November 18, 2009

Do you have a conversation strategy?

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A couple talking under a huge mural two men

John HaydonWhen most businesses and non-profits start using social media, they start with small talk with their communities. They politely reply to tweets, express appreciation to donors, respond as quickly as possible to customer support issues, and generally try to add value to their network.

But all too often, they fail to move beyond the small talk and create meaningful discussions that their communities are dying to have.

Then, after a few months pass, they express some level of disillusionment about the value of social media for their business, and eventually retreat to passive monitoring and pleasant tweeting with current fans. Meanwhile, the board members wonder why being nice wasn’t enough.

Engaged conversations

My clients are often surprised when I first ask them: “So, what are you going to talk about with your customers?”

They’ve spent resources building up their profiles and blogs and have spent a few weeks tweeting and replying to comments. But when I ask this question, they get a little confused. “Well, we’re responding to comments and answering questions that folks have on Twitter. We think we’re being responsive and engaged. Aren’t we?”

It’s more than small talk. I’m seeing organizations starting to understand that there’s more to engagement than simply talking. And that when folks are truly engaged, the community blows the bugle, not the company.

The American Cancer society has a great conversation strategy. They’ve created an entire community around achieving victory over cancer by talking about “creating a world with more birthdays.” These conversations are both engaging and meaningful because they touch on a basic desire we all have: To celebrate a happy life.

Share Our Strength has one of the most passionate communities I’ve met. They care profoundly about the stake that they’ve planted deeply in the ground: End childhood hunger by 2015. This mission is immediate, heartfelt and simply stated. It’s the prime point of their conversation strategy.

Epic Change is about to make history by talking about gratitude –- not about their organization and why you should donate.

tweetsgiving What is your conversation strategy?

Creating a conversation strategy

Here are a few thoughts on how folks can create a conversation strategy. Please (and I do mean please) add your ideas in the comments.

  • Understand why they buy. The real reason. The one that has nothing to do with price or product. I have an iPod because it makes me look cool and work smarter.
  • Understand why they tell their friends. I’ve been telling all my friends about @foursquare because I want to be the first.
  • Know what’s engaging the customers of your competition. Is there something they’re saying that’s not being heard?
  • Talk to your employees. Beyond the paycheck and benefits – what’s the real reason they show up every day at 8:30 am?
  • Talk face to face. Have coffee with some of your customers. Get to know their whole lives, not just the pain points you address with your product.
  • Listen. “It is so crucial to engaged conversations and so easily overlooked in our active, talk-focused society.” – Bonnie Koenig
  • Polarize. Can you sincerely talk about your beliefs to an extreme? Think Greenpeace and the GOP.
  • Use your divining rod. Find bloggers who are already passionate about that you do. How are they talking about it? How engaged are their readers?
  • Plan. Talk often with staff about the business. Listen to each other. Map out why these conversations matter and how you’ll start talking.
  • Be sincere. People can tell if you’re real. Make sincerity a key element in your strategy. And if it turns out that you can’t sincerely have conversations in a particular way, move on. Trashing a half-hearted conversation plan will save everyone headaches.

What else? What have you come across?

Photo at top by Jess J.John Haydon delivers social web strategy solutions for “the quick, the smart, and the slightly manic.” Curious? Then visit the John Haydon blog, follow him on Twitter or leave a comment.

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