Introducing The Conversation Prism

Last year, Robert Scoble and Darren Barefoot debuted the Social Media Starfish to visualize and document the rapidly evolving landscape for social tools, services, and networks.

If you work in marketing, public relations, advertising, customer service, product development, or any discipline that’s motivated, shaped, and directed by customers, peers, stakeholders and influencers, monitoring and in some cases, participating in online conversations is critical in competing for the future.

Over the last month, I worked with Jesse Thomas of JESS3, to create a new graphic that helps chart online conversations between the people that populate communities as well as the networks that connect the Social Web. The Conversation Prism is free to use and share. It’s our contribution to a new era of media education and literacy.

The Conversation Prism

The conversation map is a living, breathing representation of Social Media and will evolve as services and conversation channels emerge, fuse, and dissipate.

If a conversation takes place online and you’re not there to hear or see it, did it actually happen?

Indeed. Conversations are taking place with or without you and this map will help you visualize the potential extent and pervasiveness of the online conversations that can impact and influence your business and brand.

As a communications or service professional, you’ll find yourself at the center of the prism – whether you’re observing, listening or participating. This visual map is the ideal complement to The Essential Guide to Social Media and the Social Media Manifesto, which will help you better understand how to listen and in turn, participate transparently, sincerely, and effectively.

As conversations are increasingly distributed, everything begins with listening and observing. Doing so, will help you identify exactly where relevant discussions are taking place, as well as their scale and frequency. This dialog can be charted into a targeted social map that’s unique to your brand. In the example below, I created a Social Map using MindJet to represent the communities where I either need to or currently contribute based on my initial research.

Perhaps most importantly, the process of listening and observing will reveal the cultures of the very communities you may wish to engage.

Remember, participating in Social Media is more meaningful when you have a deeper understanding of anthropology and sociology and not just the social tools that facilitate interaction. This is about creating and cultivating relationships with people, online and in the real world, and these relationships are defined by mutual value and benefits.

In the social economy, relationships are the new currency.

Enjoy the Conversation Prism and please let me know how you’d like to see it evolve.

Please also see The Social Media Ecosystem by Deb Schultz, which debuted in November 2007.

For more on the subject, please also read:

Comcast, Dell and The Socialization of Service
New Communication Theory and the New Roles for the New World of Marketing
The Social Revolution is Our Industrial Revolution
The Art of Conversation – It’s About Listening Not Marketing
Will The Real Social Media Expert Please Stand Up?
Cultural Voyeurism and Social Media
Free ebook: Customer Service, The Art of Listening and Engagement Through Social Media
Distributed Conversations and Fragmented Attention

Connect with me on Twitter, Jaiku, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pownce, Plaxo, FriendFeed, Plurk or Facebook.

  • Felix Leander

    Hi Brian – anyway you can add some more International properties to the image: “The Conversation”…

  • Alejandro Reyes

    dude this rocks brian – as always man – your content is insanely valuable.

    i appreciate all ya do man!

  • Janie Graziani

    Hi Brian — thanks for this thought-provoking post. I’ve been monitoring conversations for a while now, and in the meantime working on getting management on board with social media, where we should take our first steps, etc. As a dept of one, when I look at the images, it’s truly overwhelming. The amount of time and effort involved in listening, acting or reacting to all these conversations — however necessary — is no less daunting.
    Two questions:
    1. Is there a rule of thumb for knowing where the conversations are that are most likely to be affecting your customers (for example, if they aren’t talking about you, but should be)?
    2. How do we know which conversations to value most highly? Which are likely to have the greatest effect on our customers?

    I guess what I’m asking is, if one person can’t do all of this, where is the best place to start?

  • oliver marks

    Great stuff, really good to see those visual maps

  • Joe Pulizzi

    Hi Brian…I’m having trouble getting the image from Flickr. Is it still there? Great stuff Brian!

  • Darren Barefoot

    Nice work! Of course, every time we add another arm to this thing, it makes explaining it in presentations longer…darned innovation.

    We might use this in our book–I’ll drop you an email if we do.

    My one complaint: “specific to Twitter” feels like an apple in a sea of oranges. There are no other brands on the outside hub, and plenty of other services on the list have huge networks of tools associated with them (e.g. Facebook and Google). So I feel like “Specific to Twitter” is just giving extra attention to the current hot web commodity.

  • Chad

    Very cool Brian, yet another post of yours I have bookmarked!

  • GeekMommy

    Very slick! Oh, and I know you’re on now, but it’s not in your lovely breakout! Which, by the way, I really like visually. Sort of a hierarchical baobob tree of your online presence! :)

  • Anonymous

    Where does the controller (Google’s Friend Connect, FB Connect, etc.) of your data in data portability come into play? Where would that be in the conversation? Would that be the manager in the center?

  • vincos

    Great work..I tried a different classification, take a look

  • Hayden Sutherland

    An impressive attmpt to diagram what a lot of us have been looking for.

    I do think that the concept of mapping the conversational technologies and sites out there is actually more complex than this, with other factors such as the adoption rates/level of interaction/etc. affecting the relationships between them.

    However its great and bold of you to try to do this in such a public forum (perhaps you’re secretly conducting a crowdsourcing project to improve upon you idea?).


  • Philippe Borremans

    Hi, interesting graph and easy to use for presentations.

    Have also a look at a more detailed overview of all web 2.0 tools/services out there, listed by tags:

    Never complete these things but really interesting to track…

  • Justin Hunt

    I think the visualisation of conversations is really interesting and useful. A lot of companies have difficulties visualising the world of social media. So if they can see how customers/stakeholders are influenced by an array of conversations that will help them to understand the significance of the rise of social media. It would be great to be able to track how someone purchases something through their social media network ie reading reviews, comments etc.

  • Trevor Young – PR Warrior

    Great stuff Brian! A great help in explaining to people the depth and breadth of the social media ‘beast’.

  • Elaine


    This visual would work very well in a course I’m teaching this coming fall in computer mediated communication. May I use it?

    Dr. Elaine Young
    Assoc. Prof. Marketing and e-Business
    Champlain College

  • laurent

    I don’t know if it’s me and I also scanned the comments so see if someone already told you but the word inside the starfish is ‘conversions’..shouldn’t it be conversations?

  • børge

    I’m glad you added to the list of micro services!

    One service that I miss on your prism, though, is the social photo sharing service ipernity. It’s much like Flickr, but better in many ways IMHO. Here’s a great “side by side” comparison between the two services.

  • jon gatrell

    now I have to join more networks, I feel like I’m not where I need to be. Thanks for the prism.

  • David Rawle

    This is great, as is your emphasis on listening. The conversation IS going on. It’s changing minds and molding opinions and driving purchase decisions. Listening is the key, and it takes great discipline, detective work, and perseverance.

  • Zac Martin

    This is really interesting, I’ll be sure to pass it onto a few friends.

  • Alex, aka SocialButterfly

    I love the new conversation prism, very nice! It’s time a new one came out. All the other diagrams I’ve seen have left something out or have been over simplified or over complexed…this one is perfect! Is there a way to access an original jpg file that can be enlarged?

    Thank you for your hard work!

    Alex, aka SocialButterfly

  • Doug McIsaac

    Thanks for sharing this, very interesting.

    It will help me explain all of the pieces to some of my clients.


  • Roberto

    Thanks for sharing.
    I posted something in my blog:
    Best regards from Chile!

  • Almadeline

    Such a great tool – esp for folks who try but don’t have the time to necessarily keep up with all of what’s out there! Posted about it here, thanks!

  • Ms. Bemis-Schurtz

    I really enjoyed your post! I looked for a few tools I use that didn’t make the prism…

    perhaps to include:


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. More so, he humanizes technology’s causal effect to help people see people differently and understand what to do about it. He is an award-winning author and avid keynote speaker who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation and innovation.

Brian has authored several best-selling books including What’s the Future of Business (WTF), Engage! and The End of Business as Usual. His blog,, is ranked as a leading resource for insights into the future of business, new technology and marketing.

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