How does a big stodgy business with a fairly boring product leverage social media? Easy. They create a new and growing social community of entrepreneurs. Ideablob is that community. Launched byAdvanta, one of the largest providers of business credit cards to small businesses, Ideablob is a great example of how B2B companies are leveraging social media to build a vibrant community of followers all while boosting the Advanta brands to their target audience.
When I first heard about Ideablob a few months back, I was pretty skeptical. The pitch for the community described it as a place for small businesses and entrepreneurs to come share their business ideas and gather feedback. That sounds good in theory, but I kept wondering what would happen the first time someone posted a ground breaking idea only to have it snatched up and launched by a lurker with more capital.
I found myself asking why I would want to share my ideas with other people who were looking to make money online? Without much other thought, I forgot about the site.
Then I stumbled across Ideablob a second time last month. I was reading a blog post written by an entrepreneur who was promoting his entry in the monthly Ideablob contest. I hadn't heard about their contest, so I headed back to the site to check it out.
I was intrigued by what I found. In less than six months, Ideablob has blossomed into a community where small business and entrepreneurs "compete" to win start-up funds. Members of the community submit their business idea and a proposal explaining what they would spend their start-up funds on. Other members then vote on their favorite ideas with the top winners each week earning a spot in a monthly showdown.
Eight finalists then go head to head in a race to gain the most votes with the winner collecting a $10K prize from Advanta to use in their business.
Always one to like to see how things work and sensing a chance to raise even more money for my favorite cause, I decided to get involved.
Long-time readers will remember from my 30 Day series that I'm a champion of non-profit milk banking. I donated more than 27 gallons of breast milk to my local bank while I was nursing my oldest daughter and I've used my hobby site The Lactivist to raise funds and spread awareness for the issue.
I knew there was a team in New England working on opening up a milk bank and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to help them raise much needed funds while getting a chance to see how the Ideablob community works.
Submitting an Idea
Submitting an idea was fairly easy. Users need to register for an account and then figure out the best way to frame their proposal. They need to outline their overall business goals, then explain what they'd use the $10,000 for. They can also list any challenges they think they'll face. Once the submission is live, Ideablob members review and vote for their favorite ideas. They can also leave comments or advice about the project.
There's no limit to the number of ideas a member can submit, so even serial start-up entrepreneurs can join and leverage the community here.
Getting into the Finals
The goal of Ideablob is to get your idea into the finals where it can go head to head with seven other ideas in a 10 day competition to gain the most votes. There are two ways for ideas to make it into the finals.
The first way is to build up enough votes over time to be one of the top two ideas at the end of any given month. The second way is to be one of two ideas that gain the most votes during one of the three "sprint" periods for the month. That means you can come on strong and gain a ton of votes in a short amount of time, or you can build up a steady amount of votes over a long period of time to earn your way into the finals.
All eight finalists start with a clean slate (zero votes) and go head to head at the end of the month to try and capture the most votes and the $10,000 start-up prize.
Gathering the Votes
Ideablob doesn't really place any limits on how you go about gathering votes. Each member is limited to a single vote in the finals, but they're free to promote their ideas via blogs, other social networks, email campaigns or any other creative ideas they can come up with.
I've timed this article for the week when Ideablob is running their eight finalists against each other. The milk banking idea that was submitted by the team in New England has made the finals for January, so here's my plug to go and vote for them.
The Lesson to Learn from Ideablob
Ultimately, this post isn't just about how small businesses and entrepreneurs can head off to a social community in the hopes to win $10,000 for their business. (Though for this audience, that's an important opportunity to be aware of.) It's about how a company in the business to business space is creatively leveraging social media to build their brand and to bring people together.
When I teach classes on viral marketing and social media, one of the most common questions I hear is how B2B companies can use social media. With so much buzz around how companies are tapping viral marketing and social media to reach out to consumers, it's easy to write these mediums off as things that only work for companies with "fun" products.
I think few people would argue that small business credit cards are far from "sexy" in terms of the things we purchase. It would have been easy and even understandable for Advanta to write off social media as something that only works for those companies with fun products.
Instead, they've taken the time to think about who their target audience is and what motivates them. With the understanding that small businesses are often more limited by their finances than their creativity, Ideablob launched a community that addressed this. They also launched a community that reinforces the need for Advanta's small business services.
At a cost of roughly $10,000 a month in prize costs (pocket change to a company the size of Advanta), they've managed to build a community that should eventually draw in tons of potential customers. Those customers will be reminded of Advanta and their services every time they post on the site and there's a great chance they'll eventually become Advanta customers.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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