Measuring Conversational Media

Back in the late ’90’s the ClueTrain Manifesto* was perhaps the first widely read document on the future of marketing as a (two way) conversation.

*The manifesto is still a good read today – look at the 95 theses first or over here for more background.

The discovery and invention of new ways to engage both suppliers and customers at the same time in conversations about what is relevant to the participants now,  can generate very powerful outcomes around what  is ultimately delivered to the market.

The “marketing as an ongoing conversation” idea seems incredibly obvious now but to place it in context for 1999 most media was all “push” and the closest similarity to conversation was “letters to the editor” or early forums  like “The Well” which weren’t that easily accessible at the time.

Of course, all  those letters were filtered and with tighter publishing logistics then it was less easy to facilitate ongoing market based conversations about anything other than extremely popular topics.

Over the past 10 years online media, blogging and web 2.0 styled tools for annotating, enriching , slicing and dicing content have extended both richness and reach

All good so far but we are now fast approaching another tipping point where the noise outweighs the signal.  Some would argue that social media has become part of the problem and that may be true; but it is really just another phase on the ongoing marketing journey.

Some marketing departments have mistaken  messaging for meaning and getting the balance between what the company thinks it provides and what the consumers want to pay for is an ongoing challenge.

4 Questions  For Marketers

How do we tune in past the noise and the cyber loitering that passes for conversation on some sites?

Do social media tools like Digg, Delicious and even regional and local ones like Scoopit help us to cut through to the core ideas ?

Is there a way to mine conversations and test social media idea distributions that gives us a greater depth of analysis and measurement?

How do we translate these ideas to the into guidelines for the marketing team on Monday morning?

All markets go through different stages of adoption up to the point at which they mainstream. In the early phases the leverage of new tools received disproportionate results.

For example I remember sending direct emails to various authors in the late 90’s and most of the time making useful and very clear connections.  Of course that couldn’t last and the sheer velocity of changes and technology induced spin has made it harder to make those connections on a meaningful basis.

Many of our work projects are based around the idea that we can use online iterations and feedback to regenerate a more highly tuned marketing campaign in real time as the markets respond to ongoing change.

Ironically in some cases as big businesses have added systems to cope with all of these ongoing conversations they have not kept pace with the editorial and analytical side effects.

In another  example  using an FAQ (frequently asked questions) based system to log faults,  issues and hopefully provide quick answers for  user based searching is a key way that companies can help themselves.

Unfortunately many of those systems have been set -up in such a way that there is no active and ongoing review process so that staff and customers just work out new ways to sidestep the existing process so they can talk to a human.

And the issue with many of the social media bookmarking tools is that they have been gamed right from the start by those who understand page rankings and also those with more spurious objectives.

The big promise of Cluetrain and conversational marketing was to get to a level of  “human to human”  connection so that we all get smarter, better and more relevant products and services.

The challenge for most business managers is quite simply they need to have definitive measurements on what works and what doesn’t so that they can persuade the finance department to make sense of themes and memes and and mine significant meaning.

Finance departments can’t deal with ambiguity at any level for the most part. Many of us have worked for companies whose philosophy is ‘if we can measure it we won’t do it.”

The Best Buy story linked to in the Hirshberg link (below) noted one key metric that finance would definitely understand. Before Best Buy started using social media tools the employee turnover in the company ran at 130% ! each year and it has now dropped back to 50%. That is a mind blowing result to say the least.

My personal view is that blogs and wikis can still add incredible value to customers and suppliers on a regional basis if we add them to our websites and a conscious and  useful way.

Even without specialist medial tools we should always be able to see the impact of better engagement between customers, suppliers, managers and staff and that should flow through to improved profits and even market share.

Here is another example of what we can easily do.  Back in November I linked to a great essay from Paul Graham on Why to Start a Start-Up in a Bad Economy where you really need to check the comments to get a better read on that piece.

Ideally the comments should be more closely connected but the point is while the essay can be read in isolation it is so much better if we look more closely at the context and that means comments.

Here are some other  answers and some more clues – please feel free to add your own ideas as well.

Last but not least,  a few weeks ago I wrote about Peter Hirshberg. He has another video interview on his blog at where Best Buy CEO – Brad Anderson notes that as we move from

“simply distributing product to insuring customer delight under countless usage scenarios, only a method that tapped the wisdom of everybody made sense. “

And this is the point at which all of your group wisdom and comments become more pertinent.

A true self learning organisation won’t wait for the accountants to catch up and this is where we can all help out by decoding the market signals we know are out there.

Best wishes for the Christmas Season. Thanks again for stopping by.

Be present, be engaged and be renewed – see you again in the New Year.

P.S. While at Zeitgeist Google I also found this clip which features Lee Clow of TBWA and Alex Bogusky talking about the transition from narrative to interactive and implications for brands. It is definitely a related topic as are many of the other 117 other videos on that Zeitgeist 08 channel.