Look Who’s Talking (The Art of Joining the Conversation)

By Patrick Courtney

A recent backlash to the phrase ‘join the conversation’ has erupted from the social media crowd (see here, here, and here). Regarding the last article, I agree a community is a highly effective way to show consumers you care.  But the technique of “joining the conversation” isn’t a bad one, and considering our company, Affinitive, offers solutions designed in part to help brands do just that, I thought it appropriate to add my two cents.

The main issue I hold with this discussion is the misconception of what a conversation is.  A conversation by definition is an exchange of information.  If there’s no exchange, it isn’t a conversation.  If a TV ad tells me to buy a car, I didn’t have a conversation with that ad.  The ad spoke at me and i probably didn’t listen because I’m not in the market to buy a car.  Referring to a brand whose strategy includes broadcasting marketing messages through social media channels as a brand attempting to ‘join the conversation’ seems inaccurate.  It isn’t a conversation at all.  I might follow @reuters on Twitter.  The account “tweets” Reuters stories.  It doesn’t follow, it doesn’t respond.  This isn’t a conversation between me and Reuters, and I don’t think that just because it’s on Twitter, a social networking service,  makes it any more of an attempt at a conversation.

I don’t necessarily believe you can equate an offline conversation to an online conversation, either.  An offline conversation is generally one to one or one to a few.  Online conversations are often One-to-one to manydefined as one-to-many but that isn’t exactly accurate either, it implies broadcasting from one person to many people.  The unique aspect of an online conversation is that it is possible to have a one-on-one conversation that is then seen and read by many.

This doesn’t dilute the value of a one-on-one conversation, it just make it public.  This is a huge opportunity for a brand as it allows the success of a meaningful one-on-one conversation to potentially influence the majority who are just listening.

Take, for example, a presidential candidate who travels to small town Iowa to have dinner with a family of four.  It seems like that candidate’s time could be better spent holding a rally with far more people, but then the media picks it up and now millions of people hear about how a candidate took time out of their busy campaign to sit down and have dinner with 4 people in rural Iowa.  They must care!  It’s a similar strategy.

Which brings me to my next point, social media is a stage.  People create and critique as a form of expression and to be seen and heard.  A recent eMarketer study shows that 85% of social media users think companies should interact with their consumers through social media.  Users want to know that brands are hearing what they have to say.  They don’t necessarily need a brand to interact with them specifically, but they want to know they are there and interacting with others.  Conversing with just one customer can show countless others that a brand is listening.

And it is listening that seems to be lost in this mix.   One of the most important traits of a good conversationalist is the ability to listen.  How can you exchange information if one or both of the participants are not listening?  It doesn’t work and that’s not a conversation.  What’s great about social media is a brand has the ability to listen in on all kinds of conversations.  Listen for questions, calls for help, complaints on forums, social networks and blogs.  Customers aren’t afraid to voice their opinions.  Identify who’s talking about you, where they’re at, and what they’re talking about.  Then get in there and exchange some information.  Continue your approach in an organized way, be responsive, be transparent, and most importantly LISTEN.  Remember that a conversation is an exchange.

  • http://www.dangerouslyawesome.com alexknowshtml

    Patrick,
    Great piece to follow up some of what I’ve put out there. It’s not one (talking) or the other (listening) it’s both.

    That said, we share a final conclusion, and piece that tends to be missing is the listening. The final point of “What if I don’t want to Join the Conversation” was to encourage more of that:

    I think that you should take a good hard look at your “conversational marketing” techniques and exercise the side of the conversation that most people aren’t terribly good at: listening.