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I recently featured a guest rant from Dutch blogger Marc Drees, entitled “Hey Blodget, you better shut your pie hole.” with apologies to Marc, the title should have concluded “before LinkedIn does it for you!”. The gist of the post was comments on the significant decline in monthly average users of  the Facebook recruiting app BranchOut, during the month of May. Having achieved a figure of over 13Mn users up to the month of April, the decline was almost as quick. numbers from AppData showed a loss of 5.5Mn average monthly users, and the slide was showing no sign of abating. Marc was suggesting that the numbers could fall to zero by mid July. You can read Marcs full post HERE.

In the interests of open conversation, I invited BranchOut to respond with a post of their own presenting their own thoughts on this. I was contacted by Sarah Patterson, the Enterprise Director Of Product Marketing at BranchOut, and after a conversation over what i was looking for, Sarah contributed this post, which sheds some light on their thoughts:

“BranchOut’s top priority is to provide the best experience that ultimately helps our users create and grow their professional networks through Facebook.Companies, regardless of what industry they serve, are lucky if they experience periods of rapid growth. In our case, our growth was fueled by broad mobile adoption and from a diversity of international markets given key overseas partnerships. BranchOut quickly grew to more than 25 million registered users by this spring, as people discovered the value in having a strong professional presence on Facebook. By the end of April, we had 13.9 million monthly active users and over one million daily active users according to the appdata.comfigures.We are the first to recognize that all companies experience cycles of growth, which often will ebb and flow. But at BranchOut, we concentrate on long-term value. Specifically, we want to provide the best experience for people to build their professional network on Facebook. During periods of growth, start-up companies need to make choices on where to allocate limited resources. While this rapid growth certainly caught the attention of those within the professional networking industry, adding a significant volume of active users to BranchOut strained our resources. This strain meant our team needed to focus on scaling BranchOut to ensure we continued to provide an ideal user experience. As this growth plateaued, we saw an opportunity to shift our focus to build an even more engaging experience for our 25 million, and growing, professional users to network and find new business opportunities.

As an app developer, we have a huge opportunity to build our product on a platform of more than 900 million people on Facebook. We’re able to adapt the BranchOut experience quickly, and remain committed as we move forward to introduce changes based on feedback from our loyal users.

At BranchOut, our mission is to positively affect the trajectory of people’s lives by enabling them to network and job hunt in a safe and secure professional environment. Startups are a rollercoaster ride, and it can be mirrored by the highs and lows of our user growth. At the end of the day, our priority is on providing a great experience for our users – that’s never going to change.”

You can interpret that as you see it. Reading between the lines it looks like BranchOut were as surprised by all of us in the meteoric rise in monthly users. It may be that the platform couldn’t support the sudden hike, or it may be that the ease of inviting 50 people at once by mobile and other means provided a hike that no one could have predicted or expected, as has been suggested elsewhere, perhaps it was just too easy to invite and accept without any real interest in the platform.
I have been following the numbers closely to see how they are changing each day. As of today, the average monthly users stand at 4.5Mn. Thats a drop of 2Mn over the last 7 days. Interestingly,  daily average users reverses the decline, standing today at 120,000, a rise of 20,000 today and 10,000 over the last week. This figure has remained fairly consistent over the last few weeks. The drop in monthly average users and daily average users also shows growth, rising from its lowest point of 1.5% on the 31′st May, back to just over 3% and rising. These 2 numbers should be encouraging for the business, and suggest the free-fall could be over and is now bottoming out. It will be interesting to see how the numbers change over the next few weeks. My feeling is that this is probably the realistic position for the platform, and averages will rise to 5%, with the daily average users remaining around 130,000, with a slower decline on the monthly figure to around 3.8Mn. Taken in context, that is not bad numbers for the start-up, if we ignore the previous growth. Lets all watch closely to see if this is the real position for BranchOut, and what the promised improvements for users might be. The long term test will be if the lost users are willing to return albeit at a slower pace. That said, with a one time high of  25Mn users, that still leaves a massive number who could be convinced in the future. If I was BranchOut, I’d be looking to change the way invites go out in batches with one click, and perhaps ask new users to do a bit more, just to get the commitment. I wish them well in their endeavors.
Bill

Guest Rant by @MarcDrees: Hey Blodget, you better shut your pie hole

I’m going to introduce this rant by reminding the readers that this is a GUEST post. I have a very simple policy for guest posts, you write it, if it’s not racist or sexist, or filled with obscenity, then I will post it. Simple!
I was pleased, and a little surprised to get the request to host a new blog from Drees. if you read Dutch, you will know Marc well. If you don’t, then you may not. Drees is the angry man of recruiting, who makes the infamous “Recruiting Animal” look tame. After a tweet I posted at a conference, I was advised to be careful or I might turn in to the English Marc Drees. I took that as a compliment. Most recently, Drees has referred to me as a hired gun as far as BranchOut is concerned. I applauded their meteoric growth in monthly users this year. I’m not paid by BranchOut (as was suggested), but i felt the growth numbers were too big to ignore, by the same token, Marc has been quick to point out that the decline is at a similar rate, and I should be commenting in the same vein. I’m glad to host Marc to make this point, and perhaps introduce him to a few new non-Dutch speakers who are not familiar with his rants. I will also be inviting Rick Marini to respond if BranchOut want to comment. For the record, according to AppData.Com, BranchOut have 8,400,000 average monthly users.This is by far the biggest recruiting application in terms of users (10 x more than BeKnown), BUT this is down from a high around the 14Mn mark, with a loss of 1,700,000 in the last 7 days. I know the guys at BranchOut are quite resourceful, so I’m watching to see what they might do next. I also think the Beknown number is slightly misleading because the platform is now integrated in to Monster.Com, allowing anyone looking at a job to see how they are connected inside the advertising company by Facebook connections. Because this activity takes place away off Facebook, the numbers for people accessing the platform via this feature (perhaps by messaging contacts) are not included.
This is what Marc has to say:

Hey Blodget, you better shut your pie hole before LinkedIn does it for you!
Henry Blodget, infamous sell side analyst during the dot.com boom-bust cycle now turned blogger at BusinessInsider, penned an incredibly stupid article on April 19th where he salivated all over professional networking app BranchOut:
BranchOut was started two years ago and already has 25 million users, which puts it on a similar growth ramp to Instagram–the photo-sharing app that Facebook bought last week for $1 billion.
Is Blodget suggesting a $1 billion valuation for BranchOut? Putting it at par with Monster? And at approx. 10% of LinkedIn’s value? Apparently so… Which begs the question: Is he back to his old sell-side tricks? From which he was banned for life? Apparently so…
Whatever the reason for Blodget to pimp BranchOut, let’s hope that the stupid money doesn’t listen to him anymore. Because BranchOut is on a crash-and-burn course back to earth. Based on an extrapolation of the user losses the app suffered during the month of May, BranchOut will hit rock-bottom somewhere during the second half of July:

BranchOut: Monthly average users (red line, May, 1 – May, 31) en linear trend line (grey). Sources: Facebook, AppData
BranchOut lost 5,5 million monthly average users (MAU) during the month of May, or 41% of the MAU number at the start of the month (13,4 million). That is a shitload of MAU’s…
Blodget should know better than to try to sell a Ponzi just before it peaked (on April 27 – 29, at 13,9 million MAU). It makes him look very, very suspicious indeed. Second time around…

This is Marc’s view. He is clearly not a fan of Blodget or of BranchOut. I’m less pessimistic about the future of BranchOut, and clearly they need to do something to address the slide in user numbers as it is an avalanche, as a business though, BranchOut have proved resourceful in the past at bouncing back from setbacks, like when LinkedIn withdrew access from their API for a breach of terms, and previous negative press around spam at launch. Lets see what happens. Should Facebook go ahead with the much talked about Facebook phone (and the new Facebook cam app would indicate a step in this direction), then I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see BranchOut as the chosen application provided they reverse this trend, what can’t be denied however is that the decline is as dramatic as the growth. As for the speculation on the value of BranchOut that triggered Marcs rant, it is just that, speculation.

For more of the same you should follow Marcs blog, though you may well need to add Google translate.Its entertaining and well researched.

Bill

Marc Drees

Marc Drees Blog

AppData

BranchOut Grows Up, And Up, And Up

I’ve been watching the numbers growing on the professional networks that live within Facebook for a while now. It’s something I’ve been monitoring to see how they are taking off and growing.Like a lot of people, I signed up for BranchOut in the early days. I wanted to see what this new network was all about. I’ve done the same with Monsters BeKnown and Indeed. Branchout got a lot of bad press in the blogosphere in the early days around posting on walls, pointless quizzes and what many regarded as spamming.I spoke to BranchOut founder Rick Marini about this at #truSanFran. Marini was hosting us in his new office, and this gave us access to the team. It’s been interesting to see how his vision has evolved in a short space of time.

Marini outlined some ambitious plans. He outlined how in the early days it was important to make noise and gain a critical mass. This was achieved by the wall postings and other initiatives, but once you get users, it’s important that you listen to them. The functions were also fairly limited in those days, with no real potential for doing anything other than making connections, posting jobs and issuing/receiving recommendations. This was also around the time that LinkedIn took a very public stand against what was being positioned as a competitor network, and pulled access to the A.P.I. Monster had also recently launched BeKnown, who with global reach and the Monster network are a credible competitor in the same space.

BranchOut had also attracted significant investment totalling $24Mn, and were using this investment to assemble a significant product team with creative licence to look at what the users were saying, how they were using the platform and the constant change that was going on where they lived within Facebook. Notably BranchOut were one of the companies involved in working with Facebook to develop mobile and other applications, building the first mobile app on Facebook. The features the users didn’t like were dropped, and the interface was changed to make it easier for users. It’s now very easy to navigate the platform from one screen.The mobile app was built by an engineer in their spare time and now represents 40% of their total traffic. A number that is expected to grow to over 50% by the half-year, proof again of that mobile is critical.

The feature I’ve always liked is being able to see how you are connected in any company, and who your connections are connected with. It’s useful because you can message within the platform without needing to send messages in what many view as a personal space. It’s also a great way to gather names when sourcing. Connecting has proved to be quite easy. Without a lot of effort I have 1,472 connections, which represents about 40% of my Facebook network. With each connection added to my BranchOut network, I gain access to the professional details of their friends, searchable by connections or employing companies even if they don’t have a BranchOut profile.

When you log in to BranchOut, you get some prompt boxes to update your profile where it is needed, and most notably a very simple to use feature for inviting your Facebook friends to connect with you on the platform, which filters which friends do not already have a profile, and a one click invite in batches of 50. Judging by the growth in numbers, it seems to be working well.

The home page has an update box to share news, accomplishments, events etc with your BranchOut network, with the option to post to Facebook and Twitter. Other tabs enable you to share links, give endorsements and post jobs. Posting jobs are a 2 screen job title and job description. This is free to post, share with your contacts and is searchable by anyone in Branchout.

An enhanced job listing allows a lot more customisation and like all of the platform, is very simple to use from a single screen. The enhanced features allow for Job Title, (with the option to post a catchy headline), Company, Location inside and outside of the U.S, a job description with pasting options, job type by industry,experience and tenure and the facility to add perks. Application is either by one click-through BranchOut with the personal profile, which I think is a great feature, making application quick, easy and also simple by mobile, or by external website or ATS. The latter will no doubt cause a drop off, my recommendation would always be for the one click, staying in a Facebook environment that all the data I’ve seen proves to be important. You can post anonymously or by name, add a unique reference number and there’s even a tick box for adding a commitment to consider US Veterans. This last feature I’d like to be extended to incorporate UK military veterans, and others from the global audience, with over 50% of the 10Million registered users residing out of the U.S. Enhanced jobs are priced at $49 for one job, $225 for 5 jobs, $390 for ten jobs and the option to request for multiple jobs and an automated job feed.

The main screen has four tabs that are easy to navigate. Search people by name, company or job. Each person displays a photo for recognition, a professional headline taken from the profile and icons for companies in their professional network. Search companies by name, people or jobs. When you click on a company you get to see your inside connections by icon for easy recognition, jobs posted by the company on BranchOut and other matching jobs. Search jobs by company and people. Theres also a keyword search that enables users to search by keywords, company, location, industries, experience and tenure. Like all of the platform it is very easy to navigate, and users can save the job for later review or click-through to a single page spec, which has an additional Facebook share option. The users inside connections are featured at the top of the job with the option to request an intro through your connections with a custom message field, encouraging referral and building on the benefits of networking. You can apply direct with your profile which is quick and simple (unless the hiring manager has chosen to push you through an ATS or external site), save the job, share on your own wall or on twitter, and see other jobs. The single page view, connections, apply and other features makes it really jobseeker friendly.The last tab allows for growing your network with the features listed earlier in the post.

Profiles are quick to build and edit, including sections for professional headline, picture, (your Facebook picture is the default setting or you can upload any image), a free text summary not restricted by characters with the option to upload and add your resume, tabs showing your connections, updates, projects that you can add at any time as an update, and endorsements. Endorsements are easy to give, receive and request.You can see my profile at branchout.com/Bill.Boorman

Lastly there’s a message icon that shows any open messages with a pull down menu that shows connections, message requests and notifications. Having gone back and had a good look round, I’ve got to say I’m impressed with the ease of navigation and the user features. I can see why jobseekers and employers like it.Another feature worth noting is the integration with job board CareerBuilder in the U.S, and most recently TotalJobs in the UK and Stepstone in Europe. The job board integration brings extra social features to the boards and enables advertisers to get extra coverage and reach through BranchOut. Monster offers the same benefits through Beknown, with the added feature I really like of being able to endorse and search skills, which is perhaps the main differentiator in functions between the two platforms, though BranchOut would appear to be winning the war for monthly active users. According to a recent Techcrunch article, BranchOut has experienced significant growth during 2012, with AppData recording 1Mn at the end of 2011, rising to 2.7Mn by the end of Jan, and a massive 5.5Mn by the end of Feb.

Marini identifies three factors as being behind this growth. 

Image Source: TechCrunch

1:A dedicated growth team

Marini hired a  team who work on pro-actively building the numbers by focussing on analytics,new design,registration flow,A/B testing and viral techniques. A great example of this is the simple, one click fifty friend invites.

2: The launch of the mobile app.

This added the ability to invite friends to connect by mobile increased the number of daily active users by 100% from 260,000 to 560,000 in just 3 days, according to app growth tracking service AppData.

3: Getting to critical mass first.

BranchOut describe this as the tipping point where the volume of new users multiply exponentially. , The new users in turn invite their connections leads to viral growth, hence the almost unprecedented hike in monthly user numbers.When potential users start getting multiple invites from trusted connections it validates the platform, and persuades people that they need to go and have a look at what is going on. Branchout is now is signing up 3 users per second, and was the 4th fastest growing app on Facebook this week ahead of Spotify and Pinterest. You have to say that’s impressive, and a long way from the early wall posting days, in a relatively short space of time.

I would also put this down to the simplicity of navigation and the look of the site, as well as the mobile factor. The Facebook market is big enough to support both BeKnown and BranchOut, give both platforms a place. I’m not sure Indeed will have the backing to compete with these two giants, and BraveNewTalent offers a completely different option with the development of the talented network, built around skills communities. The winners here being Facebook, who are now able to boast credible career options to give people even more reason to stay in the channel, and the job seekers.

BranchOut are now looking at ways to fully monetize the platform. As with any platform of this type, the first goal is always to get the user numbers. Now they are achieving that, increased advertising revenues can be expected, and last year they launched a premium recruiter connect product with enhanced features and search capability. I will be reviewing this in a later post. I will be watching with interest how the platform stands up with the significant growth of users. This will be the real test, as no one could have predicted the speed at which these milestones have been achieved. Judging by whats happened since the 2010 launch, Marini probably already has this figured out. Good luck to them, and hats off for a job well done!

Bill

LINKS

BranchOut

AppData

TechCrunch