Technology

Social Networks Aim for Business Users (A.K.A. LinkedIn's Turf)

By / Nov 21, 2014 (Slack press photo)

LinkedIn remains atop the social-networking heap, but now more than ever, it’s facing new types of competition—including some from a little company called Facebook.

Sorry, LinkedIn. Your time as the only professional social media hub on the block may be coming to a close.

The business social network has long been a force to be reckoned with. But it suddenly finds itself with a batch of new competitors that all hope to improve on various aspects of the experience of communicating, both among interoffice users in a single company and those doing wider business networking. A few highlights:

Slack isn’t slacking: Perhaps the firm garnering the most buzz among business users is Slack, a chat app that combines the party-room vibe of old-school Internet Relay Chat (IRC) conversations with the automation touches of IFTTT and the ability to tie into modern apps such as Dropbox and SoundCloud. The app is officially the fastest-growing piece of business software ever, with a valuation of $1.12 billion, according to The Verge. Currently, more than 30,000 business teams use the software.

Facebook gets in on the fun: In recent weeks, Facebook has been testing a new product called Facebook at Work, a network focused on interoffice connections, though it allows users to separate their personal accounts from their business ones. The Financial Times, which first reported on the news [registration required], noted that the company faces something of an uphill battle to win over business audiences because many offices have blocked access to social-networking sites. “To become an integral part of office life, Facebook will need to win the trust of companies and organizations, which will expect to be able to conduct confidential conversations and share important information on the site, without it falling into the hands of rivals,” the article stated.

A coworking space goes virtual: Perhaps it’s not a surprise that Facebook wants in on the business space, but what might be is that a membership-based coworking firm wants to turn its personal connections into a form of online social networking. Wired reports that WeWork hopes to bring its offline vibe online with WeWork Commons, a social network that would open up beyond its current entrepreneur and freelancer audience. The well-focused community would allow for a higher level of conversation, though it comes at a price—a steep $45 per month. But that’s how the company wants it. “Our goal is not to build the biggest social network in the world,” WeWork Chief Product Officer Kakul Srivastava told the magazine. “Our network is for and about a particular kind of person. It’s not for everyone.”

Get a LinkedIn vibe from your Gmail: None of these things, however, speak to a key point of LinkedIn’s appeal—the ability to cultivate far-afield connections. The startup Conspire wants to help you build up that networking prowess using a more old-school form of social networking—your inbox. The tool offers easy analytics, but its key feature is a search tool that lets you see the degrees of separation between yourself and someone you might want to meet. “We want to understand who knows each other but also how strong those connections are,” company founder Alex Devkar told TechCrunch last month. “Looking through email, we can see the length of an interaction and the frequency.” It’s the difference between a quality connection and one that doesn’t mean very much—something that’s not easy to detect on LinkedIn.

Any social networks focused on the business space you’ve been keeping an eye on lately? Tell us about them in the comments.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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