The Channel's Stake in Social Networking

Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are often viewed as online playgrounds for students. However, they are being increasingly used as important business tools by channel players.

Social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Linked-in and others have really captured the attention of mainstream media during the past few years. They've also proved a hit with college students and special interest groups who use them to advance their agendas. (Even the activist group MoveOn.org now asks its members which social networking sites they favor and how often they access them.) But it's clear the popularity of such networks has moved beyond the high school and college set. They are being used increasingly as bonafide business tools. And it appears this phenomenon could play a significant role in helping the channel weather any forthcoming economic slowdown.

Such networks are already being used by channel partners to share contacts, strategic information and best-of-breed practices. Distributor Ingram Micro, for example, recently set up its own social network called The Zone, which connects VAR members of its special Venture Tech Network. Ingram established Venture Tech a decade ago as a sort of elite group of resellers who source their products from Ingram. The group of several hundred meets twice a year to swap ideas and business insights. The Zone was established as a networking vehicle that would enhance the level of communication among VentureTech members. The notion is that sales managers, technical staff members and others within VentureTech's VAR membership will use it as a tool to improve business. It also could be used as a collaborative tool for partners seeking help on providing sophisticated customer solutions. And some Ingram officials figure it makes sense to open the new network to the vendor community. The idea just got rolling at the last VentureTech meeting in March, but it seems to be gaining traction.

Meanwhile, other VARs are using social networking sites to find new customers and search for potential business opportunities. Some are also using the sites to recruit new employees.

Of course, not everyone loves social networking. Some companies, in fact, have their IT departments block access to sites like MySpace and Facebook because they generate more Internet traffic than fantasy sports sites. Even so, it appears the channel can make good use of the social networking movement, especially if a downturn spurs demands to cut expenses and develop new business models. It may take a while for social networking to evolve into true business networking. Even so, it appears to have a future role in channel deal-making.

TAGS: Facebook,search,social networking,networking,MySpace

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