Michael Della Penna’s Conversations: How to Spark a Conversation Revolution!

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.

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.

Q&A With Bob Pearson, New President of The Blog Council

Editor’s Note: Bob Pearson, the former vice president of communities and conversations at Dell, recently left his post to become president of The Blog Council, an organization that represents the heads of social media at 45 major corporations including Cisco, Dell, Microsoft, Wells Fargo, The Home Depot, Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart.

Pearson is widely known as the leader of one of the first major social media programs at a global enterprise. His work at Dell is considered the model for how big businesses should work with blogs, communities and other social media. In many ways, his move to The Blog Council symbolizes the significant acceleration of major companies adopting social media techniques and tools throughout their organizations.

I recently chatted with Bob about his personal goals and how he sees blogs and social media evolving with business. Here are highlights from the discussion:

Melissa Campanelli: Tell me about your new position at The Blog Council. What are your goals for the organization?

Bob Pearson: What we are all here to do in The Blog Council is accelerate the sharing of best practices. A big trend we see now is that people are realizing social media is actually becoming a discipline, no different than marketing, communications, HR or finance. And, it can be embedded and used throughout an entire organization. So the intensity of sharing best practices and learning is key.

This is what drove me to The Blog Council. At Dell, we were certainly doing a decent job of building out a social media capability worldwide, and this just seemed like a natural continuation to do it on an industrywide scale with peers.

The changes going on in the market are amazing. There are 500,000 people going online every day for the first time in their lives; YouTube is the second largest search engine (if separated out on its own); and the way people search, buy and interact with each other before they make purchases is evolving rapidly.

MC: I understand you’re involved with TWTRCON. What is the idea behind this event (being held May 31 in San Francisco), and why should marketers be interested in it?

BP: I’m excited about this conference because I think Twitter is much more significant than most people realize today. It’s getting a lot of attention as a microblogging tool, and people are intrigued by it. But what they are probably not spending enough time thinking about is the idea that tools like Twitter can ultimately replace e-mail.

Here’s why: Customers can get the information they want, at the time they want it and in the account they want it in, rather than getting stuff in their inboxes they don’t want even though they have supposedly opted in for it.

MC: Can you offer our readers any examples of social media leaders?

BP: A leader in the practice of using social media to communicate with customers is Tony Hsieh and Zappos (@zappos), of course. Another good example is the Dell Outlet (@delloutlet), which has over 380,000 followers to its Twitter account. The Dell Outlet sells products directly through Twitter, and even offers exclusive Twitter discounts.

I’m also intrigued by what companies such as Ford and General Motors are doing. Scott Monty (@scottmonty), the head of social media at Ford, is doing an excellent job of using social media to pass along information about Ford to its customers. Chris Barger (@cbarger), director of social media at General Motors, is also doing a great job.

Reach Bob Pearson via Twitter at @bobpearson1845.

DMA International E-mail Guide Available

Did you know that “forward-to-a-friend” or “member-get-member” marketing techniques in e-mail are currently permitted in Argentina, Hong Kong and Israel, but not in Hungary or Poland? Or that while Canada does not have legislation specifically addressing the issue of e-mail marketing, key legislation for e-mail marketers is the federal privacy law, or PIPEDA. Or that in China there is no legal definition or best practice that specifically defines “opt-in?”

Did you know that “forward-to-a-friend” or “member-get-member” marketing techniques in e-mail are currently permitted in Argentina, Hong Kong and Israel, but not in Hungary or Poland? Or that while Canada does not have legislation specifically addressing the issue of e-mail marketing, key legislation for e-mail marketers is the federal privacy law, or PIPEDA. Or that in China there is no legal definition or best practice that specifically defines “opt-in?”

These were just a few of the facts I learned thumbing through the Direct Marketing Association’s very useful International Email Compliance Resource Guide. The book is a compendium of e-mail marketing regulations and practices for individual countries.

The report is valuable for two reasons:

  • International e-mail marketing is growing. Many companies today are looking for new opportunities to market their products and services abroad while the economy here is in the doldrums.
  • To my knowledge, there really isn’t easily accessible information of this nature available on the subject of international e-mail laws.

Here are some of the topics the DMA touches on in the guide:

  • affirmative consent;
  • legal definition of opt-in;
  • forward-to-a-friend;
  • privacy policy in e-mails; and
  • other best practices.

For the guide, the DMA developed a questionnaire targeting key areas of legislation regarding e-mail regulations and data protection. The questionnaire was then administered to preselected respondents who were knowledgeable about their country’s e-mail laws.

Responses varied from country to country based on the questions they answered. In cases where no questionnaire was submitted, a link to the relevant law is provided as well as contact information for local DMAs and/or departments of data protection.

I strongly suggest you check it out. To do so, click here.