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Hoover’s launches b-to-b social networking service

Online business content provider Hoover’s Inc. has launched a social networking service for the professional market that identifies an individual’s referral paths for a prospective business contacts, highlighting the strongest path within the user’s network.

“We know that when a sales person is facilitated by a trusted source, the likelihood of setting up a meeting — and ultimately fording a business relationship — increases,” said Jeff Guillot, EVP of products and technology at Hoover’s.

The company also agreed to acquire Visible Path, the company that has been powering Hoover’s beta program for the past year. Terms of the deal were undisclosed.

The Connect program, available to all Hoover’s subscribers, identifies users’ strongest relationships by evaluating their Outlook systems such as e-mail and calendars. It then assesses the strength of those connections and rates them. Hoover’s privacy settings give the user full control over what is and what is not searched; a user’s e-mail content is never viewed or scanned.

According to Guillot, adoption of the product is growing rapidly. Coming out of the beta phase, the company had tens of thousands of people register with Connect. This number was growing at a 20% rate, he estimated. Of those users, Guillot estimated that about 3 million potential business contacts had been identified.

Users can build their networks by inviting colleagues to join or through an Outlook plug-in that applies unique social networking algorithms to automatically rate relationship strength.

“The combination of the underlying technology with the weighting mechanisms and privacy considerations make Hoover’s Connect a leap beyond anything currently offered by either social networking or other business information services,” said David Mather, president at Hoover‘s, in a statement. “It is the first offering to integrate insight about who to contact with the tools to act on that insight, all from one location, without interrupting workflow, and while still protecting and preserving the privacy of users and end targets.”

Guillot echoed this sentiment saying Hoover’s clients were “learning to leverage the business relationships” they could initiate and strengthen through the combination use of Hoover’s b-to-b database and the new Connect service.

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