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Business publishers venture more deeply into blogs, social networks

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It’s been a mixed bag lately for media companies that have expanded their digital networks. The Washington Post late last month shut down its 16-month-old blog ad network and around the same time ESPN.com cut ties with Specific Media and several other unspecified ad networks.

Jeff Burkett, director of ad innovations and client services for WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive, said in a Blogroll post that the company would stop taking on new blog members but would still support its current blog partners with ads on their respective sites and The Washington Post’s home page. ESPN said affiliating with ad networks no longer suits its business needs.

But b-to-b media players are sticking with digital networks. In October Mansueto Digital, the online unit of Inc. and Fast Company, debuted IncBizNet, an online business network targeting private companies. FastCompany.com followed suit in February with a new networking platform that allows readers to contribute to member blogs and converse with Fast Company editors. (The platform merged the Company of Friends, an online network that Fast Company launched in 1997, and FastCompany.com’s editorial content.)

Now, both Forbes.com and BusinessWeek.com are getting into the act.

Forbes.com is forging ahead with a new Business and Finance Blog Network, while BusinessWeek.com is partnering with social media network LinkedIn to create a social network for companies.

Forbes.com’s network will officially be rolled out in the next few weeks. It will feature blogs that cover banking, trading, hedge fund managers and affluent investing. Advertisers will be able to target business professionals engaged in these areas. So far, the network has nearly 500 bloggers in the mix. Each blog is vetted by Forbes editors.

Jim Spanfeller, president-CEO of Forbes.com, said ESPN’s move regarding ad networks “supports rather than negates what we’re doing.” He added that broad-based ad networks sell low-cost inventory, whereas the Forbes network will offer “a single stop” that provides advertisers with targeted sales opportunities.

Sarah Fay, CEO of ad agencies Carat and Isobar U.S, said b-to-b media companies ignore the growth of social media at their peril. “The voice of the buyer is taking on more and more significance [throughout the blogosphere] in terms of how people get information on products and services,” she said.

Fay added that b-to-b media companies that start blog/social media networks should not view them in a vacuum. “Blogs shouldn’t necessarily be judged as a stand-alone P/L,” Fay said. “I don’t think [Spanfeller] made this move just to create more revenue but to build loyalty and traffic on the whole site.”

BusinessWeek.com’s deal with LinkedIn differs somewhat from Forbes.com’s blog network.

Under the two-way partnership, BusinessWeek.com and Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor’s, are providing select company data for LinkedIn.com’s Company Profile feature, which debuted March 20. Users who click on the Company Profile feature find a business overview consisting of industry statistics provided by BusinessWeek and Capital IQ, plus information about that company from LinkedIn. (BusinessWeek and Standard & Poor’s are owned by McGraw-Hill Cos.)

In turn, BusinessWeek.com has added the Company Insider feature, through which users can view their professional contacts on LinkedIn at companies featured in BusinessWeek.com articles. The Company Insider feature, introduced March 10, is the first of several LinkedIn intelligent applications that will be integrated into BusinessWeek.com.

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