Mapping Your Online Conversations: A Go-To Guide for Digital Marketers

Having a conversation map is the easiest way to keep your campaigns going in the right direction.

By Gregg Newby

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Someone once said that every conversation is an adventure. You go new places and discover new things without having to change locations. While that's certainly true, it’s also true that no adventurer worth their weight in salt ever left port without a map in hand. Thus it goes for online conversation as well. While it’s fine to let your day-to-day interactions ebb and flow as they may, no digital marketing effort can really be complete until you’ve developed and fine-tuned a bona fide, grade A, client-approved conversation map.

But what exactly is a conversation map? Essentially, it’s a visualization of the conceptual and linguistic parameters that your digital marketing efforts need to observe. In layman‘s terms, it includes everything your campaign is going to talk about while omitting everything else.

Some readers might be thinking at this point that a conversation map sounds like another silly marketing gimmick.  Isn’t it obvious what your campaign should and shouldn’t be discussing? Not necessarily. No two clients are alike, even when they’re in the same industry. Therefore, the conversations they build with online audiences are going to be highly individualized. A conversation map serves to keep each campaign focused on its key concepts and, ultimately, to stay on message.

Here’s a real world example to drive the point home. Let’s say you have two clients in the athletics footwear sector looking to build their following on social media. Let’s say they both specialize in running gear for marathoners. Shouldn’t they be discussing the very same things? You might think so at first, but after sitting down with each client you learn that company A also sells a line of energy bars, whereas Company B is focused solely on the footwear. Suddenly you have two very different conversation maps. Client A needs you to talk about the body's depletion of nutrients after a workout. There's no way you can ever bring that up for Client B, however. It's irrelevant and could actually cause some runners to question whether marathons are even a good idea.

So how exactly do you go about making a conversation map, then? Essentially it begins – and ends - with the client. Before you even draft the first piece of content, it’s essential you schedule a sit-down to learn about the client’s various offerings and the challenges it’s facing. Think of it as a question and answer session where you delve as deeply as you can into the client’s business model and zero in on expectations.

After that, it’s time to start plotting. You need pen and paper for this exercise, and the more people who can participate the better the map will be. The good news is that there’s no set format a conversation map has to follow. It can be a word cloud, a series of connected bubbles, or just a plain old list of words. The important thing is that you get the key concepts and themes down on paper before you start drafting content that goes too far astray.

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Once you have your conversation map, it’s time to double back with the client. Trust me on this. The client needs to review what you’ve put together in order to ensure the resulting content is going to be in line with its business objectives. No company wants to see its marketing revenue spent on immaterial content, no matter how clever it happens to be. Gaining the client's documented approval helps ensure you never shoot at the wrong targets. And if something does happen to be missing from the map, it’s the client who’s best positioned to point it out.

Not until the client is happy with this map should you begin creating your content. Here’s the thing, though. Conversation maps are never static. As needs change, so must the way we talk about them. As the client develops new products or services and discontinues older ones, the conversation necessarily evolves. So too must the map you use. This means you need to periodically revisit it and double check its relevancy. When done properly, you’ll find yourself adding new words and concepts while eliminating older ones. This will ensure that the content remains dynamic and that the right audience is kept in the crosshairs.

I won’t lie. A proper conversation map can be a lot of work. But remember, a conversation is an adventure. If your map’s wrong then you’re liable to end up like Columbus, who landed in the Bahamas believing he was in India.