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Monetizing Social Media - 3/2/2010 -

While many associations are still forming their communities and building their networks, some are actually finding ways to generate new revenue.

By Jeffrey Lee

THE SOCIAL MEDIA EFFORTS AT THE AMERICAN SPEECH-LANGUAGE-HEARING ASSOCIATION (ASHA) have already created a windfall for the career center at the 135,000-member organization.

When recruiters apply to join ASHA's members-only LinkedIn page, or when they try to post job listings on the association's Facebook page, the community manager informs them that all such postings must be made on ASHA's career center, rather than on the social media pages. The recruiters are given a discount, and encouraged to post their listings. ASHA has already sold a number of job fair booths and career center listings through those transactions, according to Maggie McGary, ASHA's online community and social media manager.

While reselling recruiters who stumble upon your association's social media pages might seem like an obvious step, many associations are so far finding it difficult to realize revenue-generating opportunities from social media.

The general consensus for corporate interactive marketers is that 2010 is "the year of monetization,” says Stuart Meyer, chief strategist and founder of Social Frequency Media Communications and Association 2020 Consulting. But many associations still are only experimenting with social media, learning how to build a conversation before they generate revenue.

On the other hand, for all of the questions and challenges surrounding the monetization of social media at associations, interest from advertisers and sponsors isn't in doubt—at least at ASHA.

"We've had several of our corporate partners express interest in being able to have a presence on our Facebook page or requesting social media functionality as part of their partnership or advertising,” McGary says.

So far, ASHA hasn't done any direct revenue generation from its social media efforts, which include a Facebook page with 18,000 fans and pages on Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. But McGary says the association is looking closely at doing a sponsored Tweet-up at its fall convention, and is looking at other opportunities.

"If we were to go with a white-label social media network, with the opportunity to monetize e-mails and offer targeted advertising toward different groups, I think that would be a big revenue generator,” McGary says.

One interesting challenge ASHA has faced is that many potential sponsors don't know what they're looking for with their social media spending.

"They're asking what we have,” McGary says. "It's like they're not sure what to ask for, but they're reading that what they want to spend money on is social media advertising. Or they see how many fans we have on Facebook and they say, ‘How can we get a presence there?' ”

That uncertainty should lead to some interesting ethical and technical questions, especially as it comes to Facebook. For instance:

· Facebook fan page owners can buy ads targeted to fans of their page. So could an association offer to let its sponsors advertise to its fans on Facebook?

· Could an association create a custom tab on its Facebook page for sponsors?

· Could you sell a listing in your association's "favorite pages?” ("I wouldn't be comfortable selling that,” McGary says.)

· Some associations have offered to link to corporate sponsors who are on Facebook, or even show their logo in a Facebook photo album labeled "sponsors.”

Going further, Lindy Dreyer, co-founder of social media strategy firm Socialfish, names a number of compelling reasons for associations to build capacity for social media, whether or not they can directly monetize it. "A lot of times, the opportunities for revenue emerge out of unexpected places,” she says.

For example, social media can help with member recruitment and retention; word-of-mouth marketing for things like conference registration, publications, and membership; and content subscriptions. Publications could also assign monetary value to audience growth through social media channels.

That last idea speaks to one of the greatest problems with monetizing social media, Dreyer notes.

"I'd say that there are precious few who are able to truly monetize,” she says, "not because the value is not there, but because they have not figured out the way to measure it.”

Jeffrey Lee is manager of communications at the National Apartment Association and units Magazine, and serves on the Association Media & Publishing Final Proof Committee. Association Media & Publishing thanks him for volunteering to write this article for the membership.


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