2011: The Year of the Conversation

Posted by: in Public Relations Practice, Social Media Insights & Trends on December 23, 2010

Last week, my colleague Chuck Hemann called for 2011 to be the “Year of Data” in public relations. Chuck is alarmed by the huge and growing gap between the amount of data available on social media use and the (relatively) small proportion of companies that are tapping into that data. In a world where 10 billion tweets are being pushed out every year on Twitter and 30 billion pieces of content are shared every month on Facebook, ignoring the PR value of that information is perilous.

I’m sympathetic to Chuck’s declaration of 2011 as the “Year of Data,” but I have even grander aspirations for 2011. I want this to be the “Year of the Conversation*.” We need to be taking what we’re learning, online and off, and turning that data into some sort of useful action. And that conversion isn’t happening enough.

My thoughts on this stem not only from my role as a PR pro, but also my side project: a parenting blogger. For more than 8 years, I have posted on fatherhood, always on a personal blog and, for a period of time, for the Washington Post. I’ve been quoted everywhere from AdAge to the New York Times. This means that I am on the radar screen of more than a few companies that, no doubt, pride themselves on their data savvy.

And yet, there has been almost no effort by any brand to have a conversation with me. Yes, I receive press releases and pitch e-mails. But engage me in a productive dialogue? No. This isn’t because it’s not doable: I’ve had a handful of authors and academics start deep, thoughtful discussions with me. But brands have seemed a lot less  able to do that.

Living on the PR side, I can see why it’s difficult for corporations to jump into the fray. Finding the right people in a growing social media landscape that includes more than 500 million takes expertise. Conversations are timing-consuming and intellectually demanding in a way that “pitching” is not. They increase the sting of rejection. They don’t follow a straight line. And they aren’t always fruitful. Real dialogue doesn’t scale, and that can make it expensive. But our industry doesn’t have a choice anymore. Shotgunning the same tired press release to an ever-growing list of people is a dead end.

So while I want to join Chuck in pushing for more data, there’s no question that the next step is more engagement. If we get our way, 2011 is going to be one heck of a year.

* The word “Conversation” wasn’t selected by accident. The word is central to the 10-year-old Cluetrain Manifesto, the online engagement Bible. Cluetrain, amazingly, grows more relevant every year, and it’s going to be a big part of my 2011.

By: Brian Reid

Brian Reid is a managing director at W2O Group, where he oversees influencer relations. He is a former journalist who believes content really is king.

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4 Responses

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  1. It’s interesting, isn’t it … it seems that it should be the easiest thing in the world for brands to talk to people about the things they have in common – or at LEAST about the products they have in common. Yet most brands seemingly AREN’T able to have conversations, even with their evangelists, online. I, too, hope that will begin to change in 2011. Thus far, the only way I’ve seen that change happening inside of companies is because one courageous employee just starts doing it. That, too, is not scalable (or even advisable – I’m sure that it would be considered a firing offense in many companies).

    I also share your thinking about the continued relevance of the ClueTrain Manifesto. I had a chance to meet and spend some time with David Weinberger in 2009 (ironically BEFORE I had read the CM), but I continue to go back to it as a grounding-point … as I do with Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody,” Don Tapscott’s “Wikinomics” and Jeff Jarvis “What would Google Do.” I’ll join you in a toast for a great year in conversation in 2011!

  2. Thanks, Greg. I’m hard-pressed to argue.

    But it’s also worth noting, as Chuck Hemann did on Twitter last week, that “data” and “conversations” are not mutually exclusive. How and when we reach out and touch someone in PR needs to be guided by the best possible information, not (as is usually the case) by habit.

    See you next week!

  3. Ah… some interesting discussions here. As I mentioned via Twitter, if 2011 is the year of *targeted* conversation I’d be much more likely to jump on board. Frankly, pure engagement isn’t scalable. No matter what the “pundits” tell us. We can’t engage with everyone. Well, maybe we can but large enterprises can’t. Call it playing favorites if you will, but there has to be a method to prioritizing the people we do engage. Otherwise, 2011 will continue to see more companies on the sidelines who could be playing ball.

    As an aside, if you’ve noticed the latest hullabaloo around Chris Brogan charging for content I think there are some interesting parallels to this conversation. I’d postulate that one of the reasons he can do that is that we’ve pushed too many brands into the arena who clearly aren’t ready. Now they are stuck looking for content. Could be totally off base there, but I think it’s partly responsible.

    A bigger question for us to consider, and one I’m cranking out a blog post on now is should ALL brands engage. I think the answer is no. What say you?

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Why Media Relations Shouldn’t (and Doesn’t Scale | Common Sense) linked to this post on March 3, 2011

    […] couple of months ago, after my “Year of the Conversation” post, I was chatting with a friend about what I thought “conversations” meant […]

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