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Facebook Not A Threat, LinkedIn Claims

IT Salaries: 9 Ways We've Changed From 2001
Slideshow: IT Salaries: 9 Ways We've Changed From 2001

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LinkedIn co-founder and executive chairman Reid Hoffman answered the challenge posed by Facebook-connected upstart professional networks, who paint his brainchild as an aging social network whose time has passed, at Web 2.0 Summit.

Both BranchOut and Identified believe Facebook's 850-million members make it a more fertile ground for recruiting and professional networking, despite LinkedIn's more narrow focus on forging professional connections. Also, the LinkedIn demographic skews toward older people, with the average in the early to mid-40s.

"You mean, like someone who could give you a job?" Hoffman said.

The other side of the demographic picture is that LinkedIn's database contains more senior talent. The most recent Neilsen social media survey shows that people with advanced degrees are three times more likely to use LinkedIn.

Asked if there is anything LinkedIn needs to do to attract a younger audience, Hoffman insisted, "We have a younger demographic."

This exchange came at the end of an onstage interview with John Battelle on Wednesday at Web 2.0 Summit, which is produced by Battelle's Federated Media and O'Reilly Media in partnership with UBM TechWeb. The interview also covered his role as a partner at venture firm Greylock Partners and his ideas about coaching member firms on topics such as developing data science teams.

[See InformationWeek's complete coverage of Web 2.0 Summit.]

I posed the question about the age of LinkedIn users partly because I'd been pre-briefed on the launch of BranchOut's RecruiterConnect service, which was announced Thursday. BranchOut already claims customers like HP,, and Box, as well as Levi's and Target. BranchOut offers its services to job hunters and for professional networking as an application embedded within Facebook. RecruiterConnect customers will be able to tap into that network through an application on the BranchOut website.

Identified, which launched its service in September, is implemented as an independent website that uses Facebook integration to get users to authorize it to tap into their social networks.

One point the leaders of both of those services make is that young hotshots fresh out of college or grad school have established their social identities on Facebook and may not see the point in establishing a LinkedIn account--particularly, given the alternative of a professional service connected with Facebook. They believe that will win them business from recruiters seeking access to that market.

"There has never been a platform with the engagement that there is on Facebook," said Chris Merritt, general manager for enterprise and vice president of sales at BranchOut. "The recruiting community has never before had a private way of networking on Facebook." He added, "The best networking is based on your real relationships--not some person you met for five minutes at a conference, like on LinkedIn."

Users who authorize the BranchOut app allow the service access to their friends, and friends of friends, which means their employers or recruiters working for their employers can access the extended network of all the workers who are members of the service, Merritt said. Users still serve a "gatekeeper" role, deciding when they will or will not forward an invitation to one of their friends.

In the Web 2.0 Summit interview, Hoffman said he has learned a lot from talking with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and watching the company develop. In his role as a venture capitalist, he saw Facebook's creation of a platform for developers as an opportunity for gaming, which led him to invest in Zynga and join its board.

"Facebook is obviously an amazing product that's gotten big. But I'm not sure everything is social," Hoffman said. LinkedIn is a different sort of service, he said.

"One of the challenges with vision is trying to make the decision of whether you're a visionary or a madman," Hoffman said. "There are a bunch of conflicting pieces of advice out there regarding persistence and flexibility." There are times when entrepreneurs need to consider that they may be wrong and need to pivot into creating another type of business, he said, but in other cases sticking with your original vision is the right thing to do. LinkedIn's development has actually followed very closely to the original business plan, he said.

Attend Enterprise 2.0 Santa Clara, Nov. 14-17, 2011, and learn how to drive business value with collaboration, with an emphasis on how real customers are using social software to enable more productive workforces and to be more responsive and engaged with customers and business partners. Register today and save 30% off conference passes, or get a free expo pass with priority code CPHCES02. Find out more and register.