HSBC is getting into the social game. On Tuesday, the bank launched the HSBC Connections Hub, a platform to keep its business clients connected to each other through a specialized business hub. At first glance, the forum looks somewhat like LinkedIn, but for a specific audience of HSBC business customers. The network, which began a test phase in November of last year, is available free of charge for business customers based in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., mainland China, Hong Kong, India, Mexico and Singapore. It's a multilingual platform that, like LinkedIn, lets companies post organizational profiles and post content on a "what's new" page. What's different about it is that it uses machine-learning algorithms to 'match' companies with potential partners -- for example, buyers and sellers in different countries. "It's part of our thinking about what value-added services we could offer our clients beyond traditional banking services," said Richard Davies, global head of propositions at HSBC. "LinkedIn is a broader platform primarily used form company to person, it's used a lot by recruitment firms and companies directly, whereas this is more for business owners." [caption id="attachment_15899" align="alignnone" width="751"] Profile page on HSBC's Connections Hub[/caption] A matching suggestion needs to be followed by a connection request, and once two companies are connected, they can send private messages to one another. Companies can also include more industry-specific information for the eyes of matched partners only. Currently, 400 companies have signed on to the service, but the bank said it hopes that number will increase tenfold by the end of the year. The service is currently web-only (mobile is available in the U.K.), but the bank said the intention to have the service available through HSBC's mobile app in all countries that can access it. Christine Barry, research director for Aite Group's wholesale banking practice, said that beyond differentiating itself from competitors, HSBC's social network would appeal to smaller businesses. "It's a great strategy for them, it's going to appeal to smaller businesses that don’t have as many resources," she said. "Larger corporates have tools to help them meet up and share best practices but that doesn't really exist for smaller businesses." Barry said other finance companies have made forays into social networking, but none have as much international reach as HSBC (examples include American Express and Citigroup). The bank, which said it won't use of any of the customer data for other purposes, said it's a strategy to attract and retain customers, while bolstering a global-facing brand. Future plans include complementing the online matching service with facilitation of in-person networking meetings between companies. "We want our brand to be associated with international business activity," said Davies. "In some countries, particularly China, HSBC is known as an international bank and the fact that a company is connecting with another HSBC client is seen as a good thing." The cultivation of business relationships through 'in-house' social networking among clients is an area marketers say financial services companies will continue to devote resources. "Increasingly, financial services firms have been building their own communities to facilitate dialogue and connections that might not easily occur on public social media platforms," said Binna Kim, president of financial services marketing firm Vested. "The HSBC hub is interesting because they seem to be building a marketplace, and more than just a community."