Comment, Community, and/or Conversational Marketing, Will the Real CM Please Stand Up?

Conversation

Of all the forms of traditional and new media marketing, blogs continue to evolve as the global exchange for sharing ideas, opinions and interpretations across all industries. So much so, that yet another old online strategy is being dolled up as a new trend, extending the original practice of participation from traditional forums into the blogosophere.

Some call it conversational marketing or community marketing, as rooted in the almighty Web 2.0 bible Cluetrain Manifesto, while others flock behind comment marketing (especially the SEO groups.) In my opinion, community and conversational marketing are much bigger umbrellas when discussing social media, whereas comment marketing is a specific tactic related to blogs, forums, and review sites.

The idea here is that people visit high traffic blogs, comment in a way that is situated somewhere in between controversial and conversational, pepper it with key words and expertise, and ensure that there are links that lead the community back to you (or your client).

But, honestly, this really isn’t anything new, however, because it can be deemed as yet another tool in the world of social media, it might quickly become all the rage. And what’s worse, is that many unqualified people will risk brands and reputation to learn first hand, what a dedicated community can do to fresh meat.

Stumpette recently ran a post entitled, “Is PR Too Stupid for Conversational Marketing?” where they basically kick the PR industry in the nuts (figuratively speaking of course, PR is androgynous), spit, and then remind them that they’re not invited to play this game.

According to the author, “The key to CM is that a client organization is supposed to relinquish control. So the question is: what does a manager manage in a system sans management? That’s where the real genius comes in. If you can’t manage it, you can’t measure it, i.e. you can’t measure me; and if you can’t measure me and are still paying me a lot of money, well trust me it must be good. If you’re the head of an agency, you’re seeing big green dollar signs right about now and feeling a little woozy…your ship has finally come in!”

dumbass

The simple answer from my standpoint is yes. No apologies. No explanations. Yes, PR, as a whole, is too stupid to engage at this level, and more importantly, at any level that requires believable engagement. The problem though, isn’t anything new however. The truth of the matter is that PR has done a great job shooting arrows into the air from the back lines while other pioneering marketers ran out into the battlefield to test their skill and learn from the engagement.

For far too long, PR has operated behind a wall, spamming media with generic emails and press releases, without taking the time to understand why their news matters to the community they’re trying to reach. And now with the tools to reach communities directly at their fingertips, many will fail, while a few smart, immersed, and passionate professionals will converse transparently. But perhaps at that point, they’re no longer just another PR person, they could in theory, graduate to something much more important and influential.

But, it’s not just about PR, it’s about any company looking to jump into the conversation. Some have even hired community managers to track related discussions and have them participate as new opportunities arise. Others start the dialogue through their own blogs. But comment marketing requires a no BS approach to prevent peers from banishing you in disgrace. It requires knowledge, understanding, the ability to listen, and most importantly, the experience to provide an unquestionably relevant comment that is either informative, insightful, helpful, intellectually disruptive, or undoubtedly witty.

Why? Because there are risks….and the stakes are high. This is YOUR reputation. This is your company’s brand. Respect the communities you engage in and they will respect you. The cost of entry is participation and information. The cost of failure, is well, not only embarrassing, but could spark a sharp decline in sales and brand credibility.

Deb Schultz had a great post about it last year that is still a great read.

Here are some tips:
1. Read the blog
2. Read the comments
3. Let it permeate
4. Understand the pain points
5. Know what the hell you’re talking about
6. Be a resource, not a sales person
7. When in doubt, shake it up or say something witty
8. Be consistent
9. Revisit the comments sections you participate in to make sure that things progress naturally
10. Pay attention, as there might be something to learn from the entire discussion for the next time

Update: John Bell posted a very thorough examination of “Who “owns” conversational marketing?” It’s a good post that actually should link back to this article. I believe that an easier question to answer is who shouldn’t try to own the conversation because, at the end of the day, it is created by and for the people. Most of the worst offenders make-up the majority of all marketers…therefore, we need to bring them into these conversations in order to make an impact.

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  • deb schultz

    well said BD! I really like your practical tips. Thanks for the props.

    Great use of a movie poster..;)w

  • Ryan Holiday

    I’ve been struggling to write this exact same post for quite some time now. I don’t think I could have said it better myself. In fact, I’m just going to quote you instead.

    Great work as usual.

  • Brian Solis

    Deb, Ryan thank you! Ryan, let me know when you run your story!

  • Geoff_Livingston

    I’m not sure if its PR< or PR firms that don’t understand human behavior. Either way, I agree. I think big firms take mass media approaches to individual bloggers, and pay the price. Or their clients pay the price.

  • Brian Solis

    Hey Geoff, you’re right. It might be a bit of both…cheers!

  • Sally Falkow

    I agree PR people have been slow to adopt new media strategies – but a blanket statement that PR in general is too stupid for social media is not accurate.

    Some PR practitioners, maybe. Even many PR practitioners.

    But there are some of us who definitely ‘get it’ and we are evangelizing to the industry.

    Social media is a perfect vehicle if you really understand the bssis of public relations. Per definition it is establishing and maintaining mututal understanding between a ocmpany and its various publics, both internal and external.

    If you truly strive to achieve that, social media is the best possible PR tool to come along in the last 100 years.

  • Brian Solis

    Sally you’re exactly right. Social media is disruptive and represents a tremendous opportunity for PR to evolve and improve. It also provides them with a more public forum to crash and burn if they’re not engaged at a real and transparent level.

  • Steven Phenix

    Hi Brian,

    Long time no talk! It’s good to see you still dancing on the cutting edge of public relations!

    -Steven

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  • Anonymous

    Sally, you are right. Social media is disruptive and represents a fantastic opportunity for PR to develop and improve. It also provides them a more public forum to crash and burn if they are not employed at a fair and transparent.
    SEO Company

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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