Social and Professional Network Sites

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As social network sites become more popular and valued ― consider that Microsoft’s $240 million investment in Facebook equals only 1.6 percent of its $15 billion market valuation ― the design and development of new sites adopts elements of the now familiar MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn, often for niche groups.

“Many features of these sites are similar, but their user bases, content and purpose vary widely,” said Suzanne Minassian, IBM’s Lotus Connections product manager. Lotus Connections is social software platform for businesses. “Focusing on core technical offerings and user experience is often how sites can attract users and differentiate themselves.”

Ted Hartley and his co-founders in Atlanta-based are leveraging the buzz around social media and Web 2.0 tools to address the changing careers of CRM professionals. The site features considerable content across multiple media ― CRM news radio, blogs, podcasts, news feeds, polls and surveys ― as well as a career center, virtual networking that’s a little more intimate than LinkedIn, and education and training, including certification in applied CRM strategy and vendor-specific modules for product use.

“There are more opportunities available to CRM professionals” now than in the recent past, said Hartley. “We have taken a look at that and where customer experience models are going and built our platform on four Cs: community, content, competency and careers. It’s a social network but not that exclusively.”

Segmentation’s Second Wind
Segmenting the marketplace by SIC code or a granularity within it is nothing new. “Social networking sites that have been in the market as far back as the late 1990s grew around a niche offering,” Minassian said. “Some were focused on diversity groups, some on attracting a particular age demographic and others on establishing a community around a common interest — for example, sharing photos, discovering music, or at IBM, practice and interest groups.”

For Hartley and his partners, including CRM at the Speed of Light author Paul Greenberg and Chris Carfi, making the business equivalent of Facebook for CRM professionals is just the start. launched in September at the Gartner CRM Summit, and the trio expects to launch sites in mid- to late-2008 specifically for certified financial advisors and certified public accountants.

CRM professionals are the guinea pigs because the network’s founders have roots in the community. “We want to get this right and build the capability to roll out to other sites so we don’t have to custom-build each site,” Hartley said. “We will build teams for the platform and leverage those skills with new sites.”

Developers and designers are working in tandem to create special interaction experiences for each end-user group: CRM solutions providers, CRM professionals and CRM influencers.

Beyond Square One
“At the core, social networking sites offer establishment of personal network, display personal information as users indicate and [feature] the ability to navigate a social network through connections,” Minassian said. “Many sites also include enhanced interactions — for example, public-facing comments and messages.”

“We used certainly the basic features and functions we know are valuable to members of social networks,” said Hartley. “But we also added opportunities. They don’t need the silliness of posting goofy pictures, but people do need their own space to dedicate to posting their articles, white papers and best practices and promoting themselves and their credentials to enrich their experience.”

“Personal value is key to attracting users,” Minassian said. User bases and interactions keep users coming back. “Sites must provide users with a look at what’s new, what’s of interest now and keep their sites fresh and interesting.” already relies on comments and messages from its members ― not only to work out the kinks of the beta version but also to enhance the network experience.

“ is built by CRM professionals for CRM professionals,” said Hartley. “We really want to be the feet on the street. We gather input from the community and use it to promote CRM and set standards.”

In terms of ongoing site development, community editors ― leading professionals from each segment of the targeted market ― will lead blogging and content posting particular to their expertise. And the network will employ an old pro to blog, commenting on 20 to 30 of the most relevant and trafficked blogs on CRM sales, service and marketing for a “Cliffs Notes of blogs in the CRM industry,” he said.

Kelly Shermach is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y., who frequently writes about technology and data security. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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