Earlier this week, ERE wrote this article about the rapid decline of BranchOut over the past 30 days. Peaking at 13.9 million monthly active users at the end of April, they are now down to 6.5 million monthly active users, losing 7.4 million monthly active users in just 37 days.
I used to work on a social recruiting product very similar to BranchOut. I’m not at all surprised to learn about their rapid decline. First, let’s look at how BranchOut works.
If you are familiar with LinkedIn, then you are familiar with BranchOut – the key difference being that BranchOut sits on top of your Facebook social graph. So instead of having to build out a professional network on LinkedIn, you can use your friends network to find your next job. BranchOut allows you to see where your friends work, where their friends work, allowing you to ask them for referrals.
We all know most jobs are filled through employee referrals. This sounds like a great solution. We thought so too. We were working on a very similar solution, with a slight twist, but ours didn’t work either. Here’s what we learned by conducting countless interviews with job seekers about how they went about finding their job.
First, we weren’t surprised to hear that most people found their previous jobs through “weak ties” – this term was coined by Mark Granovetter in the early 70’s in his landmark sociology paper, “The Strength of Weak Ties”. Basically, people found jobs through their neighbor’s girlfriend, their dentist’s spouse, and the guy they keep running into at the local coffee shop, not their best friends. But to find these weak ties, job seekers need to tell everyone they know that they are looking for a job. No problem, this is still consistent with common wisdom.
But even though everyone we talked to knew this, very few actually did it. In particular, they were reluctant to tell their friends that they were looking for a job and more specifically they didn’t want to tell their friends what types of jobs they were seeking. Why was this? We heard many reasons.
Here’s the most common: Suppose I ask you for a referral to your company. I get an interview. It doesn’t go well. What happens the next time I see you? I’m embarrassed. I don’t want to tell you that I didn’t do well in the interview. But you are excited about me working at your company, so you ask how it went. Awkward.
And another common reason: Looking for a job is stressful. It’s a lot of work. When I hang out with my friends, the last thing I want to do is talk about my job search. I want to escape it.
Or this one: As a whole, we assume that if you are good at your job, you won’t have a hard time finding a new job. Nobody wants to let on to their friends that they are having a hard time finding a job.
And finally: Most people thought their friends wouldn’t understand what they were looking for or be interested in helping.
Again, everyone we talked to knew that the best way to find a job was to tell everyone they knew what they were looking for. Our interviews were conducted in 2009, at the height of the recession. Many were desperate for employment. And yet, the social cost of asking their friends for help was too high a risk for the potential gain.
Now I’m not saying it’s impossible to build a product that helps people find jobs through their Facebook networks. But unless the solution tackles many of these underlying concerns, it simply isn’t going to work.
So why does LinkedIn work? Because LinkedIn is your professional network, not your drinking buddies. You aren’t likely to run into your former coworker from two companies ago while out on a Friday night. There’s less risk.
It’s great that in the age of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and more recently Pinterest, we can grow a large audience with viral loops. BranchOut is a great example of this. But it’s still extremely hard to engage users without focusing relentlessly on delivering value. I believe the only way to do that is to get out of the building and talk to your users – uncover these hidden gems that will make or break your product.
What do you think? Can BranchOut turn it around?
And if someone at BranchOut is reading this and wants to learn more about our research or wants help doing your own, feel free to contact me at producttalk @ teresatorres dot com.