Are you sick of the word conversations yet? It’s a word that’s often used, vaguely, as filler in the midst of a sentence that otherwise says nothing of any great consequence. In spite of its overuse, I’d still like to talk about why I think it’s important because I’ve spoken with several people of late, that still fail to grasp this concept. I’ll try to be specific.
What are conversations? Conversations are simply an exchange of ideas. By standard definition, a conversation happens verbally, but I contend that the standard definition is a antique product of a world in which quick text based exchanged were not really possible. Nowadays conversations are dynamic and can utilize a wide variety of mediums.
We now have:
- Phone calls
- Instant messenger
- Facebook messages
- Facebook Wall Posts
- Google+ Huddles
- Google+ Hangouts
- YouTube Videos
- and the list goes on, and on, and on.
So what do people talk about? Forget that question. What DON’T people talk about?
Web 2.0 was coined in 2004 by O’Reilly Media. It was the term used to describe a new two directional web, in which collaboration, participation and user centered experiences are at the forefront. Since the web opened up, and anyone could become a publisher, communities have cropped up to support all interests, topics, hobbies, career choices, music tastes, movie preferences, and anything else your mind can imagine.
Check out this new Google site called “What do you love?” Put in ANY interest, ANY topic and see what comes back.
There are literally conversations happening every minute of everyday about nearly every topic imaginable. These interactions are happening publicly on sites like Twitter or Facebook, in private communities, or one-to-one. And these conversations are going to happen no matter who chooses to acknowledge it.
And here’s the crazy part, all you have to do to start leverage all of this, is become part of it. Notice I didn’t say “use” it, I said become part of it. The first big difference between those that succeed in social media and those that don’t, is that one is part of a community, the other is watching from the outside or being the “obnoxious guy” that crashes the party.
Participating vs Starting
What do people mean when they say: you have to “participate in the conversation?” Whenever I’ve said that, I am suggesting that whatever the nature of a relevant conversation is, you can often benefit from having a voice in that exchange of dialogue and ideas. In some cases you are there to energize, activate and appreciate fans, in some cases you are there to do some damage control and provide customer service. Whether you are in the midst of something positive or figuring out how to deal with something negative, contributing a voice on behalf of the company is generally a smart move.
Beyond participation in existing conversations, companies now have the opportunity to lead new conversations. No longer do companies need to wait for a PR company to get a story in the newspaper. No longer do companies “need” TV commercials, YouTube is a legitimate means of promoting videos.
The world of content creation is now open to everyone and smart companies get involved, either by reacting to or starting conversations.
I’ve said to many people: “conversations happening, are you listening? Yes, I know, it’s catchy but it’s more than that.
It’s often been said that great salesman are great listeners. Great salespeople don’t just listen to what you are saying, they listen to what you are feeling. They listen for how they can contribute value, even if sometimes that means simply listening.
When we talk about listening to online conversations, it could mean one of two things. It could mean setting up a mechanism to be notified of content relevant to a certain set of keywords, or it could mean using the web to obtain a greater understanding of the nature of the content with the intention of using that information to improve. Thoroughly implementing both, will give companies deep insights into their customers likes and dislikes, product pros and cons, and real-time sentiment about the brand. Sounds good, eh?
I’ve heard plenty of excuses. Some of them hold water, but most don’t.
“We don’t have time.”
No time? Really? OK, I dare you to look at each person in your organization’s schedule and tell me that 10% of someone’s time can’t be reallocated. And to those organizations that have more than 1 meeting per week, you’ve got time since you are wasting so much of other people’s time. Organizations always find time for the things it finds worthwhile.
“We don’t know what to say.”
Someone does. They may be in your organization, they may not, but someone does. Furthermore, most decision makers would know what to say if someone walked up and said “your company sucks!” or “I love your company” or “how does this product work?” It’s simply a matter of listening and responding.
“We don’t have the money.”
Don’t have the money? GREAT! Guess what? This is the cheapest form of marketing you can get into. Twitter account, FREE. Facebook account, FREE. YouTube Account, FREE. No money isn’t the real reason, it’s lack of desire.
“I’m not convinced there’s an ROI in this.”
When it comes to the “listening” discussion, this one honestly gets me more annoyed than most. To create a basic listening engine it costs $0 and approximately 2 hours. If you sell ANYTHING equal to, or more than the value of those two hours you have a positive ROI. If you can’t generate a positive ROI from listening you either paid to much to listen, or aren’t doing much with what you hear.
We are the exception
Gen Y, Millennials, and young whipper-snappers, this post is not written for you. We use these technologies, we’ve embraced them, and in the case of those younger than me, they’ve grown up with them. We are listening to the conversations because we are already part the conversations and we already create the conversations. No, this post is for today’s aging CEO, the member of the leadership team that still hasn’t grasped how fundamentally our world has changed and the baby boomer who is either too disinterested or threatened by the rise of social technologies to acknowledge how important it is the future of their business.