Suddenly, everybody wants to be a community organizer

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Last week, four media companies announced the launch of high-profile initiatives intended to take advantage of social media and online communities. The trend appears to be a simple case of giving marketers what they want. An online survey of 520 marketer and agency personnel conducted in August by Bizo found that 97% of respondents believe social media marketing will be “more important” or “as important” to their marketing mix in the upcoming 12 months as compared to the previous 12 months. There's also the compelling financial case that Facebook is making for social media. The company will more than double its worldwide ad revenue this year to $3.8 billion, according to an eMarketer estimate. In creating social media and community products, media companies are simply following the money. Here are the major initiatives launched last week:
  • IDG Enterprise, publisher of Computerworld, introduced Community Works, a social community product for marketers designed for both online and mobile platforms. IDG described Community Works as a turnkey solution designed to help marketers build a community-oriented site, manage the community and develop content.
  • On Tuesday, TechTarget rolled out Social Engage. It's a social media platform designed to allow technology buyers to collaborate with other buyers across different online media, such as embedded applications in syndicated white papers or rich-media banner ads. Dell Inc. is the first marketer to use Social Engage. As part of this program, TechTarget built the community site. “Technology buyers consistently tell us they want to bounce questions and ideas off their peers as they are conducting research on technology challenges and purchases,” said Andrew Briney, senior VP-group publisher of TechTarget Custom Media, in a statement.
  • Also on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal debuted the beta version of WSJ Social, an app that allows users to read, share and comment on Journal articles within Facebook. Content available through WSJ Social includes articles and blogs from Dell is also a sponsor of WSJ Social. For the first month of the beta launch, WSJ Social is available for free, courtesy of the computer manufacturer, which is the launch advertiser for the app. “We're breaking the mold of using Facebook simply to drive traffic to our websites and are now creating an opportunity to engage with the Journal directly on the Facebook platform,” said Alisa Bowen, general manager of the Wall Street Journal Digital Network, in a statement.
  • And finally on Friday of last week, The Washington Post introduced the Washington Post Social Reader. The new app allows Facebook users to share stories from the Post, Associated Press, Mashable, SB Nation and other news outlets with Facebook friends.
  • TechWeb wants credit for being out in front of this trend. Four years ago, the UBM business unit launched its first custom community, Internet Evolution for IBM Corp. In the meantime, the company created eight similar communities for marketers or groups of marketers. Last year, TechWeb debuted “community in a box,” a basic approach to developing community sites for marketers. “To us, it's a validation of the market,” Scott Vaughan, CMO at TechWeb, said of the spate of online community initiatives. He added that a media company has to commit to providing ample resources to build a true community where peer-to-peer conversation can take place. “Most people just put up a microsite and try to dress it up,” Vaughan said. “You can't do that. It fails.”
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