Visa, the credit card provider, today launched the Visa Business Network on Facebook. They bill it as the “first-ever application dedicated to connecting small businesses on Facebook.”
The Visa Business Network is a free application within Facebook. Most Facebook applications are pretty limited, simply plugging in some little bit of functionality into your Profile page or letting you blast out messages (sometimes annoying) to all your Facebook friends.
The Visa Business Network is much more ambitious and business-oriented. Think of it as a social network within a social network (Facebook).
When you join the Visa Business Network you get access to a special Visa-branded section within Facebook designed for small businesses.
Highlights of the Visa Business Network include:
- Resource Center — gives you access to videos, podcasts and articles from Entrepreneur and other sources. More intriguingly, you get access to Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Sites and Google Maps. If you don’t currently use those tools, you can sign up. If you are an existing user, you can log in to them from within the network within Facebook. For instance, I’m an existing user of Google Calendar and Google Maps, and it immediately found my Google Maps listing for my business, as well as my Google Calendar.
- Business Finder — gives you the ability to search for and network with other small businesses in Facebook. Example: businesses that fill out a profile on the Visa Business Network can choose to provide such information as industry, number of employees, location, business age, owner’s gender, whether the business is home based, office based or online, and other data. You will be able to search for other businesses having such characteristics. You can then “Add Associates” to your network — similar to the “Add a Friend” feature in basic Facebook.
- Admin Panel and Messaging Center — gives you the ability to see your business network activity in one place (called Back Office), and send and receive messages with business contacts.
It is free to join. You do not need to be a Visa credit card holder.
There are 80,000 small businesses that have already set up a Facebook business page, out of 80 million users. According to Alex Craddock, Head of Small Business Marketing for Visa, “Right now it’s not so easy to find small businesses on Facebook to network with. With the Visa Business Network you will be able to search for other businesses with greater detail.”
According to Craddock, one of the key reasons Visa decided to create the network with Facebook is based on Forrester research from earlier this year predicting 20% – 33% growth in social media among SMBs. Rather than creating a new online destination for small businesses to have to go to, Visa wanted to offer tools and networking in a place where small businesses were already gathering, i.e. on Facebook.
Visa is giving the first 20,000 U.S. based small businesses that sign up a $100 Facebook ad credit. As soon as you join the Network, you will get an email back with a coupon code you can claim, to run ads on Facebook.
Content is everywhere these days, so I’m not sure that the content alone will be a large draw. But the Business Finder functionality could be promising for networking and prospecting — at least among businesses active in Facebook. Key question: will businesses include enough descriptive information about their own businesses so that others can find them to connect?
Visa is investing heavily with subsidized Facebook advertising, and the free ad credits should convince business owners to at least try it and in turn help spread word of this new Network. If nothing else, the Visa Business Network will have a branding benefit — meaning it will help spread the Visa brand within Facebook.