Jeff Hurt, director of education and events with the National Association of Dental Plans, Dallas, says the place to start with social media is to put a goal behind your strategy. It doesn't have to be huge. “It could be as easy as, ‘We want to connect with our members on Facebook,'” he says.

Hurt's goal when his organization began using social media for its meetings two years ago was to increase interactivity on site to better engage attendees and increase their learning. They began by incorporating Twitter into the keynote addresses, so tweeters in the audience could interact directly with the presenter and have their questions answered in real time.

“Our audience — which is C-suite executives who have their mobile devices with them at all times — went nuts for it,” he says. “We watched a new level of learning happen.” It has since become a staple. “We do it all the time because the audience demands it.”

While its members didn't necessarily know they wanted their own “velvet-rope” online community, they had made it clear that they wanted a way to continue to interact with each other and learn from their peers outside of the meeting. A year and a half ago, NADP set up a private online community for its members, which took off like a rocket.

Healthcare reform directly affects its members' business, so NADP has ventured into consumer education via Twitter and blogs, along with LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media accounts. They update members on government relations, dental benefits, electronic coding, and other areas. The goal was to show members how social media works, and how they can reach out to their customers and monitor what's being said about their companies in the social space.