Here in the U.S., there's really only one big player in the sector of social networking sites geared toward professionals eager to make business connections: LinkedIn. Other business-oriented social networks have emerged, but none have shown signs of really eating into LinkedIn's stateside market share. That, however, is what Xing is trying to change.
Xing, formerly known as the less catchy OpenBC (BC stands for "Business Club") got its start in Germany and now boasts 1.69 million members. The company's moved beyond Germany largely through acquisitions and partnerships; when it expanded to Spain, it purchased a regional social network (eConozco) in order to ensure success. I met with Xing founder and CEO Lars Hinrichs earlier this week to hear about the company's impending campaign to make a splash on U.S. shores. It's an ambitious goal, since other overseas-based social networking sites have experienced real uphill climbs. On the youth front, Bebo is huge in the U.K. and it'd be an understatement to call South Korea's Cyworld a genuine phenomenon, but in the State they're still playing second fiddle to MySpace.
So the big question is, why Xing over LinkedIn? Hinrichs told me that it's all about the functionality. LinkedIn, he said, is "good for resumes." He said that Xing's simply better at helping people do business. There aren't a whole lot of features that LinkedIn doesn't offer--discussion forums, easy access to expert advice, tagging functionality on profiles, and a mobile platform--but Hinrichs claims the numbers shows that Xing's a better service. According to Comscore statistics, a Xing visit lasts an average of 66 minutes while a LinkedIn visit clocks in at only 19, and 89 percent of LinkedIn's premium members have been active in the past 30 days (which makes sense, since they're the ones forking over cash.) The site, by the way, is completely free of advertising and Xing's business model relies entirely upon revenues from the opt-in subscription accounts.
But here's the truth: better service or not, the secret to success is really in the people who use it. Xing has not yet revealed what kind of partnerships and acquisitions it's planning to leverage in order to break into the U.S. social networking market. If it plays the right cards, it could be a legitimate contender. We'll keep an eye on this one.