Visa, Facebook unveil social network for small businesses

First 20,000 businesses to sign up for new service get $100 Facebook Ads credit

Visa Tuesday unveiled the Visa Business Network, an application built on Facebook to help businesses network and drive new business -- while generating US$2 million in advertising revenue for Facebook.

The new Visa application will also allow small business owners use social networking techniques to find and connect with peers and potential advisers from the 80,000 colleagues already using Facebook, Visa said. It also will allow member companies to identify and target new customers.

To help spur use of the network, Visa announced that the first 20,000 US-based businesses joining the network will get a $100 Facebook Ads credit.

Antonio Lucio, chief marketing officer of Visa, noted in a Facebook video that the network is designed to be a one-stop resource to help small businesses expand their customer base and exchange ideas with peers.

"It is designed to be driven by its participants," he said. "They will shape content and tell us where they want to go with the site. The Visa Business Network will flourish only with the community's input."

In addition to its work with Facebook, Visa partnered with Google so network users can access Google Docs, Google Sites and Google Calendar applications from within Facebook.

Visa also partnered with the Wall Street Journal's marketing group to allow network members to "Ask the Experts" about various topics, and with Entrepreneur magazine to gain access to its small business gurus. In addition, Visa's partnerships with All Business, Forbes, Fast Company and Microsoft will provide users with access to small-business focused news feeds, videos, blogs and other pertinent content, Visa said.

Dan Rose, vice president of business development at Facebook, said that instead of the traditional marketing paradigm where businesses push information out to their customers, members of social networks can share information about businesses they like with their friends or social graph. "A business can also market its presence on Facebook by advertising it to Facebook's users in a highly targeted way based on the information generated in a user's profile," Rose said.

The potential influx of advertising money comes after Facebook flubbed its roll out late last year of Beacon, an advertising service that tracked user activities on third-party partner sites and reported information about purchases to the users' Facebook friends.

Facebook came under withering criticism from its users and privacy advocates alike when a security researcher revealed that the ad system tracks user activities on third-party partner sites -- including the activities of people who never signed up with Facebook, along with former users who deactivated their accounts. Beacon captures data on what users do and buy on the external sites and sends it back to Facebook.

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Heather Havenstein

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