Research shows that the larger and more diverse your web of contacts, the more luck you'll have in the job market. LinkedIn, the sober networking site for professionals, has 90 million members. Facebook has nearly six times as many, but its users tend to post party photos and off-the-cuff quips that can turn the world's largest social network into a career killer. BranchOut, a career-minded website that launched in July, wants to mine the middle ground.
Users join BranchOut by linking their Facebook account to the site. BranchOut automatically creates profiles by pulling in education and work history—and nothing else—from the network. (It can also grab résumé info from LinkedIn.) The profiles are accessible only to members, who can search among friends to see who has worked at a specific company. They can also view 3 million job listings. BranchOut has about 400,000 active monthly users, according to AppData.
To entice more people, and to get social acquaintances to think about each other as business contacts, BranchOut recently debuted a new feature called SocialScore. Founder Rick Marini calls it the business version of "Hot or Not," the notorious online game that asks players to decide which of two people is better looking. When BranchOut's users start playing, they're shown two randomly selected Facebook friends, and then asked to choose which they'd rather work with. The winner is notified, and BranchOut keeps score. "It's fun and ego-driven and addictive," says Marini. (Was that you or your colleague who just shuddered?)
SocialScore is not just for fun. "The data we can collect is gold for recruiters," Marini says. Ideally, it provides a realistic, crowd-sourced assessment of a candidate that headhunters might find hard to come by on their own. Since SocialScore's launch on Feb. 17, Marini says about 20,000 people have voted 700,000 times. Soon, BranchOut will match up people by job title. Then it will be able to rank, say, software engineers by popularity. Marini will sell these lists to recruiters at a price he has yet to determine.
Will recruiters find the information credible? "It would make a difference to have the validation of your peers," says Carlos Gil, the founder of JobsDirectUSA, an online job board. Ethan Beard, the Facebook executive who oversees partnerships with sites like BranchOut, says that, generally, "you get the ultimate source of truth from friends."
Marini, who sold the social media site Tickle to Monster Worldwide (MWW) for $100 million in 2004, isn't the first to bring ratings to the office; the site Cubeduel uses data from LinkedIn profiles to let colleagues rank one another. Marini is the first to put together a business based on the idea, and has raised $6 million from a group of investors led by venture capital firm Accel Partners.
Rating colleagues is "a pretty mixed proposition," says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project. "It makes social relationships more complex and more interesting—and more fraught." Zeynep Tufekci, a University of Maryland professor who studies the social impact of technology, is also skeptical of the value: "Most of us do not want to relive middle school over and over again."
Marini is mindful of these concerns. "This is not mean-spirited," he says. The loser of each face-off is never notified—only the winner is told the battle results. "It's all about the positive."
Tony Wright, the co-founder of Cubeduel, says that even if some people are discomfited now, workplace rankings are an inevitability. "Eventually, whether it's us or them or another company, there will be someone keeping score."
The bottom line: BranchOut's job-seekers rank one another based on Facebook profiles. The company plans to sell the rankings to recruiters.