SXSW: Vertical Communities Seeing Growth

I attended a SXSW session yesterday called “Professions Go Social,” which looked at how new profession-based social networks have emerged to extend B2B social networking beyond LinkedIn, moderated by Altimeter Group’s Rebecca Lieb. Some of the networks are doing quite well.

For example, Jay Hallberg, the co-founder of Spiceworks, said they have built a community of more than 2 million SMB IT pros, supported by 1,500 advertisers.  Spiceworks designed a very user-friendly place where these pros can talk to IT vendors about what to buy, and also talk among each other. It’s sort of an iTunes for IT. Hallbert says there are no barriers put up to discourage IT pro engagement – no freemium tricks, no charge for charge for support, just totally free.

Another panelist, Kirk Simpson, is a co-founder of Wave, which makes small business financial software, but also launched the Wave Pro Network as a community for these professionals to connect with real professionals in accounting and bookkeeping.

One of the key points was that these specialized communities have been built with the unique workflows of their industries or professions in mind, something a LinkedIn can’t do. I had an opportunity to develop a proposal for a company that wanted to market to golf course superintendents, a niche community if there ever was one. Do they have their own vibrant online community? You bet they do, TurfNet! Their forum not only covers niche topics like irrigation system pressure monitoring, integrated with educational webinars, and with a mobile version for an audience often on the course rather than in an office.

The key with all these sites is to get to a point where a lot of pros feel like they need to be on them. From the in-depth conversations I had with golf course superintendents, I know Turfnet made it, and they actually use a paid membership model. Hallberg indicated that reaching three percent of the addressable workforce segment might be the point at which those positive network effects kick in.