Creating conversations is hard, despite all the knowledge and tools at our disposal today. It should be easier than ever, right? Not quite. As is all too often the case, fear can get in the way. More specifically, fear of the social media unknown.
For many marketers, that includes the biggest “what if” of all: What if someone talks badly about your brand? The simple fact is consumers are already talking. Therefore, learning how to spark and manage conversations isn’t only essential on today’s social internet, but it might just save your job or, better yet, get you promoted.
To do it right, marketers must abandon their comfort zone of hiding behind their marketing efforts, including crafting and delivering messages, measuring sales, and then hitting the rinse and repeat button. Instead, they must be open, transparent, adventurous and unafraid. So what’s the formula for sparking and facilitating a great conversation? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Focus on relationships, not technologies. Take the time to understand what your customers want and do online, then determine the kind of relationship you want to have with them.
2. Start with a clear and simple goal. Is your goal about improving customer service (like @comcastcares) or sharing a passion for a topic or issue (e.g., sports, fashion or music)? Have a specific goal in mind at the beginning and add to it over time as you learn.
3. Monitor and survey. Use social monitoring tools to understand what kinds of conversations are already taking place. Investigate your customers’ interests. You may find vastly different interests and engagement levels across certain demographics and customer segments — this often gives you some direction on where to start and who to target first.
4. Start small and experiment. Most of us have limited resources, so start small. Go narrow, but deep. Then take some chances and do something unique to create value. For example, one of my clients hired a photographer to take exclusive photos at sporting events in order to share those photos with its fans and followers. Needless to say, it generated huge interest and continues to spark conversations around the communities’ shared passion for sports.
5. Try focusing on an industry development or event rather than your product or brand. Leverage big events and share your unique perspective. People will likely jump in as you build trust and establish credibility.
6. Feed the conversation with integrated marketing efforts. Don’t forget to support your community efforts by using existing tools and resources. Socialize traditional channels such as email to grow awareness, interest and engagement.
7. Don’t forget the “social” in social media. Listen and respond quickly; be conversational, authentic and transparent. Recognize and support contributors by sharing their content with others and thanking them.
8. Measure everything. What kinds of communications are resonating? Measure each effort’s impact against your objective. Look at quantitative and qualitative metrics. For @comcastcares, that might mean looking at how much customer service has improved and how it’s impacted the perceptions of consumers and the media.
9. Be flexible and willing to change direction. Go with the flow. If an approach isn’t resonating, try something new. Let your customers guide the conversation. In fact, the most successful communities are the ones in which the hosting brands eventually get to a place where they post the least. Over time these brands have been able to earn the trust of the community. They simply spark and facilitate the conversation rather than dominate it. Remember, trust = money.
10. Stick to it. Engaging visitors and customers in conversation doesn’t happen overnight. Stick to it. With a little practice and patience — and lots of listening and flexibility — you’ll find your way.
Building successful conversations is really about listening, relinquishing control and being willing to fail. While this is new thinking for many marketers, it can and is being done well among brands that focus on their relationships, not campaigns.
Finally, success also requires practice. This was best said in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”: “Practice isn’t something you do until you’re good. It is something that makes you good.”
‘Til next time.