Social networks not meeting SMB needs

BT Tradespace, LinkedIn et al should guide customers by the hand

Companies offering business-oriented social media platforms are failing to meet the needs of small and medium businesses (SMBs), by believing that having a profile is enough to attract new customers.

Ian Hendry, founder and CEO of B2B social media platform WeCanDo.biz, told CBR that the likes of LinkedIn and BT's recently revamped Tradespace platform are not helping SMBs to get the best out of social network sites.

"Arguably those sites don't do as much as they could to address the real need that businesses have," he said. "BT Tradespace and LinkedIn are great for getting advice; you can ask the community there and get answers. But small businesses aren't short of advice - it's everywhere for them. What they don't find so readily are people who will guide potential customers by the hand."

Small businesses should be using the likes of Twitter and Facebook as an opportunity to attract and engage with new customers.

"It amazes me that sites like LinkedIn and Tradespace really don't do anything to help broker introductions between people who are buying and people who are selling. It's not just about putting your profile up there. It's not just about 'being there', you need to be proactive and you need access to the tools that can broker useful introductions," Hendry said.

WeCanDo.biz offers small businesses the chance to forge new relationships with potential customers. Hendry claims that the company is approaching social networking from a different angle to other firms in the same space.

"It's easy for small businesses to go to Tradespace, fill out a profile and that's social networking done," he said. "We've tried to put ourselves in the situation where we have an answer to those guys who have social networking apathy. We don't actually talk too much about social networking. Networking is not an aim in itself; it's a means to an end. We refer to it as a sales lead network because that's what small businesses are interested in. No else is putting to tools in place to facilitate those introductions."

Hendry cites research that claims around 70 per cent of people on Twitter use the service for the first month and then stop as proof that many people and companies are not approaching social networking in the right way.

"It's not surprising that so many business people are interested in social networking but just don't get it. For social media it's hard for people to see what they're getting, what it is they're doing and how participating in it gets them closer to business. That's because they don't get anything out of it if they're not using it in the right way. Companies need multiple accounts for different needs, for example one for complaints and one for sales," he told CBR.

The company's approach, Hendry said, is to make social networks a way for businesses to build new contacts rather then connect with people or other companies they already know. "There's no point having thousands of contacts if you're not doing something with them," he said. "So the emphasis right from the start was on there being a point to the networks you're building."

Members of WeCanDo.biz build their profile around what the company does, rather than the individuals involved. The site then uses keywords to match businesses with potential customers, based on what they have listed as their main business needs. The site also uses customer endorsements so users can provide feedback on the service they have received.

WeCanDo.biz recently unveiled the results of its second Business Networking Trends Survey. The survey found that while nearly a quarter of small businesses are using Twitter for business networking, 39 per cent are wary of using Facebook for business reasons and refuse to add business contacts as friends.

The survey also revealed that 64 per cent of businesses signed up to social network sites to get more business, ahead of meeting interesting new people (11 per cent), sharing knowledge and other resources (6 per cent) and finding out what people were saying about the business (5 per cent). Career development was only 3 per cent.

"Fundamentally, LinkedIn is about career development, and it has 50 million members on the back of that," Hendry said. "But if there are potentially that many people sold on LinkedIn as a career development tool this means there are eight times that many people who could be interested in a site that is primarily about introducing people who are going to do business with you. That's where our emphasis is."