When you think of online destinations for professional purposes, social networking sites tailored toward business users -- like LinkedIn -- probably come to mind.
Savvy small business professionals will find, however, that a crop of new startups offer them access to fresh technologies that help with professional networking, research, influence and community building.
While you've likely never heard of the startups listed below, each is gaining traction from early adopter audiences and is building consumer-facing products easily applied to common small business tasks. Some, especially Stipple and Marginize, could even help improve traffic to your site and engage visitors longer with more compelling reasons to stay put.
If you're looking for a new way to stay networked in today's digital world, check out Hashable. The private beta startup offers a unique and potentially time-saving approach to professional networking, allowing users to document and track their real-world connections on site, through e-mail or via Twitter with hashtags.
Say you had a coffee meeting with a new business connection -- you could tell Hashable to track the relationship with a simple tweet such as: "#justmet @jbruin and look forward to her response cc @hashable." The same logic applies for introductions, so if you want to formally introduce people on Twitter, your tweet would read something like: "#intro @friend1 meet @friend2. you guys should connect to discuss biz opps cc @hashable."
You can use Hashable to document any and all types of real-world exchanges with hashtags such as #meeting, #breakfast, #lunch, #dinner, #drinks, #coffee, #golf, #tennis, #brunch and #thanks.
The startup is currently in invitation-only mode. Should you follow Hashable on Twitter, the team will likely give you immediate access.
You can use Stipple to add people, place or product tags to the photos you publish on your site. The idea is to give site owners the tools to add relevant and contextual information and ultimately create an interactive layer on top of photos.
Small businesses can install a WordPress plugin or add a bit of code to their websites to begin tagging photos. Merchants should be especially keen on the tool as it presents a way for them to use their blog to highlight merchandise, stores or employees on photo mouse-over.
At the very least, Stipple offers you a way to engage website visitors and customers with fun and interesting photo information.
Qwiki transforms static information from multiple data sources into a cohesive, interactive video narrative. The startup aims to reinvent the way people experience information, and the product makes an excellent alternative online research tool for professionals.
Qwiki is also working on additions for social media users and small businesses. Soon you'll be able to create your own video Qwikis for two distinct purposes: a personal Qwiki that merges your social media data into an embeddable video profile or a merchant Qwiki that aggregates reviews on your business from third-party sites like Yelp.
The startup is coming out of private alpha in mid-December. If you're not a member already, you'll definitely want to take a look at Qwiki once the startup opens it doors to the public.
New private beta startup Storify allows users to pull together content from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and other social networks to build an interactive story. The idea is to give users the tools to create and curate cohesive narratives from the social web.
For the small business professional, Storify represents a quick and easy way to piece together social content to tell the story of your business or event. For example, Klout, the site that measures Twitter and Facebook user influence, uses Storify to highlight results from Klout's Twitter contests or recap event happenings in story form.
Storify could also help you enhance your own brand and influencer status. The curation aspect makes it a convenient tool for adding social commentary to important news stories or compiling status updates from fellow professionals in your field.
This is one of those startups with endless applications only limited by your imagination. To request an invite, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marginize builds tools to let users check in to websites to view existing social content and add comments that can also be shared with social networks. Marginize's site checkins are very much like the checkin features of location-based mobile applications -- users are even awarded badges for their behaviors -- but applied to websites instead of venues.
Anyone can download Marginize's browser extension, login via Facebook, Twitter or Google Buzz and check in to any website or add social commentary to the mix. The appeal for small business professionals, however, is that the startup offers a publisher tool for website owners to make Marginize features native on their site -- the Marginize tab will appear to all users whether they've installed the browser plugin or not. Publishers can also incentivize checkins with rewards.
The parallels between location checkins and site checkins are obvious. Marginize, and competitors like Badgeville, could facilitate a new social frontier for small businesses, helping them drive traffic and better engage the users that stop by their sites. Small businesses should certainly explore site checkins -- this is a growing trend that's bound to pick up even more steam in the coming months.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, nico_blue