Social media is all the buzz... but what is the right mix to meet your targets?
Be it education, consumer, community or commerce, we have all found our way to what is becoming more and more mainstream. Educators are utilizing social networks like Ning to setup school profiles and student projects to communities (Classroom 2.0) where tech savvy educators can congregate to share teaching and learning best practices. Additionally marketers and everyday members post tiny blog posts on Twitter to share what's going on in their world and helpful links to relevant content. YouTube has put into motion a production of video-based content like no other. My son learned how to play a guitar thanks to the many hours of video lessons online. And now, he sells his own short video lessons on his own e-commerce marketplace site.

So my real question is this... What is the right mix of social media to leverage a brand, program and business? I have read numerous blog posts that tell us social media is where a huge portion of marketing dollars will go... that word of mouth recommendations carry more weight than banner ads or commercials. Blah blah.

Social media implies grassroots. Leveraging a community or the masses to share their thoughts and reactions to products and ideas. For educators, social media is a platform to share their great teaching lessons integrating technology and Web 2.0 resources. It's also a forum to post blogs, images, videos on student work, conference, models of instruction and the list goes on. It's invaluable because educators are not solely relying on content from publishers. As knowledgeable experts in their field, they are sharing their teaching skills and lessons to audiences worldwide, not just to their students or parents.

For companies, they are now getting input on product development, focus groups, promotions and marketing by average everyday folks like you and me. They no longer have to rely solely on high priced click ads or 30 second commercial spots.

Most importantly, institutions and companies are not relying on their own employees or marketing tactics to promote their brand. I'm sure many of you have see the Zappos, free shoes Twitter post that caused folks like David Armano, a well know marketer, to post a feed and write a blog to his constituents. It's these grassroots efforts and posts that cause a great reaction and create an interest to learn more about a brand or product and even further to go out and purchase something as a result of these little to no cost social media efforts.

The challenge is what is the right mix? It's no question that more and more companies are embracing social media as a platform to get the word out. With more than 200 million users, Facebook is the largest single audience to market to. How are educators, consumers, and businesses embracing this community?

With the company that I worked for, and now serve as a social media adviser, we immediately set out to build a social community for educators that allowed them to connect, collaborate and post their content for commercial purposes. Learn more. As we did this, we too fell under the misnomer that if you build it, they will come. And of course, they didn't. So many companies have fallen into this trap. I think schools / educators are victim to this as well. A hand full of edubloggers, facebook users, or Twitter geeks jump on the bandwagon, share these "cool" toys with their colleagues only to get a deer in the headlights look back. I've been in sessions where the battle is over online protection, rightfully so, and access, etc. Many districts block image sharing, YouTube, social networks and blogs. So half the battle for educators is getting a widespread acceptance and application for teachers and administrators to embrace the tools. The other half of the battle is getting access and filtering for appropriateness of content.

Anyway, we built it, they didn't come. It wasn't enough to build it or talk about it, we had to engage and connect with the audience. We later learned that if you identify where they reside, you can intercept. That proved to be a great model for us. Often times companies want to build their own platform / community as opposed to joining in on other communities... for fear that they may take their customers or share their customer base. The reality is, consumers and social media type already belong to a community. They will likely join yours, but not come back unless there is a reason or someone sends them an email note. I have joined so many Ning communities, video sites, etc. I rarely go back to them unless I have a need. I have my homebase and then I branch out from there. Go where they are at and connect the dots.

In addition to building community and connecting, you also have to give them a purpose while they are there. Engagement is key. One way is through content and not always that of the host. Give opportunities for members to participate. Whether it's a blog post, image sharing, status updates, polls, commenting on posts, pics, or videos, create a reason for members to come back. We made the mistake early on of creating all the content. This did not work because it was a one way channel. This is why Facebook works so well in my opinion. They have managed to provide a newsfeed of all the activity of your friends. You view a pic or a post and immediately you respond and two or three others follow there after. Content is being created by the masses and Facebook basks in all the click throughs and memberships.

This brings me to the final questions. While social media is all the buzz, and all of us are jumping on board as though it was the next AOL moment. At what point do companies realize monetization or ROI of this approach? While this may not be a big push for educators. I think educators or bloggers, sometimes those famous bloggers, are looking for a large following. That in turn gets them some level of voice. Sometimes even a banner add or two. But the reality is this... Yes all these social media tools are free. Very few if any have a subscription service to their base community, tool or resource. But really, is anything really free. Click throughs, eyeballs, membership numbers are the game. The more you have the more you can sell sponsorships, ads, and eventually seek investment, funding or buyout.

For these social media / Web 2.0 companies, I am grateful for the great resources, and for free at least for my purposes. But for them to stay in business and keep their lights on, they have to be able to bring in revenue. I think this is something that has been a challenge for many, including Facebook. On paper they have a lot of value because of the audience and engagement. But in terms of selling of services, I'd like to learn more on that.

All this said, I am on the bandwagon of social media and will leverage the tools in my current business.

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Tags: blog, business, education, media, social

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