Recently, two forms of business social networking have emerged. The first type involves businesses hoping to capitalize on small business owners. This is accomplished by selling the small business owner products or services and allowing them to exchange questions and answers, as well as read published news that may affect their business. The second type of business social networking involves utilizing a more open web-space where anyone can ask business related questions.
This first type of business social networking mentioned can be referred to as a Small Business Social Forum. A great example of this is Open Forum (http://www.openforum.com). Open Forum is a website run by the credit card company, American Express (AMEX). The most important aspect that AMEX values in this type of social networking is the ability to provide its current customers with business help advice. An added benefit for AMEX is the website’s ability to attract new customers looking both for advice and finical options for their businesses. The site contains several main areas, including a news page with helpful articles about running a business, a business social network, as well as advice columns.
Businesses also have the option of setting up a social networking page. Anyone can view this page to find a business’s address, phone number, company size, founding date, and products or services offered. Any member of the open forum can contact the company for business reasons. Businesses of all sizes, including companies with anywhere from one to one thousand employees, are listed on the site. The online community is divided into sixteen different industries. This is useful because a business owner may need help on an industry specific topic or question, and can therefore turn to other businesses in that specific industry.
The second type of business social networking includes websites such as Yahoo Answers (http://answers.yahoo.com). Yahoo Answers has both a business and finance section. The questions asked on this website are often less targeted toward business owners, but can be and are still used to ask questions. This site has much more traffic than the Open Forum, and therefore, questions are answered more quickly. The following example can be considered as a demonstration of how the website works. A user asks a question and that question can be answered by any other user. The user who asked the question then chooses the best answer. The person with a best answer receives a ‘point.’ More points indicate that the particular user is more helpful in answering other people’s questions. Often, multiple users contribute adequate answers, which increases the effectiveness of the service. Because the question is posed to a crowd of people, this question/answer system is called, “crowd sourcing.”
Both These companies and many others are coming up with innovative solutions for business social networking. Business owners, like any other group, can find the advice they want over the Internet with the help of social networks built for them. Further research is needed to understand how these networks affect a business’s productivity through a more informed management.