Unless you enforce a strict selectivity policy, there's a good chance your LinkedIn network has some significant percentage of complete strangers who may never be able to help you professionally--or who may, and you'd never know it.
New mobile app Broadli aims to rein in the perpetual disorganization of professional social networks, helping people find those connections, or connections of connections, who can help them most, and vice versa. Created by New Zealand-born entrepreneur Claudia Batten and Alessandra Lariu, cofounder of global women's digital marketing network SheSays and one of Fast Company's Most Creative People 2010, Broadli is an attempt, says Batten, to "digitize serendipity"--that is, use networks better to increase the chances of connecting with the right person at the right time.
Broadli, available in the App Store for iOS now, and in the Google Play store for Android in the coming weeks, taps into a user's LinkedIn network and has two main user-defined features. First, the app helps users organize the members of their network into four categories--Inspired, Dormant, Don't Know, Want To Know. Then, users can post a "mission," or need, to their most trusted network, and the app's algorithm helps identify the people most likely to be of help based on who and what they know. Conversely, users can scroll through their Inspired network on Broadli and browse missions they may be able to help with.
"What it basically does is make your network work for you," says Lariu. "You have all these networks that have 10,000 people connected, but Broadli will show you the three that will really help you with this thing that you’re doing. It can be something small like 'I need a venue,' or 'I need an introduction to the VP of GE.'"
"It’s been very much of my background that I jumped from career to career," says Batten, who began in commercial law and moved on to found two successful digital advertising startups, including Massive Incorporated, which was sold to Microsoft in 2006. "When you’re in that mode of hopping around, you want to be able to network on a higher level than we’re able to do now. You can pick through each of your networks and guess, but you may be missing something that you’re connected to."
While Broadli isn't necessarily billed as a networking app for women, it was designed by women with a non-linear, relationship-based sensibility. "What would Facebook look like if a female designed it?" says Batten. "Non-linear, organic. It would revolve around circles with your image."
"From a design perspective, I wanted something intuitive, like if I don’t remember someone’s name but I remember their face, how can we bring that to the front?" says Lariu. "We started thinking, 'What can we add from our feminine perspective that’s going to make this networking app amazing?' The design is something, but also the idea that for Broadli to work there has to be a smart algorithm that helps you identify the people who are going to help you. So we do some machine filtering, but we’re also doing something unique called human filtering--if I know what you need to do in your mission, I can help the machine select people that you should meet."
Batten emphasizes that the app connects trusted networks with trusted networks, cutting down on the time and uncertainty of sending a bunch of well-crafted emails or broadcasting a need to the masses.
"When you have a meeting with someone who you really like and they refer you to so and so, you write long emails that can take half your day," says Batten. "When you’re really in a trusted network with someone, you can say you both rock, make it happen. Similarly, when someone reaches out via LinkedIn you don’t know if you should help them. But with Broadli you already know they’re trusted. Our mantra: don’t be sleazy."
Another feature of Broadli is the Impact Score, which measures how active you are as a facilitator.
"One thing I learned coming here as a Kiwi is that there's this culture around 'how can I help you?' and it surprised me," says Batten. "We're really reinforcing a 'help other people and it comes back to you' mentality, and we can really create efficiency."