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Got the Social Media Blues?

We've got the goods to help you navigate the world of social networking

Navigating the world of social media can make even the most savvy meeting planning professional’s head spin. Cutting-edge platforms and trendy lingo (tweet!) lure us to take part in a whole new world where business friendships are forged, information is shared and deals are brokered.

The possibilities are truly infinite. But the barrage of options can also induce anxiety, competitiveness and even bitterness. “Is it overwhelming? Yes,” says James Spellos, president of Meeting U, a New York-based technology training company specializing in conferences, meetings and businesses. “Is it critical? Yes again.”

Spellos, a former CMP, cites stats that we have all heard, which prove that social networking sites have exploded in popularity with the young and the not-so-young alike. Facebook just announced it has 350 million users, and Twitter estimates 18 million. “The number of people on Facebook equals more than Canada and U.S. populations combined,” he says.

Social media is fantastic that way,” says Beatriz Leonardo, CMP, professor with the school of hospitality and tourism management at Toronto-based George Brown College, whose students are perhaps the first generation exiting school for whom social media seems not only natural, but as essential as air. “You get to mingle and market your business for free,” she says.

But before you sign up for every network out there, Leonardo suggests choosing two platforms that best suit your industry and your niche, because spreading yourself too thin will hurt rather than help your purpose. “Keep in mind, it’s not just a matter of signing up, you have to maintain them,” she says. For her part, Leonardo says she does not yet Tweet, but is a member of Linkedin and follows a number of event industry groups.

As it stands now, the social media landscape can be divided into three categories:

Blogs and podcasts:
Now on the verge of being considered old fashioned when you consider the selection of new applications popping up at warp speed in cyberspace, blogging and podcasting still merit consideration because both are useful for branding and making a personal connection.

Customized options:
Customized options such as Event Peeps and Ning etc., which allow you to create and join social like-minded networks are interesting because they offer a no-cost opportunity to build or join a community with shared interests. Find a couple you connect with and make your mark, says Spellos.

Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter:
Now the Big 3—Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. “If you forced me to choose just one social media network, it would be Twitter,” says Spellos, who has been active on the site for two years. His reasoning is based on the real-time, threaded conversations that can happen anytime, anywhere. Conference audiences are a great example of how this technology can really be effective. “Gone are the days when cellphones are off,” he says. “This is about the community taking control. It’s an information-rich stream of chatter among groups of people. And you can post fast since it’s limited to 140 characters.”

How do you measure social media success?
Shane Gibson, author of Closing Bigger: The field guide to closing bigger deals says when it comes to measuring your success in the realm of social media, old metrics will not suffice. “Social media tools have only been around for 36 months tops. You have to apply a different standard to social media,” says Gibson. “If you have been blogging or tweeting for six months or even 27 months as I have, the true return on investment has only just begun. We can’t be short-term or short-sighted on these new tools.”

Gibson stresses that these tools must be viewed as one part of the whole marketing approach. “It’s all about creating an environment where an act of faith can take place,” he says. “And that act of faith is based upon trust, and trust is built on relationship, and relationship is built upon adding value over time to someone’s life or business. That will only happen over 12 to 18 months.”

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