Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Directing the Conversation

Several months ago I wrote an article on directing attention after reading a fascinating piece by Josh Klein. Whilst the capacity to direct attention will remain critical for achieving success in an increasingly interconnected society, an ability to influence the direction of the conversation is of similar importance. The advent of communication facilitating tools, such as blogs and social networks, has meant that the ability to create content has been afforded anyone with an opinion and an Internet connection. As a result, the volume of misinformation has risen exponentially. Whilst it would be incredibly foolish for me to condemn the use of the social media for such purposes; after all we must remember who the social media 'belongs' to, from a business' perspective ever more voluminous mountains of user generated content make it even more difficult to leave a mark. Suddenly an ability to direct the conversation becomes incredibly valuable.

Directing the Masses
What exactly do I mean by an ability to direct the conversation? Simply put, directing the conversation involves instigating conversation around a particular subject matter; a topic which I touched upon briefly in yesterday's discussion. Whilst certain authors have a certain talent for developing the conversation such, others find that their efforts realize little recognition. How do the results differ? Influential authors can create a notable buzz within the social media, therefore drawing significant attention to a topic, product or organisation. The lesser known author is likely to find that her work has a diminished impact on the overall conversation, perhaps even exhibiting signs of 'being under the influence' of the former within her own content. From an organizational perspective, reaching these influencers is an attractive solution for inciting relevant conversation. It is herein where the challenge lies.

Forgetting to Delight...
Unfortunately for organisations, the only proven route for achieving positive social media recognition is to place the customer at the centre of everything. Ongoing efforts to delight the customer will invariably result in measurable recognition in the social media, as those with an active presence preach their positive experiences of the organisation. Whilst reaching bloggers with significant influence may dramatically expedite conversational directing, over reliance upon such a strategy is, in my opinion, unlikely to be sustainable in the long run. It may even prove detrimental as general ignorance causes the ordinary customer to become overlooked, thus jeopardizing the overall experience.

Recognizing the Little Guy
Do conversation directors exist? Absolutely. You only have to look at the more prominent figures within the social media to see the cascading effects caused for almost each and every subject which they touch upon. The thing is though, influencing these influencer is a significant challenge in itself. By focusing all of your efforts on reaching social media 'celebrities' rather than focusing on delighting the customer in general, it is likely that the resultant negative publicity will far exceed the benefits reaped from the conversations that have been established. As such there is no quick fix for creating a positive buzz in the social media. Then again though that's the point. These platforms are specifically designed to facilitate two way communication flows, not to facilitate the violation of an inherently social arena through the broadcasting of unwanted messages. Democracy rules within the social media, and if your organisation is really that good then it is almost certain that these conversations will occur naturally. It's just a matter of time.

Perhaps the little guy isn't so powerless after all.

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