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How can social media be leveraged specifically by verticals? This was the subject of a panel this afternoon at the BIA/Kelsey’s Marketplace conference moderated by Michael Boland, program director of Mobile Local Media.

All four panelists gave examples of how they’re integrating social media (tools, connections, etc.) into their core products. Presenters included:

Jon Carder, CEO, MojoPages, talked about using gaming mechanics in social media. Carder defined Game Mechanics as a series of rules and functions that tap into our primal response patterns to drive usage, sales and/or referrals.

He provided some compelling examples of businesses that are built on game mechanics: Foursquare (started as Dodgeball), Groupon, Texas International Airlines (started frequent flier air travel programs). This is the model being used now by MojoPages, a new online directory product that allows businesses to accumulate mojo points, based on consumer reviews. This turns the UGC-collection process into a game.

Carder identified four must-have elements to a game framework:

1. Action (that you want user to take)
2. Goal
3. Scoreboard
4. Reward

Craig Donato, CEO, Oodle, an aggregator of classified ads (arguably, sort of a for-profit version of Craigslist). “Social media will fundamentally change classifieds and verticals.” Donato pointed out that classifieds are inherently social; a transaction starts online, but ends with an in-person connection. Counter-parties want to know who they’re dealing with. Bottom line: “Word of mouth” is moving online; people are asking their Facebook contacts for information and recommendations.

Donato said that instead of thinking about SEO, businesses need to think about SMO (Social Media Optimization). This consists of:

1. Establishing a presence
2. Getting discovered (by building a base of fans and followers)
3. Raising visibility (using Tweets, etc.)

Donato said Oodle is trying to get its users to “pivot and talk to your own network.”

Next, Todd Dubner, SVP Development, NCI (Network Communications Inc.), described NCI’s new Digital Sherpa services. NCI is the publisher of the ubiquitous Real Estate Book, Apartment Finder, and numerous other titles focused on the real estate and housing markets. These titles, naturally, are found in online versions that are just as robust as their print versions.

Through Digital Sherpa, NCI sets up blogs on behalf of its clients (e.g., apartment complexes) and then generates, curates and monitors content for them. In effect, it’s providing a turnkey social media solution. The price point is in the $300 to $400 per month range.

“This is a grand experiment for most of our clients,” Dubner said. “If they had the time and skills, they’d do it themselves.”

Mike Hodges, VP Interactive, The San Diego Union-Tribune, which owns “SignOn San Diego,” talked about the newspaper’s recent efforts to integrate social media into the fabric of its Web site. While its previous design had very limited social elements, the new one has numerous social tools and links embedded throughout (although “It’s not rocket science,” Hodges stated).

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