Blog — 04 May 2012

Facebook this week released startling figures for the growth of professional networking platform BranchOut. The service has been around since 2010 but in the last 12 weeks monthly active user numbers exploded with the launch of a Facebook integrated mobile app. Should LinkedIn be worried? Well maybe not, yet, but the success of the BranchOut points to an interesting trend for the future for how the lines between separate social identities will change, and how Millenials might approach the subject with a different set of considerations than those of us who have ‘adopted’ the technologies.

Who Are You Online?

If you were to ask pre-Millenial generations what they use different social platforms for my finger-in-the-wind poll suggests most would say that Facebook is for their friends and LinkedIn is for work. The former is for their ‘real life’, a real picture of who they are; the latter for their ‘work life’, a glorified CV. After all, we use privacy settings furiously to make sure keg stands and skinny dipping do not show up should a prospective employer Google or Facebook Search us. This divided thinking or platfrom appropriateness is the reason for LinkedIn’s continued success and, I hazard, it’s popularity with C-level management, who make up a surprising proportion of profiles on the platform. This is not how the social media generation views things.

I Am What I Am!

The growth of Facebook as a single identity tool is evidenced by the high usage of Facebook Connect for sites and services that have little to do with the social media platform (though Open Graph may make everything have something do with it…) This is more about convenience than profile however, as the system does not lay your private content out on a digital table for all to see. The growth of BranchOut, however, suggests that as Millenials join the workforce they are happy to expand Facebook to be their work profile as well as their real profile. There is no difference. The sophisticated use of Facebook Privacy settings by this group supports this theory. They are happy that what they do not want to share they have control over, and why pretend to be two people online? Along with Liking your own status updates and checking in to your own home, it’s just not cool.

The Difficult Bit

This is all well and good for the Millenials, and as I said, the growth of BranchOut is unlikely to trouble LinkedIn any time soon. What it does mean however is that companies and HR departments full of non-Millenials who like to keep work and Facebook totally separate thank you very much will have to get used to entering this informal social sphere to engage with and recruit the best talent. Reckitt Benkiser realised this some time ago and launched their own talent sourcing Facebook game. But this is still playing it safe – keeping a discreet and controlled environment in which to assay the latest batch of MBAs. Facebook’s rules are very clear that you can only have one profile, so recruiters cannot (or maybe should not is more accurate) start to speak to prospective employees using anything other than their own real identity.

HR teams will have to get used to really being themselves online which is quite possibly something they are not ready for, or comfortable with. But if you want to find the best fresh blood or your organisation, it’s time to leave the safety if LinkedIn and live a little. Better check those privacy settings now…

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