Linked-In has mostly stood alone as a professional and business social networking site. With 90 million members as of January 2011, LinkedIn connects business professionals from all over the world. It’s a no-nonsense place, where you generally won’t read about what someone had for breakfast, or their latest take on the entertainment industry (though there are groups for entertainment industry professionals). You’ll find millions of professional profiles, resumes and career-related discussions, as well as groups for virtually every industry.

Linked-In recently got some competition with the launch of BranchOut.  Unlike the LinkedIn Social Network,  BranchOut is an app that piggybacks on Facebook’s existing structure, much like Farmville or any number of games.   BranchOut is no game….it’s all business.  You can install the app, and create a professional profile and start “building your empire” without affecting your normal everyday Facebook page (though it will post content on yours and your friends’ walls as we’ll see in a minute).

Everyone’s favorite thing to do is create yet another social media profile, right?  If you have a LinkedIn profile, you don’t have to create a new one for BranchOut. One click allows you to import your LinkedIn profile. No muss, no fuss, no tweaking. Of course you can edit your profile once you have imported it from LinkedIn.  Your Facebook profile headshot will appear, but you can replace that with a more professional looking one (especially if you have a cartoon character as your Facebook profile photo).

Once you’ve signed up, BranchOut gathers the workplace data from users’ Facebook pages. You’ll be able to invite friends to BranchOut, and write a quick blurb to endorse or recommend them,as well as asking for endorsements from your friends. It’s a little easier to get someone to write one line for you that a longer LinkedIn recommendation…plus those one-liners are great to place on a job-seeking or business website.  There’s a function which allows searching for job postings, and job posts, free for 30 days, can be added.  A company search allows you to find connections who work at a specific company.  Like LinkedIn, BranchOut will tell how many extended connections you have, and unlike LinkedIn, will award virtual ribbons for number of connections (I’m already a Bronze Connector with 5000 connections).

I asked a couple of friends to take a dry run of BranchOut and tell me what they thought. My invitation led to an interesting conversation on my Facebook wall between Chris Theisen, Director of Digital Communications at Hare Auto Group in Indianapolis, and Jennifer Baty, who is a  Wealth Management Analyst and Financial Planning/ Investment Manager in transition. Chris remarked that many people don’t like the fact that BranchOut posts to users’ walls, though he disagrees with them on that issue. Though Chris uses his personal Facebook primarily for family, friends and fun stuff, he does have business contacts on Facebook. Jennifer prefers to keep the line drawn between her personal and professional life.  “..that lined is blurred online these days. Granted  a lot of my friends are in some sort of marketing but people do business with people they like.”.

Jennifer prefers to keep a sharp line between her work life and her professional life. “I like reading about the trials and victories of my friends’ job search, their rants and vents about their  co-workers, or their “Woot! I just got a raise.” Anything else that’s industry-specific or too corporate, I really couldn’t care less. If I want to read those kinds of updates, I put on my career hat and head over to LinkedIn or Twitter.”

BranchOut is nowhere near ready for a serious challenge to the entrenched LinkedIn. However, it is another source for professionals to find each other.

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