When I joined LinkedIn over two years ago it was to me a novelty, a business-to-business social network from which I occasionally received a query from another member asking a business question or, often, a question related to my hobbies and non-business interests. I was ambivalent about the value it represented.
Last year I joined FaceBook and setup my profile. I was curious to see what kind of business-to-business value I could gain from being on a social network, not a business social network. I was surprised to find so many business people seeking similar value in FaceBook.
This year I joined SalesSpider, and Xing, two business social networks. On Xing I have made business connections. On SalesSpider I have been deluged with promotional emails but have yet to get excited about the business value.
But there is no doubt in my mind that business users are buying into social networks. The numbers tell the story. In 2007, U.S. businesses spent $15 million in placing ads on social network sites. In 2008 that number has grown by 169% to $40 million. This is a drop in the bucket when compared to the total value of online advertising placement, but it reflects the growing opinion of business people that social networking has business value.
The chart below comes from the eMarketer U.S. study from which I have quoted the numbers that appear in the above paragraph. This study forecasts significant growth in business advertising on social networks, projecting advertising spending of $210 million by 2012.
This report has garnered a lot of electronic and traditional print coverage. If anything it underlines the value business is starting to see in using social networks to interact with employees, customers, prospects and the public.
There are hundreds of social networks on the Internet today. When you look up this topic on Wikipedia the numbers are constantly being updated. When you do a Google Search on B2B social networks blog commentaries dominate the results. And what is being talked about today in blogs varies from the inappropriateness of social networks in the business space to concerns about security and employee productivity, to discussions about how social networks can be used for knowledge sharing, collaboration, feedback, and as a support strategy to meet corporate objectives.
Evidence of the emergence of business social networking is pretty significant. There are growing number of software vendors building corporate social network applications. Lotus Quickr is IBM's latest foray into binding social networks with Lotus Notes applications. Microsoft SharePoint provides social networking tools that integrate with the Office Suite. Google has GoogleSites, designed to integrate with Google's application suite of online tools. And companies like ONEsite, Jive and Igloo, to name just a few, have developed proprietary business social network applications.
So what is the role of social networking in the business-to-business world? Well that depends on what the business goals are. In my next blog we will delve into those roles in some detail.