Of all the forms of traditional and new media marketing, blogs continue to evolve as the global exchange for sharing ideas, opinions and interpretations across all industries. So much so, that yet another old online strategy is being dolled up as a new trend, extending the original practice of participation from traditional forums into the blogosophere.
Some call it conversational marketing or community marketing, as rooted in the almighty Web 2.0 bible Cluetrain Manifesto, while others flock behind comment marketing (especially the SEO groups.) In my opinion, community and conversational marketing are much bigger umbrellas when discussing social media, whereas comment marketing is a specific tactic related to blogs, forums, and review sites.
The idea here is that people visit high traffic blogs, comment in a way that is situated somewhere in between controversial and conversational, pepper it with key words and expertise, and ensure that there are links that lead the community back to you (or your client).
But, honestly, this really isn't anything new, however, because it can be deemed as yet another tool in the world of social media, it might quickly become all the rage. And what's worse, is that many unqualified people will risk brands and reputation to learn first hand, what a dedicated community can do to fresh meat.
Stumpette recently ran a post entitled, "Is PR Too Stupid for Conversational Marketing?" where they basically kick the PR industry in the nuts (figuratively speaking of course, PR is androgynous), spit, and then remind them that they're not invited to play this game.
According to the author, "The key to CM is that a client organization is supposed to relinquish control. So the question is: what does a manager manage in a system sans management? That's where the real genius comes in. If you can't manage it, you can't measure it, i.e. you can't measure me; and if you can't measure me and are still paying me a lot of money, well trust me it must be good. If you're the head of an agency, you're seeing big green dollar signs right about now and feeling a little woozy...your ship has finally come in!"
The simple answer from my standpoint is yes. No apologies. No explanations. Yes, PR, as a whole, is too stupid to engage at this level, and more importantly, at any level that requires believable engagement. The problem though, isn't anything new however. The truth of the matter is that PR has done a great job shooting arrows into the air from the back lines while other pioneering marketers ran out into the battlefield to test their skill and learn from the engagement.
For far too long, PR has operated behind a wall, spamming media with generic emails and press releases, without taking the time to understand why their news matters to the community they're trying to reach. And now with the tools to reach communities directly at their fingertips, many will fail, while a few smart, immersed, and passionate professionals will converse transparently. But perhaps at that point, they're no longer just another PR person, they could in theory, graduate to something much more important and influential.
But, it's not just about PR, it's about any company looking to jump into the conversation. Some have even hired community managers to track related discussions and have them participate as new opportunities arise. Others start the dialogue through their own blogs. But comment marketing requires a no BS approach to prevent peers from banishing you in disgrace. It requires knowledge, understanding, the ability to listen, and most importantly, the experience to provide an unquestionably relevant comment that is either informative, insightful, helpful, intellectually disruptive, or undoubtedly witty.
Why? Because there are risks....and the stakes are high. This is YOUR reputation. This is your company's brand. Respect the communities you engage in and they will respect you. The cost of entry is participation and information. The cost of failure, is well, not only embarrassing, but could spark a sharp decline in sales and brand credibility.
Deb Schultz had a great post about it last year that is still a great read.
Here are some tips:
1. Read the blog
2. Read the comments
3. Let it permeate
4. Understand the pain points
5. Know what the hell you're talking about
6. Be a resource, not a sales person
7. When in doubt, shake it up or say something witty
8. Be consistent
9. Revisit the comments sections you participate in to make sure that things progress naturally
10. Pay attention, as there might be something to learn from the entire discussion for the next time
Update: John Bell posted a very thorough examination of "Who "owns" conversational marketing?" It's a good post that actually should link back to this article. I believe that an easier question to answer is who shouldn't try to own the conversation because, at the end of the day, it is created by and for the people. Most of the worst offenders make-up the majority of all marketers...therefore, we need to bring them into these conversations in order to make an impact.
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