Can Alignable Build ‘LinkedIn for SMBs’?
September 22, 2014 | Contributed by: Greg Sterling
A new startup Alignable aims to create a B2B social network for small business owners. Part Facebook, part LinkedIn, the site seeks to be a place that business owners can find support and unbiased advice to help overcome the isolation that often accompanies running a small business.
I spoke to co-founder and former ConstantContact executive Eric Groves last week about the site and its ambitions.
Alignable launched in January of this year. There are members now in all 50 states and Canada reflecting more than 3,000 communities. Groves did not disclose the precise number of SMBs participating or active on the site but says that growth has happened so far without any formal marketing by Alignable.
The company has relied on SEO, word of month and viral invitations to gain members. After SMBs sign up they’re asked to send invitations to nearby businesses and build their networks accordingly. Users have been conditioned to do this for several years by other social sites so it probably won’t feel too aggressive or intrusive.
Each business has a profile page and is asked to enhance that with pictures/graphics, product and services descriptions, promotions and information about upcoming events. Groves hopes that by building local business networks they can become more effective as marketers and collaborate for mutual benefit.
The site has a general feed listing content, questions and other information from local businesses. There’s also a private groups capability as well.
Even though Alignable is a B2B social network it does offer a few tools for B2C promotions. (My guess is that more will be on the way.) The current focus of those tools is a town calendar that changes monthly and lists promotions and events for all member businesses in a given community. It’s essentially an SEO vehicle.
The screen shot above shows a search result for “Acton MA events.” The fourth link from the top is Alignable’s town calendar.
When users click on the link they’re taken to a newspaper-style page that lists events and promotions from Alignable SMB members in that community. Member promotions can also be automatically distributed to Facebook and other social sites. Facebook content can be reciprocally posted on Alignable as well.
Given the success in gaining a foothood in all these communities without any formal marketing, Alignable seems to have momentum. There may be pent-up demand for this kind of forum and community. Most SMBs have a presence on LinkedIn but other than groups, it doesn’t really offer a way for business owners to learn from each other and share information in a satisfying way.
While the conventional wisdom is that there isn’t room for yet another social network, people have been discussing something like Alignable for years. Business owners are hungry from unbiased information from one another — especially people in their own industry (Alignable is aware of the need for vertical groups.)
The developing success of Nextdoor, which is a consumer-facing network, has proven that there is room for more specialized networks that fulfill unmet needs in the market. Alignable would be a natural acquisition target for a Nextdoor or LinkedIn (even YP). However that kind of discussion is quite premature.
Alignable may or may not be able to pull off its ambitious goal of being a LinkedIn for SMBs but I think the company has identified an opportunity that has existed for some time. It now needs to develop it carefully and scrupulously deliver value to members with an eye toward the potential long term value being created.
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