Friday, March 11, 2011

Conversational Convergence, Part III – Connection

Part I of this series on Conversational Convergence in Social Media addressed how to mentally converge social media into a singularity – one manageable entity – and why doing so is a must for anyone who works with social media.

Part II made clear the indispensable importance of listening to social media success. Only by listening and engaging in push-shove with your audience can you make social media work for you.

Today, in Part III, I show you how those essentials (singularity and listening/push-shove), when properly combined, create something magical.

I also share with you the secret of brand management that threatens the entire marketing industry. Marketing professionals deny its truth, but with this secret, you can unleash the full organic power of social media.

Finally, I briefly discuss with you how to maintain the magic and the power of your brand once you have unleashed it.

If you have read and understand Parts I and II, if you're excited about the power of Conversational Convergence in social media, and if you're ready – welcome to Part III.


In my previous post, I wrote that conversations have two primary components: talking and listening.

There is a third component however that allows the disparate components of talking and listening to converge into the singularity that is a conversation.

It is connection.

Without connection, you don't have a conversation. You just have some talking and some listening going on. Without connection, talking is to listening as oil is to vinegar.

To establish connection in a conversation, you need three things:

  • Contribution
  • Consistency
  • Relevancy


Case Study

I took part in an utterly exhausting meeting earlier this month.

The meeting included three representatives from an Internet startup (we'll call the company "DUH"), a friend of mine, and me. The whole thing lasted less than twenty minutes, it but it felt like an hour.

I won't bore you with the details, but here's the gist of how it went: My friend and I had specific questions for the people from DUH about a topic which I'll call "ABC." Unfortunately, after several attempts to get answers to our questions, we were forced to give up – and politely end the meeting.

I didn't record the meeting, but I created a dramatic reenactment of the meeting based upon what I remember. If there is any exaggeration at all, it is minor.



The meeting lasted another five minutes. I'll talk about those last five minutes in a bit.


Missed Opportunity

DUH had a real opportunity to impress us by sharing valuable insight and information, which in turn would have led us to share with our friends and the world at large how great DUH is. Instead, our meeting with DUH left us totally unimpressed with them. We expect that we will never hire DUH; we certainly don't plan to recommend DUH to anyone else.

One of the problems is that the DUH representatives didn't listen to us as much as they could have. Meanwhile, they talked at us about topics we weren't interested in (talking over us in the process)

The biggest problem in our conversation with DUH however was the lack of contribution.

Contribution

For people to willingly engage in conversation with you, there has to be some value-add (or, at least, a perceived value-add) in it for them. This is a contribution.

Contributions are what connect people to you. It's not enough to sit in a corner and wail, "Love me!" You have to offer something. You must add value – or you will languish.

In the social media space, these value-adds are typically along the lines of entertainment or valuable information. Occasionally, they may be more tangible (for instance, Redbox recently offered Facebook users who "Liked" their Facebook page a free rental). These are examples of positive contributions that get people to willingly, freely engage (there are exceptions, but they are best addressed in another blog post).

You achieve these value-adds by sharing with others not what's important to you, but what's important to them. This is what all positive "social" contributions have in common, and it exemplifies the importance of social listening (as I discussed in Part II).

Therefore, in addition to contributing to others, you must also invite and allow others to contribute to you. If you're charged with the success of a social media campaign, this is not optional. Getting others to contribute will inform your social listening (e.g., market research, crowdsourcing, etc.).

More importantly, however, getting others to contribute in this fashion will allow the organic nature of social media to take root.

This organic nature holds a secret that marketing professionals (and, unfortunately, many social media professionals) do not understand – and may never understand – about social media. Because they do not understand it, they fear it. Accordingly, to maintain their own façade of power, they disdain and ignore the secret.

If you want to be successful with social media, however, you can't afford to ignore it.

Are you ready for the secret? Here it is:

You don't define your brand; your audience does. You can lead, you can advocate, and you can suggest – but that's all.

Many marketing professionals don't like that line of thinking because they see it as a threat to their education, their experience, and the traditional marketing techniques that make up their livelihoods. They do not understand the secret, so they fear it. Effective brand-building, however, is much more than pop culture savvy, witty advertising, and market segmentation clichés. It is about sharing.

It is through your audience's contributions that you can really come into your own as a powerful brand – because when your value-added contributions beget contributions back from your audience, you and your audience become entangled in a web of sharing.

Sharing is what makes social media "social."

It is also the beginning of convergence.

When you share with someone, you let that person "in" – into your life – into who you are.

As such, once people share with you, they become connected to you. You have drawn them in with your contribution; now, they will contribute to you – and continue to do so – because they have made you a part of their lives.

Connection is magic.


The short of it is this:

You can't get people to freely engage with you if you don't add value for them.

You can't add value for someone without making a positive contribution.

Advocates

Adding value for others in the social media space also creates a greater audience for you – and, with that larger audience, more fans. This happens because of Cialdini's Law of Reciprocation: if you do someone a kindness, that person will want to do a kindness for you – sometimes an even greater kindness than the one you performed for them. If you voluntarily add value for someone, you are – by definition – doing them an unpaid (or not fully paid) kindness.

This is how you create advocates.

Advocates, as I discussed in Part II, are people who take it upon themselves to promote you and evangelize your message. They are like gold in social media campaigns because they allow you to exercise less control and rely more upon the organic nature of social media that makes social media such a powerful force. Advocates are so connected to you that they are like a magical extension of your own body – seeing what you can't see, hearing what you can't hear, and touching what you can't touch.

They also contribute on your behalf – creating value for others in your name. They expand your social reach by perpetuating the cycle of sharing, virus-like. The more positive contributions towards your brand and your message (and to others on your behalf), the more your influence grows. You and your followers are connected by what you have shared, converging not only into a single conversation, but a single community – with you as community leader.

That is the value of adding value.

Consistency

Both the magic you create and the value you add have to be maintained, however. That's where consistency comes into play.

People are connected by what is shared between them. Therefore, for maximum connection, what which is shared needs to not only continue to be shared, but shared in the same way.

This phenomenon is called globalization. It's how we know what to expect when we come into a new town or new country – and see familiar restaurant signs. It's also how we're able to continue to share with others about our own experiences – because they've had these experiences too, thanks to the wonder of mass media and the Internet. Globalization is a powerful, large-scale form of consistency, and if you harness it properly, you can quickly achieve social media success.

The first step to harnessing the power of globalization is building a universal presence. As you continue on your social media quest, this will come naturally as your social capital grows organically. You can accelerate the establishment of your universal presence, however, by making yourself available in more locations.

Just as you can expect to see a McDonald's in almost every major developed city, so should your audience expect to see you on most major social platforms. These days, there's little excuse for anyone in the social media game to not be on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Indeed, it may be desirable and even necessary in some cases to have multiple pages or accounts on one or more of these sites because of their ubiquity.

Branch out beyond this trinity as well. Sites like YouTube, Tumblr, Blogger, Reddit, and Flickr are similarly ubiquitous, and there's little good reason to not tap their audiences as well (indeed, YouTube is the world's most used search engine behind Google). Other, younger sites like Vimeo, Quora, and Posterous are also creating a lot of buzz. Why not establish a social outlet on those sites as well?

Indeed, there are literally hundreds of social media sites with sizable audiences. You don't need to have daily activity on all of them, naturally (that would be exhausting for even the hardest working social media manager), but the more of these sites that you can build at least some cognizable presence on, the more globalized your brand will be. By extension, the more reachable you will be to your audience, and the more inviting you become to audience engagement.

Of course, this is just the first step. The second step is styling yourself – and doing so both distinctively and consistently. Anytime you have a multi-channel presence, it is imperative that the experience for your audience be consistent because:

  • A consistent style will build brand recognition, and

You can achieve this level of self-consistency with the help of a strong social media policy drafted and enforced by an effective social media manager, as explained here.

Relevancy

Of course, there's more to consistency than being consistent with yourself. You need to be consistent with the conversation too; otherwise, you will never achieve Conversational Convergence. To be consistent with the conversation, you can't just try to find openings in the conversation to talk about what's important to you; you have to listen to your audience to find out what is important to them, and then deliver that.

Consistency, therefore, is not inflexibility. Rather, you need to temper it with relevancy to your audience, to your brand, and to the world around you. As things change, so too must you change. Indeed, there are times when you must anticipate change, and you must be consistently innovative. Then, consistently evolve your style and your message as your brand evolves – and consistently apply it across your globalized outlets.

You will find that the more you innovate while listening to and sharing with your audience, these three elements – innovation, listening, and sharing – will converge into something truly special: Collaboration.

Additionally, the more you collaborate with your audience:

  • the more you contribute and add value (because you are sharing with your audience),
  • the more consistent you are (because you are letting the organic nature of social media kick in by releasing control to your audience to define your brand), and
  • the more relevant you are (because you are working with your audience to incorporate what is important to them into your brand management).

This is how you stay relevant to your audience and maintain your path to social media success. Connection is a perpetual cycle. Only by staying relevant can you continue to contribute to and add value for your audience – and consistency helps you stay universally relevant. If you lose consistency, you lose increments of relevancy. The more relevancy you lose, the less value you add. The less value you add, the more the conversation breaks down, and the less people will want to engage with you.

But: If you keep up with all three elements of Connection – Contribution, Consistency, and Relevancy – you will achieve and maintain Conversational Convergence into a Singular Social Community.


DUH: Epilogue

DUH made many mistakes in their meeting with my friend and me. They often did not listen to us – and frequently spoke over us. They engaged in very little push-shove, failing to appropriately react instead. It was as if the meeting was a performance of Hamlet, but the representatives were Duh were performing parts from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Worse, they did not attempt to make any contributions or add any value; instead, they tried to shove down our throats what may have been important to them but was not important to us. In failing to recognize what was important to us, they failed to achieve any consistency with the conversation, losing relevance in the process.

(Ironically, the three representatives who spoke to us worked in marketing and digital media; they should have known better.)

Eventually, however, I realized that they were not the only guilty parties. For all of their failings and incompetencies, my friend and I had also failed. Although we politely listened to DUH's pitch about "XYZ," we did not provide the appropriate reciprocal contributions. Sure, if the meeting had gone well, DUH would have had access to our network, some good PR (I do, after all, write about this sort of thing), and possibly some new business – but my friend and I did not immediately recognize that, for whatever reason, DUH valued these benefits less than they valued talking about XYZ.

When I did realize this (right around the point where the dramatic reenactment cuts off), I started asking some very leading questions in which we tried to connect the subject of XYZ (which DUH wanted to converse about) to the subject of ABC (which my friend and I wanted to converse about). After a couple of attempts at this, we were finally able to eke out a couple of useful insights and pieces of information about ABC from the DUH representatives.

What little we got out of DUH was not nearly as much as my friend and I had hoped for or needed, but it is worth noting that we would have gotten nothing out of the meeting (and might still be there listening to the marvels of XYZ) had we not changed our tactics and started making value-added contributions to the conversation that DUH wanted to have – a conversation about XYZ.

Conversation, after all, is not just one-way. It requires multiple people.

Somebody has to take responsibility for the Convergence.

Otherwise, it's just words.


Executive Summary: Keys to Conversational Convergence, Part III

  • Connection is the magic that transforms and converges talking and listening into a conversation.
  • Connection requires three interconnected elements:
    1. Contribution
      • You contribute to people by adding value for them.
        • A value-add involves something that is important to the other person.
      • Positive Contribution induces people to:
        • Willingly engage, and
        • Become Advocates.
          • Advocates will build your community – a community that you lead.
      • Encourage your audience to contribute in turn to foster:
        • Your social listening,
        • Brand evolution, and
        • A web of sharing.
          • You are connected with your audience by that which has been shared between you.
    2. Consistency
      • Achieve consistency through globalization.
        • Build a universal, multi-channel presence across as many social media outlets as feasible.
        • Achieve self-consistency through one distinctive style, developed and maintained by:
          • An effective social media manager, and
          • Strong social media policy.
    3. Relevancy
      • Be flexible!
      • Anticipate change!
      • Use consistency to stay innovative and evolve as your brand evolves.


Coming Up: Wrap-Up

Sometime soon, I will post a wrap-up summary of these past three posts. I hope you enjoyed this series on Conversational Convergence. More posts, and perhaps another series, about this topic will definitely follow.

Thanks as always to my readers. You guys are great.

- Joe


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