A network doesn’t become social until there are two people involved. Two people amount to the critical mass that it takes to start conversation. Conversation is a simple idea, but in a social network the psychology of users is often unpredictable which adds a certain degree of difficulty. You always want conversations you are involved in to be positive without going overboard with flattery. Like television advertisements, conversations don’t always need to be relevant to your brand, but you should make a connection to your brand or product and try to make sure you are in conversations with relevant people to get the most out of the time you spend.
In our first installment I touched on social identity and I hinted at the ramifications that identity had on what each different network has become. The tone and reach of conversations are extremely dependent on the role identity plays in each different network. On Facebook where you know most of your contacts in person you have the same types of public conversations you could expect to have in your region with friends and acquaintances. On a network like Twitter you may retain your true identity, but you have a much larger follower base that is based on common interests as much as it is on what high school you attended and who was at that party last night. The 140 character limit further shapes the conversation on Twitter.
Conversations are the meat of these social networks. They are the content, the data, and the value. As a marketing expert it is your job to listen to relevant conversations and know about the who, what, where, when and why aspect of conversations. After you’ve listened to the users you think are relevant the next step is to join in these conversations, or possibly spark a new dialogue. It doesn’t have to be organic, and like many things you are going to get better results when you form a strategy and put some thought into what you’re about to do.
It’s a simple matter to connect a regional restaurant chain with people who live within a 50 mile radius of their locations and it is easy enough to connect a new rap group with followers who are partial to that genre of music. The hard part is finding the most relevant and valuable conversations regarding obscure niches.
What we think of as listening I liken to a scavenger hunt or criminal investigation. Using the identity of users who are likely to participate in the most relevant conversations I follow each thread until conclusion gathering more and more leads as I go. Over time patterns emerge and it becomes clear where the noise is the heaviest.
The more you listen and study about relevant conversations, the easier it is to begin and direct them. You have every advantage of a fly on the wall until you jump in trying to ignite conversations favorable to your clients. Next time don’t take that leap so soon. I have watched several marketing professionals take on one of their first clients and right out of the gate start posting status updates and prodding whatever followers are available. If you didn’t do your research your efforts won’t have direction and you can’t benefit from knowing exactly what has worked and failed in the attempts of others.
Finding the Best Conversations
There are often competing public forums (think Mashable and Tech Crunch), and it’s always surprising after connecting a client with source points to find that the loudest noise or the highest quality content doesn’t always provide the greatest value for a focal point. The funny thing about value is that won’t always make the connections beforehand, but you’ll always understand it after you gather and analyze a complete data set.
The conversational aspect is the primary reason Google+ isn’t as valuable to businesses yet in a social sense. There are clear SEO advantages to using a Google + profile, but the conversations for most topics aren’t as deep and the groups are usually an amalgamation of users. You can always find rap music fans by following the threads on Facebook and Twitter, but Google+ missed the mark on developing the internal tools that allow you to do that as quickly as you can on other networks (or did they do it intentionally?).
There are some great meaningful conversations on Google+, but at its best it’s an ideological and intellectual exchange among Internet professionals. There isn’t any value for our clients unless we can find topical or regional conversations that apply to them, and while that’s possible, there aren’t as many internal tools in place to do that effectively. We can sell books to each other and promote blog posts, but that is a closed economy considering the value of the conversations present on Twitter and Facebook. They basically hand them to you with groups and hash tags.
Before you write off Google+ however, remember that we can start conversations as easily as we can listen to them, and I have already turned up search results for long tailed keywords including Google+ page posts. The most important first step is listening however, and there are better places to do that.
Part 2 of a 7 part series on the building blocks of social media