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How brands rediscover the lost art of conversation

January 17, 2011 63 Comments

Image: larrydressler.com

Brands and consumers are now in dynamic conversation. Of that there is no doubt. The polarity of the conversation has shifted too as social tools have allowed consumers to become producers, publishers, distributors and curators of content that impacts brand narratives. The onus then falls on brands to adjust and respond in meaningful and effective ways. The question is, are they capable?

Obviously brands can distribute their own content, reply to blog posts or tweets, establish crisis management protocols, and initiate cause marketing campaigns. Each are effective strategies for consumer engagement. But as the marketplace becomes more fragmented into a growing number of micro-platforms and communities, brands must become not just active listeners but skilled conversationalists. What does this mean?

A skilled conversationalist must be equally adept at engaging different audiences in different environments. Leading brands may now becoming comfortable on twitter and Facebook, but as we see with the recent arrival of Quora, a question and answer platform, or a mobile photo-sharing applications like Instagram, brands must now wade into conversations taking places in different formats among smaller, self-defined groups.

For example, Semil Shah suggests in TechCrunch that brands could have links to their Quora topic page on their homepage to interact with consumers asking questions. On the flipside, Quora users could engage around a topic and create a situation in which brands would have no choice but to respond publicly.

The task ahead for brands is getting more difficult in direct proportion to the more nuanced the social web is becoming. This demands that they be more technological savvy, nimble, resourceful and commited to maintaining a consistent and recognized brand personality within multiple conversations across a growing number of platforms so that the sum of the brand perception exceeds the parts.

To get there brands need to upgrade their commitment (in terms of both time and bodies) to social listening and engagement. They need to establish a Social Business Unit (explained in detail by the Dachis Group here.) They need to internally monitor and manage how their brand will interact across specific text, video, photo or multi-media platforms.

This dizzying array of options is one of the main reasons brands must become media and content producing companies. They cannot simply create TV, print, radio or banner ads as in the past and plug it into the existing broadcast system. Tech savvy is fast becoming social savvy. As Brian Solis explains, brands that fail to embrace these roles and  neglect to commit time, people and planning to them, are setting themselves up for failure. The technology, tools and expertise to help them is available. But first they must commit to relearning the art of conversation specific to the social web.

Do you believe brands will expand their conversational skills to emerging technology? Or do you believe brands will insist on being echo chambers for themselves?

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About Simon Mainwaring

We First training and consulting helps the world’s most innovative brands tell the story of the good work they do in ways that build their reputation, employee productivity, sales and social impact.

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