As published in the O’Dwyer’s PR Report September, 2009 issue
It’s called social media for a good reason. Never have we had a better opportunity to listen, learn and speak directly with our customers, and what this new phenomenon really represents is an amazing opportunity to build a more valuable relationship with the people we serve.
As a result, the communications profession is going through its most intense transformation in decades. In the period that follows, the followers will remain “communicators” and the leaders will become “conversation architects”. Here’s why.
The sheer size of this change is mind-boggling. Approximately 500,000 people go online everyday for the first time in their lives. Moreover, the location and habits of our audiences are changing, particularly in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. China is now the leading online country by a wide margin over the United States.
Facebook is the community of choice and is now equal in size to Indonesia, which has the fourth largest population in the world. YouTube is now the third largest search engine.
Consumers are in the driver’s seat. Using social media, customers decide how they will receive information and where and when they will review a product before buying it. Before making key purchasing decisions, three out of four customers ask their peers for advice. The age of self-sufficiency is emerging.
Smart communicators already see this change and the opportunity it represents. This is where I draw the line between a conversation architect and a communicator.
Communicators often share content they have expertly prepared in the hope that coverage will somehow lead to good things. It might; but increasingly, it might not.
Conversation architects understand how to enter the conversation with their customer and become a valuable partner to share ideas, product knowledge and solutions, and empower that customer to share the story.
The conversation architect realizes that the following trends are important.
Customers are actually co-shaping the reputation of our brands without us. As a result, companies need to become part of the discussion to influence the reputation of those brands. In other words, we have to actually participate or we are unwittingly outsourcing the reputation of our brand. Companies such as Radian6 and Visible Technologies are helping communicators identify, with precision, who is talking about their company.
It’s possible to identify issues before they become highly public via strong online monitoring. Communicators are trained to deal with an issue once it hits the press. Conversation architects, on the other hand, realize they can see trends earlier and plan, sometimes weeks in advance, for the same issue.
Customers are part of their own “liquid network”. This means that they are loyal to the content they want and they will morph their habits to find what they need. It’s subtle. The shifts are like an ocean’s currents. Communicators believe they can plan for the year against a set list of influencers. Conversation architects know that influencers shift with time and they watch it happen in real time. This is why being part of the community is so important. Intuit is a perfect example of a company that participates with its customers in their communities of choice. Microsoft does a terrific job of reaching developers via www.channel9.msdn.com.
Customers spend less than one percent of their lifetime purchasing products online. The real influence occurs during browsing and socialization. Conversation architects know where their customers go to learn before purchase. Communicators try to drive traffic to a transactional site. Conversation architects introduce themselves to their customers in social environments, ensure their reviews and related product content are ready for browsing and do a great job in the transactional space. They see the big picture. Here is an easy test for you Think of your web site traffic and then remember that 1.6 billion people are online. How many visit your site each day?
Customers like to do three thing as long as it helps their peers: share ideas, share product knowledge and share solutions. Customers don’t care about your company, they care about their community. Communicators try to convince them to take actions they want them to take. Conversation architects empower customers to share their expertise with their peers.
How we are consuming content is changing. YouTube, for example, is becoming a key location for learning. Communicators create slick videos to tell their story. Conversation architects provide a combination of their story, customer’s insights and how to’s geared to what people want to learn about online.
The media world isn’t changing, it has already fundamentally changed. Bloggers often drive as much or more share of conversation online as reporters. Communicators resist this change. Conversation architects focus on who drives their share of conversation, regardless of the outlet. Two great examples of this are Pfizer’s presence on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfizer_news and GE’s approach to sharing its news via GE Reports at www.gereports.com. Note: Pfizer is a WeissComm client.
Finally, we know that ethical behavior is key to maintaining trust. Nothing has changed. There are no short cuts to success in social media. Flogs, splogs or sponsored conversations are not the answer. Real conversations with real customers provide value. That is what works.
- It’s a great time to be in the communications profession – a time when we can all participate in reshaping the importance of our jobs to build value for our clients and their brands.
Bob Pearson, Chief Technology & Media Officer, WeissComm Group and President, Social Media Business Council