Professionals Network Digitally

InternetBlack Web sites have been hit or miss. Just think about the long list?Damon Dash made a big splash with to lukewarm reaction?GlobalGrind, done by Russell Simmons via a venture capital deal, is hanging on. Then you have and (founded by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. as a division of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, LLC), neither of which is fully black-owned. There are plenty of hip-hop social networking sites thriving— <http://thriving—> , <> <> , There are sites for black techies such as <> , though is no more. But for the black professionals, there are far and few between digital outlets such as–until now, according to the founder of <> ??? is looking to become the place where black professionals meet and mingle. And while principals of the recently launched site say it is not comparing itself to Facebook or LinkedIN, they want to become THE place for blacks to network.?Launched just a month ago, the Chicago-based site boasts nearly 50,000 members, says founder/CEO James Parker.??

“We don?t think that people will use Blackbook instead of FB or LinkedIN. That simply will not happen,” explains Parker. “One thing I believe is that African-Americans do not like being told,? ?This is the only site for you.? Or ?This is the alternative site you need to be on.? No one wants to be pigeonholed into a category. But we do believe that people will use Blackbook because it is new and was designed to create a better way to connect our communities. Creating a way where professionals and business owners can meet, support one another, and find relevant information in a social networking site with features from other popular sites seems to be ?liked? by thousands of people in our communities all over the country so far. And we?ve been in touch with bloggers in South Africa and Canada who simply love the site. Blackbook can and will become a place where minority designers will be able to feature their apps and ideas. Blackbook could very well be the paradigm shift for minorities in technology…Again, this is just the beginning of Blackbook.”??

Digital media consultant and on-line personality?Lauren DeLisa Coleman agrees, “I don’t think it’s a zero sum game. I think it would be both LinkedIn and this to exchange conversation/support about issues, perhaps particular to Black execs in high levels. The site could maybe help facilitate HR diversity research needs in the long run as well.?It is another avenue to increase opportunity,” she points out.??

What makes?Blackbook different, says Parker, is that it also?includes a nearly 100% click thru Home Page that gives its members access to site news and blogs, upcoming features.

?According to Greg Greenlee, co-owner and co-founder of Blacks In Technology ( <> ), Blackbook sounds like a sound idea–especially socially. “Over the years I think black people have begun believing that being accepted within corporate America means having to disassociate themselves with belonging to networks that bring solidarity to the black community and have thus become disconnected from community,” says Greenlee. ?This has a negative effect on the younger generation. We need to notice and recognize each other and each other?s accomplishments in the professional world. It allows us to show the younger generation that succeeding in this country as a Black professional is doable.”

??Online places for people to network are all well and good, but what gives them lasting power is revenue, and Parer says he has the formula for success.??

“As with nearly any social networking site, Blackbook will rely on ad spending in the beginning. But what makes Blackbook unique from a site like Facebook for advertisers are two major differences in how we get their product/brand in front of our members. For one, Blackbook has a true ?home page? for its members. Think how popular Yahoo or MSN is with advertisers and people who make it their home page. Their home pages make up a major portion of their revenue. I can?t go into detail about upcoming updates on the Blackbook site concerning the home page, but it will include live news feeds and the ability for our members to interact with other members and with advertisers,” Parker explains his strategy. “The second major difference is the size of our banner ads on the site. We offer advertisers a large piece of real estate on each member?s page as well as the home page. Studies have shown that people do not find large banner ads intrusive at all and they catch the attention of viewers within seconds of being displayed. A company like AT&T or Verizon could reach professionals and business owners on Blackbook by simply creating a free profile page and listing a classified ad about their products and then couple that with a large banner ad inviting people to visit their pages, become a friend and give feedback about their products, service, etc….There are so many more ways small and large companies can benefit from the tools we provide by being on Blackbook than they could on other sites.”??

According to Greenlee, Blackbook has to be more than just a hip site. It has to continually lure professionals. “They have to give the black community something that they feel they can?t do without on a continual basis. They need to keep the site relevant and stay true to why they created the site in the first place. It can?t stop with just Web site form meet-ups. Don?t just connect black professionals just for the sake of connecting them,” advises Greenlee.” Act upon the fact that they are now connected. For instance let the users help to build the community by providing relevant information to move black professionals forward.”??

?Coleman says it would be best for Blackbook to be?in the game for the long haul and to venture out to other forms of media, rather than sell once it becomes profitable. “I think that Black entrepreneurs could take a cue from the founder of Groupon and hold out a bit and not exit as quickly just for the money.?It’s important to use TV platforms to speak about the platform and command respect and recognition (i.e. “expert” commentator on CNN, etc.),” says Coleman. “Pace it and hire a good publicist to promote.?We (now) all know the face of the founder of Facebook and Twitter, let’s start to see the faces of the Black founders more in order to maintain and extend the buzz. It will only create greater value in the long term.?These companies are simply being sold too quickly rather than simply coaxing in greater investment and building them out.”