Visa Launches $2 Million Visa Business Network Campaign to Connect Small Business Owners on Facebook

Today, Visa and Facebook announced the launch of a major campaign targeted at getting small businesses engaged on Facebook called Visa Business Network. As part of the launch (see the video from Visa’s CMO Antonio Lucio and Facebook’s VP of Biz Dev Dan Rose), Visa is giving away $100 in Facebook Social Ads credit to the first 20,000 small businesses that register for the Visa Business Network – $2 million in all.

So, what is the Visa Business Network? It’s an application designed to facilitate content sharing amongst small business owners and help small business owners grow their network. Visa earns high marks for having the courage to be the first to launch a serious small business initiative on Facebook. What is still only viewed by many as a place to stalk sorority girls is being recognized by Visa as an extremely powerful platform on which structural changes to big industries are beginning to happen. This move will surely encourage others to follow.

But let’s take a closer look at the actual campaign application itself. What is the Visa Business Network application? Fundamentally, it’s a social-network-within-a-social-network.

Upon adding the app, users must register their business with VBN. Visa calls it editing your “Back Office Info,” and it feels a lot like filling out your profile page after joining a social network.

After joining, Visa Business Network provides four main features:

  1. Content dashboard with articles from the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, and
  2. Search tool to find others registered for the service.
  3. Messaging tool for sending and receiving messages to/from others registered for the service.
  4. Activity stream to view updates from your “associates” (VBN friends).

While there’s a lot to be excited about here, I must admit I am a little confused by the product Visa has created. Visa asks users to create a small business profile page that only exists to other users searching within the Visa Business Network. Not only is this page effectively totally separate from small business owners’ Facebook Pages, but it is almost inaccessible. In addition, all of the communication tools in the app are disjoint from the communication infrastructure Facebook has already built.

Visa hopes small business owners will create and maintain a second Facebook profile for their business, message other businesses, and track others’ activity all within the VBN application. It’s a powerful idea, but one that I personally would “adjust,” given how difficult it is to reach critical mass when trying to effectively create a social networking platform.

Congratulations to Visa and Facebook on launching this big initiative that is sure to accelerate the pace at which businesses think about engaging their customers on the Facebook Platform. I look forward to tracking their progress!