The network, unveiled June 24, offers small business owners the opportunity to network among themselves and with their customers.
“Over the last 12 to 18 months, we've seen an increasing number of small businesses going online, joining communities, and starting to network,” said Alex Craddock, head of small business marketing at Visa. “We want to position ourselves as a valued and trusted business partner; we're single-minded in our mission to help them succeed.”
In addition, the network offers value-added items, such as a $100 Facebook Ad credit for the first 20,000 US-based companies that join, free resources like Google Docs and other Google products, and editorial coverage, care of The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), that is tailored to the inquiries of network members. A topic is posted every two weeks and a story is crafted by a WSJ journalist based on issues raised during online discussion.
“Networking is really the life blood of [small businesses],” said Craddock. “It's very much driven to help businesses grow. [And] it's emotional. Many small business owners are single [owners], so they don't have that kind of emotional network around them.”
Targeting a group that is so large and diverse (geographically and by business category) in many ways poses a challenge. Craddock, though, says it is “mitigated” by the word-of-mouth buzz being generated by Facebook Pages, which launched in November, allowing businesses to create a page just like individual users.
“There are 80,000 small businesses already on Facebook,” he said. “They're already there [and] they already see the value of it as a marketing channel.”