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Summary:

Facebook isn’t much of a platform for business, but BranchOut, which integrates with the social network, is applying tactics and techniques from social gaming to take on LinkedIn in professional career networking. Companies that want to build business apps on the Facebook platform should pay attention.

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I recently pegged LinkedIn as a social media company to watch in 2011, but a (relatively) new kid in town, BranchOut, is using social gaming tactics to take on the career-networking giant.

BranchOut’s app launched last summer, but CEO and founder Rick Marini told me that over the next week or so, the company plans to roll out game-like quizzes — and, later, badges and leaderboards — geared towards helping users further their careers. How? The service’s Connections feature enables users to connect to other Facebook users outside their network of friends.

BranchOut targets three constituencies: career networkers, recruiters and sales professionals looking for leads. It has about 150,000 users and is just starting to talk to recruiters and HR professionals. It has 3 million jobs listings — powered by Indeed.com — and 15,000 internships. Today, anyone can place a job listing for free, though BranchOut will eventually charge for that, as well as for advanced search features for recruiting.

BranchOut soaks in and displays two degrees of Facebook friends (i.e., friends and their friends) and any company information they’ve posted. Users can import their public LinkedIn profile information via LinkedIn’s API to create a resume. They can sort connections by friend or by company and make endorsements. (An internship contest is based on collecting endorsements.)

Marini figures he can leverage Facebook’s nearly 600 million users with their existing friends networks to gain ground against LinkedIn’s 85 million users. He believes that a college or just-graduated audience will choose to add a professional filter to their Facebook network, rather than build a new one from scratch at LinkedIn.

BranchOut is facing a more crowded market. In the fall, LinkedIn beta-launched “Career Explorer,” a service that includes gaming elements for college students, and there are plenty of other social media competitors, including at least 10 other Facebook jobs apps. More importantly, while recent grads are certainly seeking professional connections, they don’t necessarily have any meaningful ones yet. BranchOut will have to attract some experienced professionals with valuable business contacts, not just Facebook “super connectors.”

Marini has learned much from his previous startup, Tickle, which was acquired and then shut down by Monster.com. To read some of BranchOut’s most promising strategies, read my column at GigaOM Pro (subscription required).

Image source: flickr user 24oranges.nl

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  1. BranchOut needs to resolve a key privacy issue. It seems as if every time you take an action on branchOut, it tends to post that action onto Facebook’s news feed.

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  2. Linkedin gets career networking.

    Branchout is going against a tough incumbent and folks who are serious about their careers aren’t going for gimmicks.

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