Turn On, LinkedIn and BranchOut

BranchOut is the New Hot Professional Network, Startup Networking – Why You Should Be Everywhere

BranchOut – Why This Startup Can Help Your Startup

BranchOut has gained 30 millions users in less than 2 years, at an average of 3 per second. 20 million of those have joined since February and it’s the latest hot news in the tech press with headlines such as ‘BranchOut Looks to Dethrone LinkedIn‘ (Forbes), it has 500 million professional profiles, hitting 3 million jobs advertised. BranchOut is seeking to grow of course, but it’s less to do with numbers and being a social network. They are solidifying this by attempting to break out of the Facebook app world and create a standalone site. It’s big news for the UK, being that in terms of growth, it’s just behind the US in users joining (786% in 6 months).

Beyond the hype, BranchOut is certainly one of the key winners of the Facebook economy, the app taps in to the 1 billion users Facebook currently totals and their approach to ‘turning a utility in to a community’ (TechCrunch), is one of the few examples of a campaign, tool or company that has appeared this year that can be called truly ‘viral’. It’s not all about volume, because realistically you couldn’t, nor wouldn’t reach this audience for professional networking. What the app does is allowing you to use your personal network to help you further your business network. It’s also a great way to see which contacts you have that are also forward thinking. This is a sound principle – check your own backyard to help you promote and find customers for your startup.

It’s also a startup. This is important to other startups, because the userbase is less the early/late majority and thus more likely to work well with you as an opinion former in the industry your startup specialises. This difference between itself and LinkedIn is important – LinkedIn has, like Facebook, become ‘a place to be’ – like ticking a box. One interesting statistic is that LinkedIn has 10 million UK users, considering the growth of BranchOut, especially in the UK, it’s set to overtake (60% of BranchOut’s users are outside the US).

This means that the contacts there, valuable for tapping in to broad business contacts from small businesses to corporations, but not necessarily the forward thinking risk-takers that a startup needs to buy-in to their business. This allows you to see which of your friends and acquaintances – new and old are, like you, trying new things.

One of the most powerful features that BranchOut holds is the industry discovery section. This allows you to define your business and both gather intelligence around the industry, but also spot potential collaborators. It differs from LinkedIn vastly due to this, rather than having to proactively find people, it encourages discoverability. The format is similar to Pinterest, meaning that there’s a strong mixture of visual appeal, but this is backed up by a very high-level business focus. Added to this is it’s job promotion functionality, which has led to it’s partnership with the UK job site Total Jobs.

Branch Out, But Be Everywhere

Whilst there is a benefit to targeting BranchOut, the best approach, like any marketing plan, is to target as many relevant people as possible with the least resources. LinkedIn is an essential tool for any startup, but so is XING (7 million members) and Plaxo – it’s no longer a social network, but instead a contacts management system and is a great tool for keeping track of business contact movement.

Two networks people often ignore for networking are Twitter and Google+. Twitter’s become an essential networking tool, allowing you to connect a little less formally, but still allows you to connect via DM if you want to make an introduction. Google+ should be seen as a midpoint between Facebook and Twitter, and neither of these – one thing it does do is allow incredible collaboration and this spirit means users there are open to approaches.

I’m not advocating spending all your time setting up profiles, but harness each of these and you will tap in to the differences each of your contacts has – not everyone is on LinkedIn nor wants to be, it’s likely your contacts are on Facebook, but it’s a personal network so that’s creepy, Twitter is a fast-connection tool, but it’s not intimate for business networking. What you get is a perfect marketing mix within your personal business marketing. Moreover, it’s likely syncs for all these networks will not be far off.

Lessons from BranchOut as a Startup

BranchOut carries two key non-networking lessons for startups, firstly it started by tapping in to another network – why try to reinvent a community when you can tap in to them in a place they’ve already shown they are comfortable? Secondly, get mobile as quickly as you can. Plaxo, again a UK favourite, has shown that it’s had to adapt to being mobile to survive, rather than naturally running it through their business (LinkedIn is also rushing to find the best way to be mobile relevant).

The main lesson is to keep track of the latest tools for networking, ensuring you’re there because it positions your personal brand as new and relevant, with of course the chance to tap in to the business that the contacts and conversations you make, bring. We are currently testing out Backr, it’s early days but, as with the early days of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, G+, Pinterest, Instagram, people often said ‘it’s a fad’. More than this – you’ll be surprised the people you meet and opportunities you gain – networking is about like-minds meeting and collaborating – where better than a place that sets the agenda (business), but no one else knows about yet.

Whilst your startup might have a solid concept and need no change, opportunities to market it in new ways will always evolve.

Do you have any great stories of success from online networking or recommendations of new ones? Let us know in the comments below.