The company markets its Visible Path acquisition as a non-intrusive way to make targeted contacts with key business people through contacts subscribers already have.

K.C. Jones, Contributor

January 31, 2008

3 Min Read

Business information portal Hoover's this week launched a social networking tool it hopes will help make introductions easier and link its users together.

Called Hoover's Connect, the free site moved out of beta testing on Wednesday and will compete with other business social networks like LinkedIn and ZeroDegrees. Hoover's said its subscribers can use the Connect tool for business insight and non-intrusive way to make targeted contacts with key business people through contacts subscribers already have.

"The combination of the underlying technology with the weighting mechanisms and privacy considerations make Hoover's Connect a leap beyond anything currently offered by either social networking or other business information services," Hoover's President David Mather said. "It is the first offering to integrate insight about who to contact with the tools to act on that insight, all from one location, without interrupting workflow, and while still protecting and preserving the privacy of users and end targets."

The launch coincides with Hoover's agreement to acquire Visible Path, the company that powered Hoover's Connect beta tests. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The Hoover's service is pretty straightforward as a social network tool. When subscribers research a company record, they can click a "Connect" button to find referral paths within their own network. The tool automatically highlights the strongest path. A Microsoft Outlook plug-in applies social networking algorithms to automatically rate relationship strength and help users build their networks. Users can also build their networks by inviting colleagues to join.

The Connect software scours calendars and e-mail to determine and rate the strength of relationships. The tool allows users to evaluate the potential of a networking opportunity and tailor communications accordingly.

To highlight the effectiveness of proper introductions, the company points to research from the University of Chicago and University of North Carolina business schools that found introductions made through trusted sources are up to 16 times more likely to yield responses than cold calls.

"Hoover's Connect keeps me in touch with past and current colleagues and allows me to build a network of new relationships that are relevant to my industry and experiences," Andy Sweis, senior business intelligence analyst for PepsiCo, said in a prepared statement. "The technology searches both my information and that of my colleagues to establish new relationships based on appropriate matches. Hoover's Connect saves me time and effort by eliminating the need to search manually for connections that might help form new, beneficial business relationships."

Hoover's said the service maintains privacy protections. Users can control what material is searched and e-mail content is never viewed or scanned, the company said. Users can also control who can access their network. And, they can remain cloaked or identify themselves.

"This sales companion finally unites the tasks of discovering 'who's crucial to your sale' with 'how to get them to answer your call," Chuck Richard, Outsell, Inc. VP and lead analyst, said in a prepared statement. "What's especially interesting is how Hoover's Connect taps such rich company insights and interlocking webs of network connections while also protecting your privacy with extensive controls on who gets access to what."

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