There is a lot of  social media hype going around…. GET on the BANDWAGON, include it in your MARKETING STRATEGY, set up a BLOG, a TWITTER account, a LINKEDIN account, a FACEBOOK ….(all caps lock words heard as if on loud speaker).  It’s exhausting and just confusing.  Most of those I met during the networking portion at Zone 5ive: 50 Ideas on Using Twitter and LinkedIn for Business seemed to be amidst two emotions:  hyper-excitement about social media and what it can do for a a person or a business, and confusion on how to effectively include, manage, and maintain social media in a marketing campaign.  And I was smack in the middle right there with them.

Answerers to questions were provided by a great panel:  Scott Lake  (@scottica) founder of ThinkSM and SWIXKelly Rusk, (@krusk) marketing manager of  MediaMiser Luc Levesque (@luclevesque) founder of TravelPod.com and the event was mediated by Andrew Milne (@Andrew_Milne), founder and president of bv02 inc.

The panel discussion went a long way in starting to clarify the potential of social media, specifically LinkedIn & Twitter.  Set up was a huge projector screen linked to a twitter search feed of any tweet that tweeted #zone5 (hash tagging – I finally figured out what they are!) and during the hour event the audience was able to see the feed – and feel the excitement piling up.   Questions were flying in from people’s tweets – more so then from the audience.  Those not present were also able to follow a live stream at USTREAM.  But the feed had more then just questions for the panel – tweets also included answers to questions, useful links, and inside jokes with the  judges from their friends [Is that Scott Lake (@scottica) up there? He’s so dreamy! #Zone5].

All in real time of course.  Two way communication was now occurring, not with just the packed room (and it was packed!) but with a much larger and broader community.  What was interesting to note was that there was more interaction and questions happening from tweeters then from the audience, and that even those in the audience tweeted their questions instead of the traditional voicing of the question….the paradigm is shifting.

So at this point the audience starts to get a clear idea that this can be powerful stuff.  Think what this means for data collecting,opinions polls, customer service and customer relations.  Now you have an informal avenue to interact with your customers, making a person to person connection rather then a person to business connection.  Companies are accessible because the people in companies are accessible – and through Twitter they’re humanized – now you know they like baseball, or like to travel, or have read an interesting new book.  Easier to connect to a person that seems human rather then one that just represents a corporation.

I went home and started experimenting with twitter right away.  As Scott Lake mentioned “I do all my research on twitter these days”.  It’s easy to see why – you can get questions answered quickly by people you normally would not have access to.  I asked a question to an employee of a company that I had never met, but I followed them on twitter.  I got an answer within 5 mintes, from someone that if I had emailed or tried to set up a meeting with, I would have probably never gotten an answer from.   That’s the power of a ubiquitous and informal tool like twitter – answering questions doesn’t take a lot of time in tweet format so those with busy schedules who normally can’t give you the time of day now can answer your questions directly.  And if they don’t, their community will.

There’s value there, even though there is a struggle now to define the ROI in an exact dollar amount.   It’s easier to see the value if you’re measuring value in terms of service, the passion of the community, the loyalty of that community, and the good PR generated for a company.   Twitter is a good thing and can be a valuable thing – we just have to learn to strategically use it for our purposes.

In short – great event held by #Zone5 today.  We need a follow up session soon!

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