Lots of social networking buzz at ABM event

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A high-interest topic at last month's ABM Spring Meeting was social networking, also called social media. Among the questions explored were: How can user-generated communities of interest coexist with the more neutral journalistic model of media? What is the place for social networking as content within b-to-b media Web sites? If a b-to-b media company wants to get into social networking, where does it start? How can social networking generate revenue for b-to-b media companies?

During the Smaller Publishers Seminar on the opening day of the meeting, Paul Gerbino, publisher of ThomasNet Industrial Newsroom, said: "Social networking has helped us go deeper with the professional information we offer our audience. As a hypothetical example, someone who is an expert on nuclear physics and how it applies to submarines could be blogging from a submarine itself."

Eric Shanfelt, president and founder of eMedia Strategist and former senior VP-e-media at Penton Media, said that social networking changes the role of the b-to-b publisher. "Our role is to host a dialogue amongst all of our various constituencies and to connect them together," he said. "I believe [the b-to-b media companies] can make money doing that."

During a session on "The Digital Opportunity," Aaron Kahlow, managing partner at Web site services company BusinessOnLine, said, "I am a big proponent of social media.

"The Web was designed from the beginning as a two-way communication tool. Social media is the ultimate manifestation of that. Even though publishing started out with one-way communication, social media will change all of it—and we're never going backward."

Kahlow advised his audience to test social media by participating in it as users as well as by launching social media capabilities on their sites.

Monetizing social networking was the theme of a breakfast session. Moderator Malcolm Netburn, chairman-CEO of Communications Data Services, set the stage by saying, "Social networking is a revolution in the digital space. It allows us to create deep vertical communities of buyers and sellers, which is the manifestation of our long and successful history as b-to-b publishers of bringing buyers and sellers together."

"Old business models don't work with this new way of creating content," added panelist Jim Fowler, CEO of Jigsaw Data Corp., a start-up with 5.8 million electronic business cards in which all data are contributed by its users. "We have a 'play or pay' model," he explained. "Members get points for adding or updating contact information, and they can use those points to get access to new people. But if they don't want to play, they have to pay."

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