One of the trendiest refrains in social marketing today is the command to "join the conversation." Sure, this command is trite and generalized. After all, it is marketing speak. But, it's also
subjective and relative. As marketers, our definition of "conversation" -- what counts for participation, what constitutes a conversation at all, let alone a quality one -- matters.
certainly matters within the human relationship, doesn't it?
It's obvious over one's social lifetime how broad the definition and standard for quality conversation is. Walking home from a
painful dinner conversation of a certain droning variety this summer, I found myself creating categories of conversation type and also contemplating some of my own quirks. My dinner mate kept falsely
apologizing at random intervals for droning, but then breathlessly continuing the diatribe. I took notes as I quietly wept in my sake.
But we've all been on both sides of this table.
Me on a bad conversation day? I may rail about my own strife. I may deflect personal, probing questions to the point of creating something that comes across as a wall. I may go silent and
pensive rather than engage, because of other mental distractions. These qualities are me at my worst in conversation.
On the flip side, I have self-perceptions of me in good
-- but those are self beliefs. I know that I thrive on conversation across a broad scope and love the art of the give and take. But how this really comes off within my social fabric
is not up to me alone. How a supposedly meaningful, quality conversation transports my relationships, on any level big or small, will ultimately be the proof of its value.
strangers, passersby, inner circles of friends and family regard you in conversation - both at your most tedious and your most positively engaging? As businesspeople, of course, but also as marketers
engaged in an increasingly socialized discipline, this self-awareness is precious professional intelligence. Pay attention for a while in your day-to-day world to see what lessons you might apply to
your social marketing approaches.
All around, you will find certain types of conversation styles that were probably seeded by positive behaviors taught in one's youth or in therapy: be
thoughtful, share of yourself, practice empathy, convey insights, ask questions. But how quickly can a good core intention spiral to a bad place? I count at least four.
The woman who sits quietly across the table, furrowing a brow, cradling her beer stein. Long silences persist. Cryptic, short, smart, one-way statements are made. She is obviously disengaged.
When asked to elaborate or provide context, she says, "My mind is just going in lots of different directions. I'm very complex. Everything you say triggers a thought path. I can't explain." Sounds
really sexy, really complicated, and so cerebral! But, it does not play well in conversation; it's broken communication. It's too smart for its own good. Overly clever and disconnected from the
- How about the companion who plunges onward for two hours about himself, in excruciating, unpunctuated detail? Your only opportunity to
engage with this is to riff off certain inflection points in the speech and steer it toward mutuality. You let silences linger to see if he will engage in a two-way. But he always resumes his
relentless stream. At the end of two hours, with his plate still full of food (yours is empty and you are probably drunk), he asks, "What's up with you?" But, you are exhausted and ready to go home.
He doesn't mean it. The prospect of continuing this pretense of a conversation is mortifying, so you give short, closed answers and eye the waiter for the check. This guy is over-programmed; all
content, no community.
- There's the woman who, throughout conversation, instead of leaning in and engaging you on your point of view repeatedly says things such as,
"Yea-yea-yea, I know you would say X because of Y - so, yes, we agree on Z." She projects your thoughts as though to complete them, believing she knows everything about you without your having to tell
her. Bad execution on behavioral marketing?
- Another curious form of civil conversation gone awry is the militant question-asking format. Someone was told to ask
questions, to be curious. But instead of allowing for any organic flow or even sharing of oneself, this conversationalist unleashes blunt question after blunt question, head cocked and doe-eyed in
what cannot be true engagement, because it is one-way communication whose purpose is questionable. You shut down and bow out. Someone needs to shorten his forms and tighten his path to
For me, the best conversations are electric, fluid, mutual, and motivating, on simple or grand scale. They connect and inspire movement. Looking inside the discipline
of social marketing, great care must be given to language, mechanics, and the enabling of call and response. If we attend to this, our social world, and our own personal journey through conversation
after conversation in our daily lives, just might help us be more intuitive and get the knack with consumers