Forget about ‘social media’: get on the conversation train!

We all have products and brands we love. Whether it is the jeans we wear or the marmelade we eat. Experience may give us a good feeling about a brand because its products suit our taste, do what they’re supposed to do, and help make our lives run smoothly.

Engaging with a brand, on the other hand, is another matter. Engaging is something people do naturally, but companies seem to have a hard time understanding what is expected from them. They’re blaring their commercials into our ears in any place they can find, including every social network they can access. In several places, notably in “The Conversation Company” by Steven van Belleghem, you will find the notion that this has to do with companies’ view of social networks as another channel for their messages. Where we see networks, they see media.

If you’ve read “The Conversation Company” it’s entirely possible that the content of this post will not surprise you. As it happens, I’ve just started reading it (finally!). Before I really dig into this book – just in case it fundamentally alters my view – I would like to share where I stand now.

Put Your Heart In The Conversation

Put Your Heart Into The Conversation

Why is engagement a problem for businesses?

We may be “engaged in conversation” or in fact “engaged to be married”. This points to a mutual interest on a personal level. Businesses are primarily interested in customer engagement. Which sounds like: let them know you’ve got great stuff and discounts and your customers will be interested.

If your business decided in the past that only the marketing and communications people were allowed to talk to customers, that decision formed the basis of today’s problems with engagement on social networks. At some point, communication was restricted to the point where employees who wanted the rest of the company to know what their department was up to, had to send their text to the internal communications team for approval before it could be published on the intranet. A lot of companies are still at that stage.

Now picture companies where that mindset prevails on a social network… People in the marketing department are in over their heads the moment they start to engage on social networks. Much of their education has been focused on sending the right message to the right people. Personal contact – conversations – with potentially thousands of brand enthousiasts is not what they were trained for. Simply adding employees with the necessary skills will only lead to them doing all the work.

3 ways for marketing departments to get social media results with limited resources

One way to max your return-on-invested time and money is by finding people who are already talking about subjects that are relevant to you. You can, simply put, add to a couple of conversations to get people’s interest, start a few of your own, and upload the latest for an interested group of potential customers who have decided to follow your activities.

Or you can engage in conversation with a limited number of product enthousiasts. This may influence people when they are online looking for information about a product which you and your competitors sell.

A third option is complete or partial automation of your social network activities. Complete automation misses the point – see my earlier post in which I describe a few types of ‘fake’ accounts I’m sure you have come across too. The bottom line of complete automation is: you’re not at home, and that may have serious side-effects. You could end up with the ‘social’ equivalent of online ads for flying vacations next to an article about a plane crash.

If you use partial automation you need to consider which parts you will do yourself:

  • Like the robots in the factory, you need to supervise what your online tools actually do, and what they may be doing wrong.
  • And you need to make sure you do your bit.

You cannot afford to take human intelligence out of the equation and expect everything to run smoothly while you’re not watching.

Check your organisation for conversation artists

The main issue is that the people who were once hired to take care of ‘communication’ have part of what you need on social networks, but not everything you need.

  • Your marketing people are traditionally good at making plans and following up on them. Viewed from such a department, the dynamics involved with social networks probably look a lot like call center dynamics: they play havoc with any kind of schedule.
  • On the other hand, your customer service employees know how to talk with people who have a complaint. Unless they’re trained to stick to customer-unfriendly protocols to the point of forgetting any other way of working, they will jump at the chance to help customers with questions.
  • Do you know who else is good with conversations within your company? You’ll need good listeners.
  • Somewhere down the line you’ll get software in to help you deal with online communication in all forms in a structured way. Before that time, however, it’s important to take inventory of what you have so you’ll know what you need.

It is time we start looking for conversation talent within our businesses. I’m convinced we’ll find it everywhere!

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