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B2B Social Networking: Opportunity For SMBs

Company.com uses Facebook, Twitter to help SMBs save, make, and find money.
Bill Wade's brainchild--Company.com--is only about a year old, but he's already got 14 million businesses listed in his directory. Company.com offers SMBs a three-in-one package: It's a marketplace for SMB services; it's a directory of businesses and the professionals that populate them; and, most important, it's a social networking platform.

There are more than 50 products and services in Company.com's marketplace, and they include everything from transaction processing and web hosting to microloans and payroll systems. One partner that often gets referrals from Company.com is Telfair Capital, an Atlanta-based private lender. "Because of Company.com's social media expertise, we don't have to spend a lot of money building an internal salesforce," said Donald McGraw, managing partner at Telfair. "Our CRM systems talk to each other. We update our leads from them on a weekly basis, and it's amazing to see how far they've come in the B2B social media space."

Another Company.com partner is www.gosmallbiz.com, owned and founded by NFL Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton. Since his glory days on the gridiron, Tarkenton has started 20 businesses "from the dirt," he says, including an insurance company and a technology outfit in partnership with IBM.

Today, the former football pro focuses his efforts on giving a voice to the really small businesses (1 to 20 employees) that he believes comprise the bedrock of American enterprise. The company's mission statement, according to its website, is to "help entrepreneurs run and grow their businesses, by providing access to a comprehensive body of knowledge and tools targeted specifically at the micro business." This fall, Tarkenton will debut monthly online training courses for small businesses. "We'll be bringing these folks the greatest thinking today in the small-business arena," said Tarkenton in an interview. "They'll learn about social media, SEO, financing--everything they need to know to make sound decisions. We're bringing technology to that Ma and Pa shop in your town."

Meanwhile, SMBs can use Company.com's directory to locate potential suppliers, partners, and customers. They can also do a search of their own business and claim their profile. Once claimed, a profile can be customized and used to promote a business' product or service.

The driving force behind Company.com is its social network. "One of our main goals is to offer SMBs an environment that allows them to find new customers and make their businesses grow," said founder Wade. "The key is providing a forum where they can share, communicate, collaborate, and recommend each other. I think Yelp has proven that when it comes to making a decision about what products to buy, what restaurants to eat in, what books to read--you name it--there's nothing like a recommendation from somebody you know and trust."

Many, if not most, of Company.com's customers, 99% of which are SMBs, are exploring social media to improve their marketing and woo customers. But Wade cites how difficult it can be to actually cash in on those efforts.

Here are 10 tips he offers SMBs that want to make social networking pay off.

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