B2B Social Networking – Content Provider Strategies

Video: The trend is to empower B2B professionals to harvest value from their core professional relationships as well as to pull in their more multidimensional selves from social media online portals to help relationships become deeper more quickly and more effectively. The next generation of applications is likely to start mining social media content more effectively to provide alerts, trends, behaviors and other key indicators that can effect both relationships and transactions.

From Clara Shih’s AppExchange Blog

I’m in New York this week for the SIIA Information Industry Summit. I was on the B2B Social Networking panel this afternoon, alongside David Mather, President at Hoover’s; Bob Carrigan, CEO of IDG Communications; and Mike Dunn, Vice President of Hearst Interactive Media. The panel was moderated by Steve Sieck, President of SKS Advisors. Hoover’s happens to be an AppExchange content partner (in fact, here’s a link to their listing).

We had a wonderful discussion around the latest social networking trends and what they mean for content publishers. Specifically, we delved into five major threads of discussion. Here was my take on some of these core issues-

1. Convergence of applications and content on the web. The primary value of open web services APIs to businesses and end users has been the seamless integration across multiple services that more closely match business workflow than ever before possible. To this end, we are seeing a convergence of software applications and content/data/information. Users do not want to login to and maintain multiple isolated systems. They want a one-stop shop that will capture end-to-end all of their business processes and content requirements. Software as a service in particular is amenable to content partnership due to the common subscription model, versus the upfront license and maintenance model of traditional software. Case in point are all the content partners like Jigsaw, Dow Jones, and Thomson that have become an integral part of the AppExchange.

2. Closed, proprietary networks versus open networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn.
It remains to be seen whether proprietary networks such as Hoover’s Connect (a product of Hoover’s acquisition of Visible Path, announced today) and IDG Connect will ultimately win out over open general-purpose networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn. They are two very different models – in the first, publisher typically monetize through selling premium content services. In the latter, publishers build widgets to integrate in the social networking container and more likely than not generate revenue through ads.

Clarification (Made on Feb 1): Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Orkut, etc are arguably ‘closed’ networks themselves – what I meant by ‘open’ was open for anyone to join.

3. The role, importance, and feasibility of industry standards like Google OpenSocial.
Industry standards seem like a logical next move to prevent redundant work both on the part of developers/publishers as well as end users. OpenSocial, however elegant in theory, has yet to gain critical mass – moreover, there is concern that a single company (namely Google) developed this "industry standard" on their own. Data portability, though attractive to content publishers and owners, is not top of mind for social networking platforms, each of which has an incentive to "lock in" their users and content.

4. Paradigm shift from search-centric to social-centric content environment. I maintain that it is not so much a paradigm shift, but rather a paradigm expansion to enable more nuanced targeting. Every decade or so, we have seen a disruptive computing technology that fundamentally changes the way we work and conduct business. In the 70s it was mainframe computing. In the 80s it was the client-server and GUI model. In the 90s, it was all about the Internet. Today, it is about social networking and the ability to target not only on search behavior but also demographic information (people are surprisingly forthcoming in their social networking profile pages) as well as leverage social graphs and groups.

5. Best practices in "curation" of B2B social networks.
The three pillars for social networking success in my opinion are trust, openness, and engagement. Of course, trust and openness are often at odds with one another – as a publisher, how do you guarantee a baseline level of privacy and security while still maintaining an open model in which creative destruction can safely take place. As for engagement, I believe it entails critical mass of users and content, and intrinsic value of content and services, both from the outset as well as on an ongoing basis. Too many social networks were "one-week wonders" which initially had tremendous user sign-up growth but then failed to keep their user base engaged.

At salesforce, we are heavily invested in social networking technologies. CRM for one is arguably a social network of sorts among sales teams. We have also implemented a container for Google OpenSocial, which provides third-party app developers with all the scaffolding they need to build and ship a product.

The remaining efforts fall under three general categories. First, AppExchange is our online marketplace that connects customers and partners. Second, our Successforce and IdeaExchange web properties embody a strong social element – with IdeaExchange, for instance, we are crowdsourcing to our customers to solicit feedback for prioritizing product development. Last but not least, we have Salesforce to Salesforce, which is a really breakthrough idea if you think about it – instead of having end users as node entities, the connections in this case are being established between companies, say to co-sell into a deal, approve a contract, or even as simple as sharing marketing collateral.

I also spoke on behalf of Faceforce, the Facebook-Salesforce mash-up I developed last September that was the first enterprise application on the Facebook platform.

Social networking will only continue to increase in prominence and relevance, for two reasons- first, the ‘Facebook Generation’ will grow up and comprise an increasing portion of the workforce and company leadership. Second, enterprises are inherently social – whether it is relationships between employees, between a salesperson and customer, vendor and buyer, recruiter and candidate, etc – to this end, online social networking technologies rather than being completely novel are actually just better able to reflect real-world human behavior and interactions. So, it is not a matter of if social networking will permeate the enterprise or what the killers apps will be, but rather a matter of when it will become a core part of every enterprise application.

– Clara Shih, AppExchange Product Line Manager, Salesforce.com

The Information Industry Summit is the digital information industry’s flagship conference. It provides strategic guidance to senior business leaders representing publishers, content technology companies, bankers, analysts and press.