Why Share of Conversation Trumps Share of Voice

Posted by: in Social Media Insights & Trends on October 31, 2009

Imagine yourself leading a global brand. An outside firm walks in full of smiles and power points and says:

“I have this great measurement tool that ignores the majority of the world’s 1.7 billion people online. It only tells you what the media is saying about your product vs. competitors in a limited pool. We don’t let our measurement tool get distracted by what customers are saying and we sure don’t include word of mouth or ratings and reviews or forum questions, since who knows what’s happening when a message rips across multiple forms of media. We do this, since a message is only delivered correctly if it is published. This idea of people “sharing” your content is not relevant to building your brand. Who really knows who these folks are, right? So we give you a precise read out for a limited group that avoids this “customer static” about their beliefs. The result is that we only measure what is said about your brand, not the conversations and topics customers are actually talking about, since that is “off-brand”. Finally, we like to provide you with imprecise sentiment scores so you can make up a story of what is really happening, since we have to admit that all of these pie charts and data don’t really tell us a whole lot.”

Two seconds, maybe three before you throw them out of your office?

Well, if you believe that……please read more on how the world has changed. I know the above quote is sarcastic, but it’s reasonably close to reality for past measurement systems.

We live in a world where share of conversation is what matters.

Share of voice is this limited look at a brand and its competitors. It makes for nice charts showing increases or decreases each month vs peers, but it is not how customers think.

Here is how the world has changed and why it matters. Conversations are as important or, in some cases, more important to impacting search results. Conversations occur in high volume 24/7. Search is now forming the #1 first impression for your brand. Video search via YouTube is now part of that impression as the 2nd largest search engine. And, as 3 out of 4 peers routinely look to each other for advice on their next important move, it is their conversations that matter. It is what your neighbor says that we care about the most……

What it means is that it is less important about what you said at a press conference. It is increasingly important to know what is being said on a Saturday morning on a forum that is relevant to your brand that you may not be participating in today.

Share of conversation is defined by the topics and conversations that your customers care about. They are often not brand-related at all, yet they are directly relevant to you. I’ve measured hundreds of brands online and I can tell you that share of conversation is routinely 20-40x higher in volume than share of voice. Here’s a few examples using Google search as a simple diagnostic tool, so you can do your own analysis after reading this post.

If you search Orbitz, you find 8.14MM results, but travel has 770MM. Salesforce.com has 3.03MM, but cloud computing has 31.3MM. I’m writing today on a Latitude E4200 which has 3.14MM results, but laptops has 63.1MM. Even Google has 2.1 billion results, while search has 5.6 billion.

The action is in the larger search. Ask yourself if you know personally the people who are driving share of conversation on topics like travel or cloud computing or laptops or search. If not, why not? Ask yourself next if you have ever thought of asking these leaders of the conversation to participate with you in any way, shape or form. If not, why not? And finally, ask yourself if you know which topics of conversation are most relevant for your brand?

There are many other ways to show how our customers are measuring us every day via their actions and conversations, ranging from their use of forums to how they recommend or dismiss or ignore our products. This is the real conversation you want to measure and know where you stand.

It’s less about how you are doing vs. your competitors. It’s much more about your relevance with the people who may decide to buy your product.

So next time you hear about measurement, ask what your share of conversation is. Ask for precision on exactly who has influence, why and what they believe is important. Ask how you will know if you are becoming more relevant in the peer to peer world we live in. Climb deeper into the world of your customers and let the models of the past gracefully move towards extinction.

All the best, Bob

By: Bob Pearson

Bob is the President of W2O Group, an independent network of digital communications and marketing companies. He is an author, frequent speaker and instructor for Rutgers center for management development. After the success of his book Pre-Commerce, Bob is currently working on a new book on the future of media titled Storytizing that will be available in 2014. Prior to W2O Group, Bob worked as VP of Communities and Conversations at Dell to develop the Fortune 500’s first global social media function -- an industry-leading approach to the use of social media, as highlighted in the best seller, GroundSwell. Before Dell, Bob was Head of Global Corporate Communications and Head of Global Pharma Communications at Novartis Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland, where he served on the Pharma Executive Committee. He also serves on a variety of Boards in health and technology. Highlights include serving as an original member of the P&G digital advisory board and being appointed by the Governor of Texas to serve as chair and vice chair of the emerging technology fund for the State of Texas.

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One Response

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  1. Brian
    I like your post. Indeed, problems are known first (through the conversation), brands follow later.
    Marketing starts with targeting. This has been a bit forgotten by many because social media has made it possible to measure share of voice easily. But this is not targeting. Targeting is about identifying the communities and people who are driving the biggest share of conversation for the problems that a brands product/service help resolve and working from there. I would add that it’s very important to understand where to target one’s attention/action…because the density of relevant conversations varies a lot accross the social web like illustrated in this example: http://blog.ecairn.com/2009/10/23/targeting-community-and-influencer/
    I work a lot around community and influencers analytics. Your last few sentences tell me we’re thinking along the same line. It’s extremely relevant to what we do and we help brands find an answer to those questions you highlight.
    See a sample report we created around those notions (It does include share of voice ;-)).
    I’d love to talk more, let me know if you’re open to it.

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