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Social Media Isn't All About Conversation

Screen shot 2010-10-25 at 10.15.59 AM A few weeks back, I posted a slightly controversial post on Ad Age, talking about why I believe ad agencies should own social media. I knew the post would cause a rucus and it did...mostly around two areas. First, the idea of "ownership" drove a number of comments and response posts -- and a great amount of really good conversation. Second, was a number of folks took the post to task and in response posts on their own blogs proceeded to talk about how my post indicated a certain lack of social media knowledge on my part. Now, that in and of itself is fine. We all have opinions but what got me a bit fired up was the lack of any factual support for their position. It was, as is so often the fact, a post in which they said something (opinion) and thus because they were a self-appointed social media expert, it must be true. So over the next few posts, allow me to one-by-one show with supporting evidence why I think these social media experts may not be such experts.

By and far the number one dispute was around this passage:

Think about it. So much of what you see in social media is the creation of stories, content, photos, videos, information and entertainment. Now I'm not tossing aside the customer-engagement aspect of social media -- that is and will always be the heart and power of the channel. 

The common response post indicated that my "content driven" thoughts showed that I, like ad agencies, didn't get this brave new world called social media. It showed I didn't get that social media is all about conversations.

Newsflash: Social Media isn't all about conversations...especially when your context for the discssion is brand to consumer social media. But don't take my word for it... here are recent comments from well regarded social media consultants.

Scott Stratten (@unmarketing) in his BlogWorld 2010 Keynote

Screen shot 2010-10-25 at 9.54.30 AM

Jason Falls (@JasonFalls) talks about the social media value of sharing great content on his blog and he also shared this tidbit at his CoastalSocial presentation:

Screen shot 2010-10-25 at 9.55.29 AM

and lastly, probably one of the most well respected names in social media, Chris Brogan (@ChrisBrogan) talks about Why Sharing [content] Matters on his blog.

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I could go on, but I'll stop. The simple fact is that long-term success in the social space is about more than just being a great conversationalist. Especially when you're looking at this from a brand perspective. According to numerous research studies, consumers choose to follow, fan and like brands in the social space primarily to get insider deals and to be exposed to cool content. If engagement or conversation is even mentioned, it's very far down the list.

Screen shot 2010-10-25 at 10.03.44 AM   Screen shot 2010-10-25 at 10.04.10 AM

All of this to say, I get that it's very social media politically correct to focus on the conversation side of social media. To hold that up high, place it on a mantel and bow to it as the end all, game changing opportunity of social media. But if you fall prey to that kind of thinking, if you insist on bending to that puritan view of social media, I'm afraid you'll miss a huge marketing opportunity called Content Marketing.

But enough about what I think... what do you think?

Join The Conversation

  • Nov 11 Posted 6 years ago Tom Martin (not verified)

    Thanks Wendy... yes, as I noted at the #SocialFreshATL conference during a panel... CEO's like conversation but they LOVE Commerce... the social media strategist (it is 2010) that delivers that will be the one that is the social media guide (the hip word in 2011 I think).

  • Nov 11 Posted 6 years ago SocialWendy (not verified)


    Really like the post and can't agree more.  My clients and I have a running tongue in cheek conversation about the "socials" that we watch as examples of exactly what not to do- I love to screen capture these and share them in agency training sessions... they have insider conversations on a public medium, which has no value to others, and bash organizations that are making efforts to participate in new media... and then they hope to get famous writing a blog about being a social media ( guru or expert in 2009) (strategist in 2010). Most don't even have a marketing degree or experience of any kind and they think that their purist attitude is superior to those of use utilizing content marketing as a core component of an integrated digital marketing strategy- one that includes social media marketing.  Show me a viable marketing agency client that just wants conversation with not outcome and I will show you a short and rocky engagement. 

  • TomMartin's picture
    Nov 1 Posted 6 years ago TomMartin

    Thanks all.... glad to hear this POV is finding a willing ear... and in the end, those that figure out great social media is a perfect blend of content and conversation will likely be the big winners.



  • Oct 28 Posted 6 years ago L Barnes (not verified)

    Thank God, someone finally said it!!  I completely agree.  I know plenty of people who have followed a business and then later unfollowed because they were being "spammed" with conversation when all they really wanted was the 20% off coupon code. Good call.

  • PamMoore's picture
    Oct 28 Posted 6 years ago PamMoore

    Tom - great thought provoking post!  I read your Ad Age post and agree that social media can't be a silo. Integration is key to success, no doubt. 

    However, why do we have to pick one - conversation or content??  Yes, I do believe social media is all about conversation.  However, to have a successful conversation it must have relevant content.  Content that inspires. Content that engages and causes the reader to take action. Content that builds brand equity, of course. 

    I think it's impossible to pick one.  A conversation is pointless without the content. And content is useless without someone to share it with? The key difference from the traditional ad and media days is that it's not just about views, readership etc.  It's about action and engagement which is driven by conversation which is supported by content. 

    It's ironic as just today I wrote a post about social conversations and the importance of value vs. noise. 

  • Robin Carey's picture
    Oct 28 Posted 6 years ago Robin Carey

    You're right, Tom, in many respects but in one major one you are dead wrong.  Social media is social, but it is still media.  I recently heard Craig Newmark say that when it comes to Social Media, "quality is the new black."  I seriously doubt that when it comes to "quality" the agencies can be totally in control because their business model does not permit content (media) creation independent of their client's wishes.  

  • Oct 27 Posted 6 years ago Kiscomments (not verified)

    Great post James. Particularly interesting when you see MySpace's latest innovation - content curation not conversation - supports your article!

  • susanne penfold's picture
    Oct 27 Posted 6 years ago susanne penfold

    Hi Tom


    Thanks for your very interesting post, I have to agree with the sharing information, I have had some success with this but to get people to look at the information you want to share I do think you have to join in the conversation. If you want to succede in social media you have to appear as a real person that people can trust. As I have said many times before people buy from people. So using a mixture of techniques to get followers interested is the best way to go with social media.

  • Oct 26 Posted 6 years ago Amanda Lawson (not verified)

    Great post Tom! How can you have great conversations or engagement without the content?!

  • Oct 26 Posted 6 years ago Ingrid Koehler (not verified)

    I could not agree more.  Even in my role as a community manager, which is all about conversations - I try to be content driven.  Content doesn't always mean selling. The content isn't always mine or my company's.  Content is often about adding value or sharing news.

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