One of the most pervasive mantras of the social media hype circus is that it’s “all about the conversation” with your customers.  But if you look at what’s really happening out there I think you can conclude this is a load of hooey.

To understand the shortcomings of “conversation” on the social web, let’s look at what happens in the old-school format of the focus group.  The focus group is one of the most popular qualitative methods for determining consumer wants and needs because it’s a relatively inexpensive and quick way to get feedback and ideas.  There are many formats, but generally you get a group of consumer volunteers together and, with the help of a skilled facilitator, conduct a “conversation” about the company, product, service, etc.

The biggest downfall of the focus group is that is nearly  impossible to get feedback that represents the true views of your target consumers. First, a lot of people simply aren’t interested in participating in these groups and second, the feedback tends to center around the most dominant members of the group. A real danger is that feedback of an entire group can be influenced by the forceful opinions of the brash few.

In most cases, the social web does not represent a true “conversation” with customers.  It is, at best, an un-moderated, non-representative focus group dominated by aggressive personalities likely to complain and force their view on others. Are you really having a “conversation” with your customers and prospects  if …

a) It’s only in English?

b) It’s only with people who have time to be active on the social web?

c) It’s with the minuscule percentage of people who are likely to engage on a subject?

d) It’s with people who may not even be the core users of your product?

e) It excludes people who are simply shy or quiet?

Experienced marketers can see this trap. We can also look at the wonderful opportunities of the social web and put them into proper context.  But I’m afraid the “social media conversation” is another over-hyped sound bite from the new age gurus eager to play on the fear of somehow being left out. If I hear “it’s all about the conversation” one more time I think I’ll lose my cookies.

Look, there are TREMENDOUS opportunities presented by the social web and there are lots of ways to have social conversations that are meaningful. The {grow} community on this blog is an example.  Tapping into real-time sentiment is another. Every marketer should be immersed in this channel to figure out what really makes sense for their company and brand. But don’t check your brain at the door because you’re afraid of being left out of this “conversation.”

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