It was precisely this growing trend that XING, the most popular "business 2.0" platform in Europe, was trying to capitalize on when it entered the Turkish market in January of last year by acquiring the Turkish business network site Cember.
XING is the leading European business-oriented social networking platform. Globally the company boasts more than 7 million business professionals, of which 550,000 are paying subscribers.
XING now boasts just under 500,000 members in Turkey, and Country Manager for Turkey Hakan Gönenli expects this number to more than double by the end of 2009. A yet-to-be disclosed prize will be made available in the coming weeks for the 500,000th member.
Gönenli says the target market in Turkey is young and aspiring professionals. He feels that in this time of crisis, when jobs are scarce, building networks is more important than ever. "Soon-to-be graduates need to start focusing on where they want to work," he explains. Stressing that companies "no longer just look at GPAs when hiring," he added that they look at the social networks of potential employees because "they don't want to employ nerds."
Trends show that people are using business networks more than ever. This helped XING grow its network by more than 2 million users in 2008. While this number continues to grow at an-ever increasing pace, the trend in Turkey is reported to be moving even faster, as Internet penetration is believed to be far below its potential. Thus, as more and more users begin raiding the information superhighway, more are expected to join networks such as XING.
XING's income stream is unique. Unlike other social networking programs, such as Facebook, where most revenue comes from advertising and information obtained from participation in various "applications," XING derives nearly all of its revenue from paying subscribers. Of the total 35.27 million euros in revenue it reported in 2008, 80 percent came from paying subscribers and only a fraction -- 7 percent -- came from advertisements. E-Commerce made up about 12 percent.
When a user sets up a basic profile, they can network with others who have their profiles on display and share their resumes, career objectives and aspirations. "Headhunters search XING regularly looking for candidates that match their requirements," Gönenli notes.
Those who fork out an annual TL 150 for premium membership have the added benefit of fulfilling that undying desire to learn who visits their profile online as well as unlimited messaging opportunities, which come in handy for people seeking to more easily find new customers, partners or venders.
Figures weren't available for the site's number of paying subscribers in Turkey, but when asked what XING was doing to get more paying members, Gönenli said, "We just leave the decision to our members, and if they see that basic is enough for them, they stay with it; if they see that premium membership brings value for their company, they pay for it."
However, despite the skyrocketing user numbers on XING in Turkey, XING does not expect there to be a dramatic increase in the number of paying subscribers: "In Mediterranean countries, paid subscriptions for all kinds of online portals are lower," he said. Gönenli refused to comment on exact numbers for Turkey but said their focus would be on advertisers.
XING's popularity is said to come from many different advantages and sources. In addition to building one's network in cyberspace and possibly translating these contacts into tangible benefits for one's professional life, XING adds a real-world space where members can interact. Each region has an ambassador whose task it is to organize various social events with the aim of enabling networking and schmoozing in the hopes of fostering better careers and building business relationships. More than 20,000 such events have been organized so far.
Critics, however, warn that all social networking sites, especially those like XING and LinkedIn, which are already overshadowed by Twitter, will soon be left totally in the dust if they do not reorient themselves. Nonetheless, with Twitter virtually nonexistent in Turkey and XING standing as an easy-to-use Web 2.0 platform, in addition to its promising financial, business and social networking abilities, the site promises to stay alive and growing for the foreseeable future.