Meeting Conversational Demand: A Factual Vs. PR-based Approach

This article builds on my last column, "Understanding Conversational Demand in Social and Search," which I would recommend reading first.

I looked at social conversation assessment in my last column, so the parallels should be more apparent now between query-based search demand, versus the aspects of "conversational demand" and their respective authoritative content supply. Make no mistake about it: social networks are a massive foundation for query and navigational behavior that most often mirrors and reflects what is happening in search. Think of the questions being asked in social as being their own queries of sorts, questions that may or may not be met by an authoritative answer. Just as a brand considers it a basic exercise to ensure that their own digital assets rank highly for brand terms in search, they should be aware of the brand conversations going on in social, and meeting them with a live community manager who also acts as an "in-the-moment" steward of a brand's content.



The comparative aspects of conversational demand and the early history of search engines are tremendous, with particular regard to the fact that many search queries went unanswered without an authoritative content result or without a conduit to the proper answer. By addressing conversation demand at the brand level for both brand and generic themes, an opportunity exists to interact with these audiences in a sincere, useful and meaningful way through live content and conversation, and in a way that also greatly benefits the brand or marketer.

As I go about advising my clients about these activities from a search and social perspective, I have identified a few different broad obstacles that get in the way of effectively measuring and acting upon search demand, and even more so for conversation demand. When a marketer goes out to measure the space for either brand or generic terms, or brand and generic conversations, there is a broad commonality that breaks into two key areas: The factual, and the more PR-based and sensitive questions about the brand. There are other areas that commonly addressed, but for this article the focus will remain on the factual, versus the (often) confrontational.

Often the show stopper for any work that includes the word "social" is determined by whether or not a company perceives the marketer to be attempting to "encroach" in any areas that might otherwise fall into the area of PR management, crisis management, brand management, etc. This is a problem that is more reflective of large organizations and enterprises in the sense that they consider and lump anything "social" as part of a channel, or owned by a certain group organizationally, and have not come to terms with the fact that social is something that runs through everything. Just like search, social is not a channel, it is not a campaign, and it is not a small department sheltered off from the rest of the organization, perceived powerful, yet effectively powerless and destined to have the networks swing them by the tail of their brand promise. So the marketer who wants to effectively use social is often completely shut off and locked out of the process because of the incorrect perception that they are encroaching on somebody else's territory. Again, this is the not the fault of the contemporary marketer who is just trying to do their job, and to the contrary, it is a problem that will come to bite back at the organization's overall marketing efforts, and in many cases land them back at square one. No sour grapes here, because I work with both search and PR organizations, and across many different aspects of an enterprise. The above example could also apply to other areas of an organizations with the activities reversed, and the point is that the problem is really about social hoarding at the enterprise level.

In assessing conversation demand, marketers should focus on the factual, not brand problems or crises But what puts everything into perspective for marketing and PR is that both keywords and conversations can be divided into either the factual, or the PR/crisis-related. In this filter, the duties of the marketer and communications pro are clearly divided, in a useful and meaningful way.

Extending this concept out into conversation demand, a marketing team has more freedom to address the factual happenings around their brand in various networks, and address them in a live setting, and also create and direct networks users to the proper factual content.

For example, if you conduct an audit of various conversations around the internet about your brand, you may find that people are asking about a well-known facet of your brand history or value proposition that is already available on your web site. Converse with them, and point them to the link. Or maybe they want to know about a new store location that is not already on your website -- create that page, help them out by answering their question, and point them to a site if more info is warranted. You can answer questions and create content about the facts of your brand and generic conversation space all day long. In every vertical space, the conversation opportunity is so massive that you may not to even cover it in a broad manner for many years.

Those questions about why the brand may or may not have spilled oil, may or may not have bed bugs, or may or may not have a defective product can be left to the communications team. But for marketers to address factual conversational demand in a sincere and meaningful way, there is more than enough to be done.
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