Conversational Marketing in the Age of Social Media
With all this talk about web 2.0 and conversational marketing, I can’t help but to think about Marshall McLuhan who I read about in my college communication classes (I know, I’m dating myself.) According to McLuhan, “we shape our tools and they in turn shape us.” In the short time that I’ve been reading and writing blogs, I feel like an entire new way of writing and communication has opened for me.
It reminds me of the excitement I felt when the first web browser (netscape) was installed on my computer at work in the early 90′s, and when I first started learning html, web site design and development. The changes that have been happening over the years have continued to compel me. Now, more then ever, I feel as if I’m being shaped again. This time by web 2.0.
I find myself reading all about blogs, and how they can be best used in businesses. I started reading an excellent book this past weekend, “Naked Coversations: how blogs are changing the way businesses talk with customers”, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel.
A great quote from the book- “…we are now convinced that blogging is a tool of a very significant revolution, one that has become virtually unstoppable, something that shifts the balance of relationships, between companies and the communities in which they operate.”
Blogs, wikis and podcasts are shaping how we communicate. The opportunities to make ourselves heard are more accessible than ever before. And as Tim O’Reilly says, the cardinal rule about web 2.0 is “Users Add Value.” Watch the short video below.
I’ve made a commitment to join in this conversation. However, as I sit in front of my laptop for the second week in a row, I find myself stumped. I’m not stuck on what to write about – as there are so many topics to consider in today’s Web 2.0 marketing world. Instead, I’m struggling with finding a real voice. I, like other bloggers, want to engage in conversation that is real and personal. But, making it real and personal would mean killing the corporate voice that I’ve grown accustomed to using for the past 15 years.
The language of traditional corporate marketing, including all of its buzzwords, acronyms and messages that no one understands, has no place in the blogosphere. Blog writing isn’t like the writing business marketers have typically practiced. It’s not the writing we learned in school. Blogging, at its best, is a conversation. Stiff, formal language will only scare away potential readers.
I’ve come across various tips on writing compelling blog posts. One article, published on MarketingProfs.com, an online resource for marketing professionals really caught my attention. In “How to Write Compelling Blog Posts” by B.L. Ochman, the writer highlighted over 20 blog writing guidelines. As I further hone my blog writing skills and replace the corporate voice with my own, I’ll consider the following to be critical steps:
On the train to New York a few days ago, I met a couple of Manhattan PR account executives who work with technology start ups. They talked about one client in particular who, they described as having “a pretty good brand” and website that “needs work.” They mentioned something about a flashing graphic on the site that is a bit irritating.
A product or a vision?
Flashing graphics aside, the company, it turns out, is overseen by some pretty talented scientists who have an innovative product. Their brand, their website and their graphics, all correspond with that one product.
I asked the account manager if this firm plans to expand beyond one product and grow the company. Of course, he responded, isn’t that every small company’s plan?
Perhaps it is, but in this case, their marketing doesn’t reflect it. Logos, messaging and imagery often start out centered around the one product that a company offers. Once they grow bigger and bring in strategic business experts, their vision broadens to solving a problem or problems in a certain industry with a series of products.
When smart start ups grow up and begin thinking with a bigger picture, that’s when the scientists, engineers and other product developers make room for business and marketing strategists. This company knew enough to seek out and retain a PR firm. That’s a good start.
Now they have an opportunity to tap into another key expert group: their customers. To make a real play in a competitive market, you have to keep an ear to the ground, which is the big payoff when you engage in social media and open a conversation with your customer.
Asking, Not Telling
“How to Qualify Leads with Targeted Online Surveys”, a case study from MarketingSherpa, profiles a company that filled their pipeline and closed sales by conducting an online survey that was industry or role relevant, not overtly sales-oriented. Once the company understood the customer issues, they were able to have informed conversations with their customers.
What are the problems in your industry? What criteria does the customer have for the solution? Does customer insight hold the key to growing your business to the next level? There is no better way to get the answer than to ask.
Have you felt like the Web 2.0 phenomenom has been passing you by? Are you seeing lots of press about it, and you just can’t wrap your hands around it?
So what’s a person to do? To start with, I’d recommend becoming familiar with the language-the web 2.0 lingo, and the social media websites that have been leading the way.
Each week I’ll post a few definitions of some of the new words which have been finding their way into the websites and the materials we read- newsletters, newspapers, magazines and industry journals.
Here’s a few to get us started:
blog (or weblog)
short for Web log, a blog is a Web page that serves as a publicly accessible personal journal for an individual or company.
web 2.0 (read/write web)
web 2.0 is the term given to describe a second generation of the World Wide Web that is focused on the ability for people to collaborate and share information online.
wiki is a piece of server software that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. Wiki supports hyperlinks and has a simple text syntax for creating new pages and crosslinks between internal pages on the fly.
As a marketer, I recognize that MARCOM is becoming more conversational every day. It’s even said that spending on conversational marketing will actually outpace spending on traditional marketing methods by 2012. In Join the Conversation, a new book written by Joseph Jaffe, findings of a 2007 research study indicate that 81% of marketers believe that in 5 years they’ll be spending as much or more on conversational marketing vs. traditional marketing. Wow, although I didn’t actually participate in the survey, count me within that pool of marketers!
Consider the vast increase of one conversational marketing tool – the blog. A recent visit to Technorati.com, a blog tracking site, tells us that there are over 175,000 new blogs every day. Bloggers, both personal and business, update their blogs regularly to more than 1.6 million posts per day, or over 18 updates a second.
Blogging is a powerful tool, allowing businesses to communicate with a significant number of customers. It provides a means to spread information quickly – such as a product launch – which is conversational and personal in nature. A blog also engages discussion with customers by creating an open, honest, trust-building dialogue. It can build customer awareness, make customers more willing to try products and increase brand loyalty.
It’s easy to see why corporate America, entrepreneurs and marketers alike have embraced the business blog as a critical element in their shift to conversational marketing.
Time and again, people say “what exactly do you mean by Web 2.0?”
I still think one of the best descriptions I’ve come across is a short video on YouTube. It’s entertaining, too!
Matt Goddard recently published an article on web2journal.com about the corporate benefits of Web 2.0 tools. Goddard references a study by Gartner Research which states that the average person needs about 49 minutes per day to manage email.
Goddard suggests we consider the Web 2.0 alternative to email – the blog.
“Blogs are superior to e-mail in that they offer a centralized location for topic-specific content from the team for a given project, separate from the disposable project correspondence that occurs between team members. Unlike e-mail, blog posts are structured so that they’re easy to follow, even with the complex interaction of team input required by long-term projects.”
Don’t know about you but I could use those extra 49 minutes. Think about it.
Is Your E-Mail System Broken? ‘The e-mail system is in a complete heap.’ Those are the words of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created a little something called the World Wide Web, in reference to e-mail’s shortcomings as a communications tool. His message is that although e-mail is effective for one-on-one dialogue, it has flaws that impede the kind of knowledge gained from true team collaboration. To promote collaboration for your teams and projects in ways that e-mail cannot, the answer lies in the corporate potential of ‘Web 2.0′ tools.
Nearly a month has passed since CW Consulting Group project manager Amy Rosenfield and I attended the BIMA sponsored Cross Media Forum, held at the Taj Hotel in Boston. That week seems nearly a light year in how it has impacted our organization. The event has instilled us with excitement for the opportunity and challenge that all marketers and their clients face with new technology platforms.
While I have toyed with starting a blog, we are long overdue, and now we have a lot to talk about. This blog is for our clients, our colleagues and or anyone interested in Social Media (a.k.a. Web 2.0) and Conversational Marketing, which are in full throttle all around us.
The top take-ways from the event, which included a keynote by Peter Hirshberg from Technorati, panelists from ESPN, Scripps, Mullen, Time Warner, PARTNERS+Simons, Hill Holiday, Digitas and others, are surprisingly not technical.
Okay, so you are saying, “what has this got to do with Web 2.0 anyway?” Well, the bottom line is, the more things change, the more they stay the same, if not getting more complicated.
So this blog is intended to open the conversation with our network of professionals in the B2B, B2C and not-for-profit world about how technologies like blogs, wikis, podcasting, widgets and all social media tools can be added to your marketing tool box, and how the ever important elements of communication and collaboration are crucial, more than ever before.