From Two-Way Communication to Meaningful Exchange: Take Your Brand Conversations to a Deeper Level

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If we’re not listening, observing, and learning from the world around us, we lose touch with those who dictate the perception, reputation, and direction of our brand.

In the end, we earn the relationships we deserve. ~ Brian Solis

There’s this really fantastic drive you can make here in Missouri through our Wine Country. Often, as you meander along the curvy two-lane highway, you come to narrow bridges that require you to engage in a game of chicken with oncoming traffic.

It’s still technically a two-lane road, but for that section you need to make eye-contact with other drivers, watch their signals, maybe even wave them through. It’s true give and take, and you have to pay attention to avoid a problem.

This is a useful metaphor for what genuine two-way communication should feel like.

A recent article published by AdAge again emphasized that brands need to be in the business of conversation facilitation in social spaces. In fact, the evidence suggests that relevance for the brand is overwhelmingly improved when there is a genuine appreciation for and ability to engage conversation within the community:

Mr. Lazerow, whose company makes tools that help brands manage their Facebook presences, estimates that roughly two-thirds of a company’s Facebook content should be conversational in nature. The exact ratio, however, depends on what it’s trying to achieve. While there’s no across-the-board data on how conversational posts compare to promotional ones, he said the evidence is clear. He pointed me to a few different examples on Facebook where those conversational posts produce eight to 12 times the response of more brand-oriented ones.

In our social media context, we hear a great deal about the necessity of two-way conversation. Experts and practitioners stress that this type of engagement isn’t a luxury, it’s a daily necessity for your brand or organization. And yet, I think we all too often implement two-way communication that would better fit the metaphor of a 4 lane highway. Sure it’s two-way, but there’s a huge median in the middle and you’re flying along at such a clip that you really can’t remotely connect with or describe any of the other drivers around you.

Seems as though it may prove useful to refine what we really mean when we toss around that idea of two-way conversation. We need to consider, as Heather Whaling recently argued in her post at prTini, how brands can best take on the role of conversation facilitators.

Just last night, I was working with a peer to develop a half-day social media training for a local company here in St. Louis, and we got into this very conversation. Not only do we want to help our client really understand what we mean when we stress genuine engagement and conversation in social spaces, but we also want to help the client appreciate how to be a magnet that attracts and sustains meaningful exchange with brand enthusiasts.

We found ourselves discussing brands that we know well that are “technically” using two-way strategies, but that are failing to attract the people who are already talking about them and their products into social spaces.  We considered how even when they DO draw them in, these well-intentioned brands fail to keep these important voices engaged because they really don’t converse with them. They keep the exchange far too surface. Two-way? Sure. Meaningful exchange? Nope. And that is what elevates chatter into discourse.

Meaningful exchange requires MORE than just responding to posts that clients or customers might make on your Facebook wall. It’s more than just being a warm body in social spaces! It requires thoughtful participation. Meaningful exchange requires you to listen; to ask probing questions; to make insightful connections and applications. Meaningful exchange is evidence that genuine conversation is happening.

Take a careful look at your community management practices in your social spaces. Do you have more than a warm body in the room? Are you deepening your responses to your community? When someone posts on your wall, are your responses best defined as comments or replies? Reply to people, don’t just offer pat comments.

This, I think, will become the defining attribute of those organizations that really begin to see success in social spaces. Conversation is an art. Conversation becomes the most important form of content. Assign artists to nurture (not manage!) your social communities and redefine your relevance. Play a little narrow-bridge chicken and see if results don’t follow.

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