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A lot has been said about conversational marketing. A lot has been written about the difference between earned media and paid media. Is it just old medicine in a new bottle? Does it mean that

  • Instead of filling up a newspaper or magazine, you now flood social media sites with your content and advertising?
  • You do the same old things on new channels – like creating a mobile app for your website?
  • You create a Facebook page in addition to your home page and periodically post quizzes and surveys on it (and sometimes talk about world peace and hunger)?

Being where people (and your customers) are is a great idea, but it is only the first step.

1. What’s a conversation?
In all the hoopla and mushy talk about engaging with customers, starting a dialog with them and just doing “earned media” stuff, we seem to forget that a conversation is just that. A conversation is not just about publishing, advertising or watching videos and reading blogs (and posting comments on them). It’s about a meaningful exchange of information to satisfy needs.

To understand this better, just think about what you would talk to your customer about. Do you press the play button on a video and turn up the volume, or do you try to see how you can help them, discuss a problem or answer a question? It’s that simple. That’s conversation.

2. Good Conversation is two way
I love good blogs, and especially love the excellent comments that people post on them. Are they conversations? Sure they are. But most of those are just people trying to establish their own brand. Try asking them to buy your product or service. If they do (or some of them do), then you do have a great conversation going. A meaningful social media conversation has four elements to it:

  • Need
  • Information
  • Collaboration to match the information and the need
  • Collaboration to improve the information

3. Defining the right metrics
Counting on links, bounce rate and time spent on a page just means you are advertising, not conversing. These metrics can definitely help to improve the conversation, but cannot be your final metrics. Some good final metrics are retention, acquisition and spending share of customers. This means that you know your customers from their clicks. You know, and are learning about how to meet their needs better with your products and services. That’s what a conversation gives you. If you cannot explicitly link conversations with actual customer identities (if permitted by law of course), and if you are just publishing, you need to rethink your strategy.

4. How to make good conversation?
Content is an important component, but how you apply it is the crucial aspect. There’s a lot of content out there and people are making good money off the advertising, but that’s not really a corporate model for a business with products other than the content (think bank, retailer, services, etc.). What conversations can they start without getting all mushy about it? Think of the needs and information framework above. That’s the place to start. For example, consider visiting a bank’s website. You have to really (I mean really) search for how their product helps to meet your objectives. Most banks don’t even list your objectives. That’s an easy one. We call it a low hanging fruit. There are probably a lot of low hanging fruits out there to satisfy world hunger.

Next steps
Get out there and shake things up. Remember the needs and information framework and focus on it. Focus, think and think again. Once you have that foundation ready, the social media and e-commerce pundits can help you build upon it. But without that solid foundation, you’ll be advertising, not conversing. What’s your take on it?

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