users and around 150,000 daily users, and is growing like a hockey stick.

Fig 1:  BranchOut Monthly and Daily Average Users (from Appdata.com)

Last Week Monster’s exciting announcement of BeKnown increased the pressure on LinkedIn, because BeKnown (a direct competitor to BranchOut) has the power of the Monster brand and job network behind it.  Ultimately these networks are going to win or lose based on the number of people who use them, and the value of that network to the users – Monster hopes to blow past BranchOut with its marketing muscle and enormous job network.

In its first week, BeKnown generated a lot of buzz and already reached nearly 60,000 users.  If this growth continues (and Monster will start the marketing machine now), the BeKnown network could grow bigger than BranchOut by late summer.

Fig 2:  BeKnown Monthly and Daily Average Users (from Appdata.com)

The LinkedIn Connection

Where LinkedIn gets upset is here:  not only are these new networks competitive, but they have an explicit feature which enables BranchOut and BeKnown users to import their LinkedIn connections directly.  This import process means that an existing, happy, LinkedIn user can replicate their entire network on BranchOut or BeKnown in a few minutes!

Nope.  LinkedIn is too smart for this.  The company shut down the API to these applications (and rightfully so.)  While LinkedIn has been wonderfully open in its interfaces to third party applications, they simply cannot empower direct competitors to use the network connections they have built.  Ultimately the biggest value of these networks is not really the number of users, but the richness of each user’s network.  (That’s the “sticky” part.)

So from my standpoint, this was coming – and I am not at all surprised.  War has been declared, and LinkedIn is not going to let two new armies stomp right into their home base.

Impact for Recruiters and HR Professionals

This is all very exciting (and a bit confusing) for recruiters.  These new tools are exciting, low cost ways to reach candidates like never before.  And for job seekers, what an amazing set of new tools we all have to promote and improve our own careers.

Facebook’s system for building pages and career sites is still far too difficult and confusing for most companies (LinkedIn’s is far easier), so applications like BeKnown and BranchOut help unlock the power of Facebook for corporate recruiting.  Smaller businesses (who employ 80% of the workers in the US), need easy-to-use tools like BeKnown, BranchOut, JobMagic, JobFox, JobVite, and many others.  These tools are making it easier and easier to tap into the Facebook network – and eventually I expect Facebook management to build its own solution in this area.

Call or email us if you’d like more help understanding this whole marketplace.  Our Talent Acquisition Practice is the place to go for the latest tools and information on high-impact sourcing and recruiting.

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