Choosing Your Online Conversations

It's important to figure out what to say before you start talking.

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Don't quote me on this, but Anne Morrow Lindbergh once wrote something to the effect that a good conversation is just as stimulating as black coffee - and just as hard to sleep after. That's part of the problem with the Internet these days. It's an endless warren of conversation, where people can quickly click away from anything that doesn't interest them. Unless you've got something of substance to offer, your audience is gone. 

This is the main reason why digital advertising doesn't work all that well. Admit it - you don't click on those banner ads, do you? And ten to one, you probably click the 'skip ad' button on YouTube videos just as soon as they appear. Am I right? Of course I am. In an online world built around the concept of fluid conversation, static ad copy comes across like tone-deaf buzz-sawing. No one wants it. 

So what's the alternative? Thankfully, that's an easy one. If it's conversation people want, then it's conversation you have to provide. It may be hard to accept, but your word isn't the last word on anything anymore. 

Whether you want to raise awareness for your cause, find new followers, or simply promote your brand, you've got to meet people where they are. You have to talk to people. You've got to listen and process what they say. Finally, you have to take their input into account and respond in a thoughtful manner. In other words, you have to engage them in a meaningful conversation.

Sound difficult? I won't lie: it can be. Unlike traditional marketing, an online conversation can be ongoing and hard to control. As customers' needs change, the resulting conversation is going to change as well. It's going to veer off in new directions, touch on new subjects and, ultimately, offer up new insights. 

The good news is that your brand can benefit from all this change. In order to own a greater conversation share, you simply have to be willing to listen to others and respond accordingly. Saying that you have the solution to X is of little use if people are complaining about Y. In other words, when people start talking about Y, you've got to talk about it too. Otherwise, you're just shouting into the void - the place where no one hears you. 

This means you have to deliberately choose your conversations. You have to identify your target audiences, determine their specific needs, and then zero in on the keywords and calls to action that are most likely to compel them. All the while, you need to keep in mind that conversations ceaselessly change directions the same way a river can, which means you have to pivot and veer in order to stay on course. 

Essentially, it all comes down to research. Imagine yourself walking into a cocktail party and scanning the room for a place to insert yourself. Researching online conversations is, in effect, the very same thing. You're checking out the partygoers, looking for familiar faces, and trying to figure out where you best belong. You could just walk up to a group of strangers and start jabbing away, but no one does that in the offline world, and you really shouldn't do it online either.

Thankfully, there are a ton of way you can carry out your conversation research. Some predominant examples include:

  • Keyword Everywhere - a Chrome & Firefox plug-in that offers intel on Google search terms
  • Customer review sites like Yelp and Angie's List
  • Retail sites with product reviews (Think Amazon & Target)
  • Q & A sites like Quora, Fluther, and Yahoo! Answers
  • Twitter hashtag metrics
  • Specialized Facebook groups
  • Weblogs related to your brand, product, or topic of interest
  • VidIQ - A YouTube metrics plug-in that measures video keywords and SEO

These are just a few of the ways you can find the intel needed to construct a coherent and meaningful conversation campaign. It needn't be a tedious or overly painful process, either, but the more time you spend researching your conversation the more knowledgeable you'll become. Because here's the thing: Understanding the conversation before you dive in gives you a significant advantage over the loud-mouthed advertisers who haven't yet figured out the new digital landscape. In the end, you'll be better positioned to offer up that black coffee of stimulating conversation that kept Anne Morrow Lindberg up all night. 

Until next time, 

G

 

 

Conversation Share: The Digital Metric that Matters Most

Whether you’re looking for customers or followers, you’re going to want to read this. 

A conversation, by its very nature, is something that is shared with others.   

A conversation, by its very nature, is something that is shared with others. 

 

There are any number of ways to think of the Internet. It’s a giant information portal, for instance, a repository of code and data streams. It’s also a hyper-charged entertainment and shopping platform, powered by a vast network of workstations and server racks.

Beyond that, however, the Internet is essentially one massive, ceaselessly spiraling, barely containable cornucopia of conversation. Actually, scratch that. It’s more like a sprawling cocktail party spread out over millions of gigabytes of cyberspace, with side conversations going on all over the place. No matter where you go on the Internet, somebody’s talking about something. That’s what it’s there for.

On the World Wide Web, almost all media has become social media. The old days of simply reading something are gone now. We don’t just passively consume content anymore, the way we would a newspaper or magazine. We now engage with it in a variety of ways. We share it, comment on it, like it, favorite it, retweet it, and so forth. Not only can we comment on content, but we can comment on other comments and then comment on comments that are about comments – ad infinitum. Sounds like a conversation to me.

The impact that all this online conversation has in the offline world is monumental, too. We buy products, eat in restaurants, and even vote in elections based on what we encounter online. In fact, the two most recent presidents found their way to the White House via some form of Internet conversation. Just think about it. What comes to mind when you imagine the current commander-in-chief? Why yes, of course. His Twitter account.

There’s no question, then, that conversation matters. To make an impact in cyberspace – and thus the physical world – you need to play a sizable role in the conversations that matter to you. Some might even say you need to “own” your conversation, but that’s a questionable assertion. A conversation is not a wrestling match, after all. Think of the last time you encountered a person trying to dominate a conversation at a picnic or cocktail party. How did they come across to you? As obnoxious? A boor? Something worse? Thus it goes with online conversation as well.

The better approach is to slowly develop what is called ‘conversation share.’ And what, precisely, is conversation share? Simply put, it’s the percentage of an online conversation that belongs to you. The basic formula for determining it is actually quite simple.  Its your contribution to a given conversation divided by the entirety of the conversation within a certain domain, such as Twitter. Let’s say you tweet 50 times about stopwatches in a one-week period, during which a total of 500 stopwatch-related tweets go out. Your conversation share for that week is therefore ten percent. See how that works?

You might think it would be ideal for a brand (or person) to have 100% of a conversation, but no. If you contribute the entire input on a given topic then no one else is talking about it. And if you own 98% of a conversation, then you’re drowning other voices out, which really isn’t acceptable either. Remember the last TV commercial you saw one too many times? Remember how sick of it you were? That’s what happens when you have too much conversation share.

So how much conversation share should you have, exactly? Well, it depends. Some conversations are simply too large to dominate. Think of topics like “health” or “cooking” and the millions upon millions of searches performed on those terms every single day. It’s unrealistic to think you’re going to dominate in those arenas. Instead, you want to try for a percentage of a smaller conversation that’s well defined and navigable. You’ll never own ‘fitness,’ but with enough diligence and effort, you could have a sizable share of the ‘boot camp workouts’ conversation. See how that works?

There’s no denying that conversation share is a dense topic that requires a great deal of unpacking. Just look at how much cyberspace we've burned up already. In fact, there’s no way it can be adequately covered in a single blog post, let alone three or four. No sooner is one topic brought to light than a new gaggle of questions appear. Am I talking to the right people? Am I saying the right things? What kind of tone should I take? How can I contribute something meaningful and impactful? And which conversations should I even be participating in?

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be exploring the topics of online conversation and conversation share in greater detail. We’ll look at strategies you can use to broaden your reach and extend your impact. For now, though, feel free to join in on this conversation. I invite you to leave your comments and questions below, follow EdgeTheory on Twitter and Facebook, and even shoot us an email. I’ll be back in a few days to dig a little further into conversation share.

Until then,

G

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