Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Branchout an Example of Viral Spread Opportunity for Startups

imageBranchout, often called LinkedIn meets Facebook, has done a lot in their application to provide users motivation and opportunity to spread the word about the service.  The purpose of Branchout is helping people to network their way to jobs.  However, funny enough, I don't see the job search and showing you who you know at the company as being particularly well done.  As one review put it:

Searching by company to find connections you might have is arduous at best, and in my mind, basically useless.

But that's not the focus of this post.  Instead, I want to look at how they've integrated themselves with Facebook and particularly how they engage users to help viral spread.  And it certainly seems to have worked with reports of:

Branchout has seen explosive growth in January 2011, growing from 10K to 250K monthly users, with a total usership now in the hundreds of thousands.

That's impressive growth!  How did they do it?

Getting Going Is Easy

Branchout has done a great job making registration easy.  You connect with Facebook.  They ask for a little bit additional information and that's it, you are up and going.

They've also done a nice job of importing LinkedIn background information.  It brings in Work History and Education.  It allows you to easily edit items.

You are up and going in just a few clicks.  Of course, there's a lot more on any kind of application like this to really get things setup, but Branchout has done a good job making that happen incrementally.

As an example, they walk you through getting your profile more complete.

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and as part of completing your profile, it helps you spread the message around Branchout.

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But the next step is a bit questionable.  Is it even acceptable as part of Facebook's Terms of Service to require someone to Like something in order to "complete" it?  This one pushes maybe just a little too hard.  Later in this post, I'll talk about some of the downside of how they've made this viral.

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One thing I liked in the design is how they treated completion of the profile:

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It's now complete and you just dismiss it from that area.

Primary Interaction - Social Interaction

Okay, my profile is complete, now what?  Well it's interesting that when you look at the home page interface, most of the interface is really about social interaction.  Everything on the left side below your picture is an opportunity to build your network, I've got some details below about a few of them.  The right column also contains opportunities to expand your network.  It does have jobs and companies a little bit, but it's much more abut social interaction.

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I'll explore a few of the social interactions that help with viral growth.

Endorsements

I think they did a good job on endorsements.  They use the profile completion to get you to do your first endorsement, so it's more natural to do them in the future.  They have the following information on your home page about what's happening with endorsements to get you into it more often.

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When you go into the process of endorsements, they show you your friends and allow you to filter to those who are members and those that have career info.  Once you select someone, it's very easy to add an endorsement.  And, of course, that person gets notified and you can tweet or post your endorsement as well.  When you are done, it asks you to endorse more people.

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People can also request endorsements which further promotes this and the interface to provide an endorsement for them is very easy to use.

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Network and Connection Statistics

Possibly Branchout focuses too much on your network.  It feels a bit like the early days on LinkedIn.  They definitely push you to be a heavily connected user and give you lots of data.

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When you drill down a bit:

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Badges

I actually think they did badges pretty well.

They give everyone a badge "Early Adopter" and give you an opportunity to post it.  You can also post a Badge Request.

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They've made it super easy for you to send badges to other users.  Possibly too easy as it likely devalues them a bit.  More on this below. You can either first choose a badge and then award it or choose a user and award a badge.

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Notice also that on the user screen (Alan Edgett), you can give a badge, vote for Alan, request an endorsement, send a message or give an endorsement.  All of these generate social interaction.

I actually think that this particular implementation of badges is a bit weaker than what I've seen in other applications.  If you are looking at how your application can/should use badges, it might be good to review a few other sources.

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Just Add Badges To Any Old Game or Website talks specifically to the issues of being careful about adding badges appropriately and not rewarding just any old action.

A lot of games and services are now copying foursquare to offer badges for actions, and in their rush to get ahead they are offering badges earlier and more often, to make players feel more rewarded. As a reviewer, I play with these services every day and now feel as if a badge has zero positive value, and is just an annoyance.

4 Reasons Marketers Should Add Badges to Social Apps - gives several reasons, but also points out that it's important to show how badges are "earned."  In the case of Branchout, they really are just votes, not as much earned.  There are a few other badges, but it's not clear how you obtain them.

Influence user behavior If users are clear on how badges are earned, badges drive desired user behavior. In our app, unearned badges are obscured visually and accompanied with instructions on how the badge is earned. In the Intel Phone of Tomorrow Challenge, users learn that the Ethernet Badge is earned by successfully inviting three friends to play and the Pocket Protector Badge is earned by commenting on 10 different ideas.

Quizzes

At first when I saw quizzes, I didn't think they would be viral.  Turns out they've done a couple of things to make them viral.

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Within a quiz they have a question or two that asks you about your friends and when you choose one, it defaults to sharing this on their wall.  I have no idea how it chose these friends.

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They also give you the opportunity to share your results.  They push pretty hard on this by making the little tiny "x" to dismiss and the BIG blue Post to My Wall where you would normally find the default interaction.

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They also allow you to invite your friends to take this quiz.  I'm not sure if that really sparks that much interaction, but worth a try.

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Hot or Not

As long as we are trying everything to go viral, let's also add in a proven winner - Hot or Not.  In this case, it's in the context of who you would want to work with.

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See the little check box on the bottom left.  It's on by default and it shares the result with the winner.  If you uncheck it and begin to go through and choose people, pretty soon you get the following pop-up.  And the word "ignorant" is used to dissuade you from choosing that option.  Having it come up every few times is a bit annoying.

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Once I was done going through 30 votes, I then understood what it mean to "vote" for someone which we saw in the interface associated with the user.  I get to see my "Friends with the most Votes".  Of course these are the people who are most connected hence they get the most votes.  So, this is really not quite the same as Hot or Not, but still similar and another way to provide viral growth.

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Too Much Social Interaction?

There's been a fair bit of discussion that Branchout is a bit too aggressive in its push for social interaction.  From a post BranchOut, Inherently Viral Services And Customer Acquisition On Social Networks they point to the following kinds of responses that being overly aggressive in pushing viral can cause:

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5 comments:

Charlie Crystle said...

really fantastic analysis

BP said...

I agree with Charlie. Very nice breakdown of the social components of the site and a great balanced review. Will be interesting to see how Branchout manages the negatives while capitalizing on their positives.

Tony Karrer said...

Thanks for the comments. Really nice to have visitors like you come by and comment.

Ali Hillman said...

Hey Tony! I'm Ali, BranchOut's new Community Manager. I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to cover us. Please don't hesitate to reach out should you have any questions or want press material.

Have a great weekend!

Ali

MrCooL said...

Awesome analysis and great insights on the social components.

I like the way you organize those social components and

Keep it up. I'm looking forward for more great blogs from you.

Cheersss.