For the last few decades, Staples has had a steady, if unsexy, brand identity: it’s the place where you can get toner, paper, electronics, furniture and whatever else you need to supply and furnish your business.
People who use social media know that LinkedIn, on the other hand, is a place where they can connect professionally without being shouted down by their social circle and a place to get an increasing range of business content, but some users may not realize everything the platform has to offer.
Both companies are looking to evolve how people see their brands, which drove a new joint content venture called Succeed, a section of LinkedIn that’s "Powered by Staples." The project, which launched this month, is geared towards giving small business owners tools to help their businesses thrive, a service that the folks from the office supply retailer has wanted to provide for some time.
"[Small businesses] perceive us as making things easy for them around office supplies, or to make copies, or to print documents to furnish their office," says Alison Corcoran, Staples’ senior vice president of marketing. "But really we want to be a place where we can help our small businesses be successful. So we can help them make it easier to grow their business, or to learn new things, or to build relationships, because we know the small business customer feels sometimes feels isolated, doesn’t know where to go for resources, and for information, or to learn and we are credible in that space."
The partnership seemed like a natural for LinkedIn, especially when the people who run the social media site looked into their users’ "passion points," as Jonathan Lister, the company’s North American vice president of marketing solutions, called them.
"We can see a great deal of connectivity in the business community," he says. "We may see a great deal of group discussions around small business and we look at groups in general. We see a great deal of conversation about small businesses. We’ll certainly do research and qualitatively we’ll come across a lot of people talking about small groups. And you can fairly quickly see there’s a strong passion there."
This is the second sponsored page LinkedIn has hosted, the first being Connect, a forum for businesswomen that’s sponsored by Citi. Lister sees these forums, as well as some new features like quickie "endorsements" people can make on your profile--similar in speed to a Facebook "Like" or a Twitter retweet--as a way to make the site more "member-friendly."
"We have a mission to connect the world’s professionals and make them more productive. So, wherever we can we’re trying to make professionals more productive," says Lister. "Most of the way we do that is by surfacing the right data, the right insight at the right time. So, a dynamic that you’re seeing play out on LinkedIn is that as the platform matures we’re starting to flow more content, more relevant content through and across the ecosystem."
For now, Succeed consists of a discussion board moderated by LinkedIn’s editorial staff, where discussion is ether generated by one of the moderators or one of the 6,700 subscribers to the group, and a small-business-oriented edition of LinkedIn Today, the site’s newsfeed. But both companies see the potential for more, and Staples is looking to how expanded content might link back to their initiative to make their retail website and stores more than just places to buy supplies.
"If were finding links back to our content help around topics that we’ve already covered that might be of interest, we’ll probably feature some of that activity," like polls and webinars, says Corcoran. They like the fact that the users on the LinkedIn/Citi group have set up local in-person meetings, "and we’re very interested in seeing if that transpires with this group as well because we certainly feel with our network of stores being able to be an active member of the community, potentially a place where people could gather if they wanted to have a networking event is something that’s also potentially attractive."
Representatives from the two companies regularly meet to discuss Succeed’s editorial direction, but LinkedIn’s editorial staff is primarily responsible for curating the content and moderating the discussions on a daily basis. But both companies hope that the group is driven by its users, something that can solidify their relationship to both brands.
"We’re already seeing stories surface around, conversations around health insurance or how do I get office space or how do I build a website and advertise? And this morning I saw one on why will 2013 be the year of the small business," says Lister. "It’s really exciting to watch like the content evolve through the member base and I think that’s one of the most interesting things. And that’s how we ultimately will prove that this is being successful. The members you know are voting with their hands and becoming part of the group."