The Best & Worst of Business Networks
Yesterday, I spoke with Ken Ross, the serial entrepreneur who has launched several successful software firms (e.g., Ross Systems, Pillar). Ken’s a really nice fellow and someone whose company and counsel I value.
I called Ken because I saw that he’s launched another firm, ExpertCEO. ExpertCEO was launched in April of this year and acts as place where CEOs can discretely discuss issues of importance with peers. They currently have some 600 CEOs as members. This is a business model I’ve seen before but too often firms that create such forums change their business model and the community dies/moves away.
Ken and I discussed this phenomenon and how many big and small social networks have changed their business models after capturing a wide user base. Once they violate the implicit understanding of the network, the users feel victimized or scammed. I know I’ve felt this repeatedly when social networks:
- sell my information to third parties - sell access to my information to unrelated third parties (e.g., recruiters, advertisers) - open up their networks to millions of new users that unfortunately have nothing in common with me - etc.
When these networks cease to be unique, special, focused and trusted, they lose their raison d’être.
So I put it to Ken about my concerns re: social networks and he responded with:
"You indicated you liked the concept of keeping these private social networks "pure" with quality conversations, realistic advertising and not "spamming" the members like (vendor name removed) does.
So - that's what we're about. We're 100% focused on providing value to our members, and by value, we really mean the quality of the conversations. We vet our membership to insure they're a CEO, COO, etc. And we monitor the conversations to make sure they're appropriate. By appropriate, we mean non-offensive and not overly self-promotional, and we've warned members who violate the latter (we haven't had any of the former, yet). Occasionally, we'll see a conversation that's "stupid", but we certainly can't vouch for the intelligence of our members, so we let that pass. And even less occasionally, we'll see something that we think might be stupid but that turns into a very interesting conversation.
We're very conscientious about emails to our members, but we do it twice a week - once is a digest summarizing the discussions that have occurred, and the second is an email we compose highlighting interesting areas on our site.”
Ken and I also compared the approaches of different networks.
One, PSVillage, is very focused on senior professional services executives. The membership is carefully monitored but the real value, in my opinion, comes from the Yahoo discussion group that is part of the membership. Colleagues fire off a question and peers respond with great insights.
In contrast, I recently signed up to two groups on LinkedIn that are overrun with headhunter solicitations, irrelevant requests from people seeking the most selfish things, and other uninviting and offensive behavior. I’m dropping these as they are waste of time and an insult to my intelligence.
I wish Ken well on this new adventure. I hope he keeps the discussion focused and vibrant (and I hope he’ll invite me to join someday!).