Monday, February 28, 2011

Conversational Convergence, Part II – Listening

In Part I of this series on Conversational Convergence in Social Media, I discussed why you need to think of – and execute – social media as a singular force to be maximally effective. You cannot succeed in social media until you have achieved this mental calibration.

Have I achieved my goal in Part I? Have you recalibrated your thinking?

If so, welcome to Part II on Conversational Convergence.

Case Study

Here's a social media fail I came across this past week, involving a film company's Twitter post about their new film. We'll call the company "SilverScreenCo."

SilverScreenCo's Tweet invited people to rent their new film on Netflix. The Tweet included a link to the film's Netflix page, where users could add the film to their DVD queue.

Normally, this wouldn't be so bad – except that Netflix's film pages include user reviews.

As it so happens, out of dozens of Netflix user reviews for Real Stuff's new film, almost all of them are VERY negative – including all of the reviews appearing on the page that SilverScreenCo linked to.

So now, anyone who sees SilverScreenCo's Tweet, becomes inclined to see their film, and clicks on the link is likely to become immediately dissuaded by seeing the negative reviews that SilverScreenCo itself directed them to.

All SilverScreenCo had to do was look at the link they were putting out into the microblogosphere – and listen to what people were saying about them – to avoid this debacle. SilverScreenCo could have then linked its audience to the Netflix search page for the name of their film. That page would have shown SilverScreenCo's film at the top of the page with an option to add the film to the user's DVD queue – but without those pesky negative user reviews.

Instead, SilverScreenCo rushed to their pulpit, showing no interest in what other people had to say about its work. Indeed, SilverScreenCo's Twitter timeline reveals that SilverScreenCo has never once attempted to engage their audience – opting to tell them things instead. By looking at social media as a lectern from which to orate instead of a conversation, SilverScreenCo committed more than a social media faux pas. They suffered a full-blown marketing failure.

More Than Content, Revisited

Social media, by definition, has two primary components:

  • Content (the "media" component)
  • Conversation (the "social" component)
Conversation also has two primary components.

  • Talking
  • Listening
This is pretty basic. We all know that if somebody is doing all of the talking and none of the listening, that person is not having a conversation.

So why would you run your social media campaign like that?

And yet, that is exactly how most organizations use social media – all talk, no listen.

It is often what happens when you relegate your social media to the marketing department. Many marketing professionals – whether because they are overprotective of their brand(s), are arrogant, or simply have never known any alternative – will attempt to run a social media campaign the same way they would an ad campaign – trying to exercise precision and control. To these types, social media are just a collection of electronic billboards.

Social media are not print media, however. Social media are social. You can no more precisely control social media than you can a conversation. Conversation fluctuates, adapts, and evolves. It is a variable.

These are the qualities that allow people to obtain their social fulfillment from conversation – and keep them coming back for more.


In my days as a professional actor and director, there was a term we used to use: "push-shove." "Push-shove" describes how actors relate to each other and their surroundings when performing a scene together. Actors – to perform their job well – have to be open to each other and what is going on around them. They must make themselves available to their scene partners so that their actions and reactions are organic. They must listen.

Only by listening and making themselves aware of what is going on around them can actors' own actions be made real. Good actors don't act – they react. Every "push" begets a "shove" back. This is what makes good acting so powerful – and how good acting brings content (i.e., the script) alive.

This is why social media – when used well – are such enormously effective tools. It's not enough to have good content; you need push-shove byplay to bring that content to life – and use it to organically win the hearts and minds of your audience. Conversely, just as with bad acting, bad social media use will cause your audience to disengage (if not jeer you outright)).

Among other benefits, effective social media engagement converts your audience members into advocates for your brand. Having your customers as your advocates is priceless – because it is organic. Joe Purchaser and Jane Consumer have far more credibility than you can ever hope for.

Additionally, in accordance with Cialdini's Law of Consistency, the more Joe and Jane advocate for you, the more likely they are to be loyal to your brand. Such is the perpetual motion machine that is good social media.

In the perfect social media campaign, you exercise zero control – because your organic advocates are doing all of the work for you – creating and maintaining positive buzz about your brand. This is the Holy Grail of social media because it melds you and your audience into one entity engaged in one conversation. This is how you achieve Conversational Convergence.

Conversational Convergence is a powerful force – and, strictly speaking, it cannot be controlled. The more control you attempt to exert over it – the more you talk at your audience and try to direct the conversation with brute force lecture and announcement – the less effective your social media campaign will be. As with a conversation, any attempt to precisely control social media will alienate the other participants (your audience).

Do not expect to control your social media campaign. Instead, manage it. You do this by opening yourself up to your surroundings – by being aware of your environment – by listening. Then, and only then, should you speak.

After all, if you don't listen to your audience, how can you ever expect them to listen to you?

Executive Summary: Keys to Conversational Convergence, Part II

  • Social media are made up of content and conversation.
    • Conversation (social) includes listening.
      • Without listening, a social media campaign fails.
  • Make yourself aware of your social environment.
    • Don't just act; react (Push-Shove); this will make your content come alive.
    • If you don't pay attention (Listen), you might miss something important.
  • The key to unlocking the power of Conversational Convergence lies in the organic nature of social media.
    • DON'T just tell people things.
    • DON'T try to control social media.
    • DO manage your social media
    • DO use the organic nature of social media to create advocates.
      • Advocates will do the work for you – better than you ever could – and create more advocates.
      • Advocates are your most loyal fans. The more people advocate for you, the more loyal they themselves become.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Conversational Convergence, Part I – Singularity

"Does your social media suck?"

…or: "Do your social media suck?"

The above sentences illustrate the Internet debate that has gone on for some time now: Should the term "social media" be dealt with grammatically as singular or plural?

Or, to put it another way: Which is correct?

"Social media is…"
"Social media are…"

"Media" is plural for "medium." Therefore, grammatically, "social media are" is correct. End of story.

WRONG: "Social media is an important tool in branding."
RIGHT: "Social media are important tools in branding."

Grammar enthusiast that I am, I have been guilty of this mistake many times, including in my own blog.

When talking of social media strategy, however, you almost have to forget this way of thinking. By thinking about social media as a plurality of separate tools, your own social media efforts may suffer.

More Than Content

Recently, I was chatting with a friend of mine who is a CMO. The conversation eventually turned to social media. When I asked my friend how her organization used social media, she told me that they mostly just post interesting things they come across to Twitter and Facebook.

This is how many organizations miss the point of social media – by thinking of social media as separate, distinct websites to be tinkered with here and there. Far too many organizations – and even social media professionals – take the approach that all you have to do to run a successful social media campaign is post things to a Facebook page and maybe a Twitter account.

That approach fails because a successful social media strategy is more than just telling people what you want to tell them. Yes, to enjoy any success in social media is to create and supply good content. You have to do more than shove it down your audience's throats, however.

For any content to be successful in a social media campaign, it must be offered as part of a conversation – because that's what social media campaigns are: a conversation.

You must converse with your audience because the whole point of using social media is to engage them. You can't engage your audience if they have nothing with which to interact and no incentive to do so. Only by keeping an active conversation going can you keep your audience engaged.

Lecturing vs. Leading

Back when I was in law school in Boston, we had two types of professors – those who were lecture-focused and those who were conversation-focused.

The lecture-focused professors would spend every class talking at (not to – at) their students about the law. Class participation was limited to the professor occasionally calling on another student to essentially lecture on a particular case or point of law for a few minutes instead of the professor him/herself.

The conversation-focused professors would talk to the class at great length about the law, but they would also make efforts to get students directly involved in the discussion. Students were actively encouraged to ask questions, make observations, and offer insights and opinions. By running their classes this way, these professors were not instructors lecturing their students; they were moderators leading their students in a conversation.

The upshot was this: At the end of each semester, all students would have to anonymously rate their professors. Almost without fail, the best ratings would go to the conversation-focused professors. Lecture-focused professors often received abysmally low student ratings.

Later, it occurred to me that the fundamental difference between these two types of professors was how they viewed their job – and how this contributed to the perceptions the students had of the professors.

The lecture-focused professors approached their job as teaching a collection of individual classes, with a particular amount of information to be imparted at each class. Generally, these professors hated to fall behind. Curiously, however, theirs were the classes most likely to run over time.

The conversation-focused professors took a different approach entirely. Instead of taking an attitude of having to tell their students certain information each day, these professors were more oriented towards imparting a gradual understanding of the material throughout the semester. They did not see themselves as teaching several separate classes (i.e., a plurality); they saw themselves as teaching a single course – an effort to engage students in the long term.

The professors who approached teaching with a singular, cohesive strategy were more successful at engaging students – and, by extension, more successful in attracting other students by word of mouth (the results of the student ratings were public information). By focusing on the conversation, these professors improved their personal brand.

The lecture-focused professors, who approached teaching in a more piecemeal fashion, one class session at a time, were not as successful. These professors failed at engaging their students – and ultimately damaged their personal brand – because they viewed their task as a plurality rather than a singularity. They failed to achieve convergence.

Don't Teach Several Classes; Teach a Course

The successful social media professional strives for this convergence – what I call Conversational Convergence. If you approach each status update, Tweet, and blog post individually, you're just lecturing – will fail to engage your audience. You may even bore them. Instead, converse with your audience. Get them directly involved with the discussion.

Similarly, rather than using each individual social medium in a vacuum, a good social media manager will look for the cohesion between all of the tools available. This is more than hiring the kid down the street who knows how to make Facebook and Twitter "talk to each other." This is about making every social media tool you use directly serve your overall social media campaign. By viewing your social media use as a singular effort instead of multiple, smaller efforts, you can manage your brand much more effectively.

That is how you achieve Conversational Convergence. This is how you achieve social media success. You must think of social media as more than just disparate posts on a collection of web sites. You must think of social media as one all-encompassing presence – one conversation.

You must think of social media as singular.

Social media are tools – but good social media [strategy] is a convergence.

Executive Summary: Keys to Conversational Convergence, Part I

DON'T just tell your audience several pieces of information. (Plurality)
DO engage your audience in a conversation. (Singularity)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Unga Bunga Measure ROI?

I stumbled upon an article with this headline recently:
IBM Sees Blogging as Marketing's Next Big Thing
As I was contemplating ways to make fun of the headline ("In Other News, IBM Thinks the Wheel Shows Promise for the Transportation Industry"), I realized that the article is from 2005.

Even still, that seems a little late to the party.

Nonetheless, it's interesting to see the depiction of big, fuddy-duddy IBM working its way through this whole "blogging" thing that's all the rage with the kids these days -- and coming up with a rough, effective social media strategy. It's almost like reading an anthropologist's account of cavemen coming up with effective solutions to problems as they made their way in the world -- if cavemen did social media ("#FF @GrokUng b/c his cavepaintings make me LOL").

After all, these were the days when companies were firing employees for blogging about company matters.

The article details how, with no experience and very few (if any) enterprises to copy from, IBM created a highly workable social media strategy.
  • They created a list of "common-sense pointers" for their bloggers, including "follow the IBM business code of conduct; respect copyright laws; and don't reveal proprietary information" (social media policy).
  • They didn't just stick to blogs; they incorporated wikis, RSS feeds, and podcasting into their social media plan.
  • They demonstrated a firm understanding of the concept that social media is not a "tradiaional sales and marketing tool[,]" but is rather a tool for brand/reputation management and customer relations.

As ridiculous as the headline of the article is, companies can learn a lesson from the IBM of yesteryear. For all the self-proclaimed "gurus" that talk about "social media marketing," and all the skeptical whining from naysayers, the keys to social media basics are really quite simple.
  • Put one person in charge. Not zero. Not two. Not everyone in the company. One. This person is your Social Media Manager ("SMM").
  • Understand that managing social media is not the job of the marketing department, the IT department, or the CEO. It is the job of the SMM.
  • Create a social media strategy and policy that furthers your organization's objectives while limiting your organization's liability. Train your employees appropriately.
  • Engage the organization from top to bottom. Six years ago, IBM had over 15,000 internal bloggers and 2,200 external bloggers.
  • Engage across multiple platforms. Social media is not just Facebook, or Twitter, or MySpace, or LinkedIn, or blogs, or feeds. You wouldn't build a house using just a hammer; instead, make use of all of the tools that can help your social media strategy succeed.
  • Don't try to use social media as a marketing substitute.
  • Do use social media to engage with your customers/users/audience. Converse, collaborate, and maintain your brand.

It doesn't have to be complex, and it doesn't have to be expensive.

Even a caveman can do it.*

* With apologies to Geico and the those fellows in their commercials.