LinkedIn is arguably the world’s most successful professional social network. With almost 260 million members, it’s a small fry compared to Facebook, but it’s still a powerful hub for networking, market research and recruitment, we’ll undoubtedly see new challengers and social networks emerge, and professional networking is one area ripe for redevelopment. Indeed, some recruitment experts are thirsty for change. But could any site do professional networking better than LinkedIn? And, if they can, who are they? Here are some potential contenders.social-media-communities_1

Opprtunity

Opprtunity allows you to scrape your LinkedIn profile and set up a new profile for leads, recruitment or a LinkedIn jobs search. It proactively matches you with potential clients, employers or candidates and emails results to your inbox. Like LinkedIn, there’s a potential for being flooded with unwanted mail, and we also found that some common occupations weren’t even listed as options on the Opprtunity sign-up page. The free account is also quite limited; we were shown just three out of more than 400 leads.

Meetup

Meetups is a site that enables its members to schedule any kind of meet-up or event. It’s similar to Eventbrite, in a way, but with a more broad scope, since its members can organise meet-ups on practically any topic and for any reason. There’s no need to sell tickets, either, so it’s ideal for business networking events on a grassroots level, or market research groups where you need an informal, random mix of people. Once you create an event, Meetup forms a community automatically and invite users nearby who might be interested. It’s a very flexible way to make new connections, although you may not want to throw open the doors to everyone every time.

BranchOut

BranchOut has been lurking in the sidelines for a while, mostly thanks to its Facebook app. With 800 million users worldwide, it’s massive, yet it doesn’t have its own standalone web presence, so anyone without a Facebook account can’t list themselves. Many professionals prefer to keep their work and social lives separate, so BranchOut isn’t a LinkedIn replacement everyone will be comfortable with, but some market researchers will see benefit in the combination.

Quora

Quora is a strange blend of various Social Media networks princuples; it’s a little like LinkedIn groups and Yahoo! Answers rolled into one. Unlike Yahoo! Answers, commenters tend to use their real names, so the quality of information is higher and there’s more emphasis on facts. Users upvote the best answers, so Quora can be a good resource for networking and research as well as bona fide statistics about businesses if you’re conducting market research. It can also be a good source of leads and referral traffic, providing you offer good quality content in all of your Quora posts.

Is LinkedIn Still Worth Using?

In a word, yes. LinkedIn reportedly offers a conversion rate up to three times higher than Facebook and Twitter, so it’s definitely worthy of your resources. But the site is clearly lagging behind in terms of social features and interesting content. LinkedIn is definitely still in the game, but 2014 could be the year everything changes and another network takes centre stage.

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