The hidden costs of social media conversation

It’s all about the conversation.

Have you heard that a thousand times?  It’s a ubiquitous mantra of the social web to the point where sometimes I think it takes over as the ultimate goal.  It’s not the goal.  The goal of any organization is to increase shareholder value … a.k.a. make money. Even non-profits.

Whether you work for a company, a hospital, a university, or a non-profit, peel the onion enough and it all gets down to marketing and money.  So how did we get hung up on the social media “conversation” as a goal of its own?  What is the future of the social media “conversation?”  And is it really a conversation at all …

In the beginning, there was conversation

Business has always been about conversations.

The first markets were places where people gathered to exchange information and goods, a city market or a town square. Supply met demand with a firm handshake. Buyers and sellers looked each other in the eye, met, and spoke directly to each other without the filter of media, the positioning of marketing, the arrogance of advertising, or the shading of public relations.

So the idea that social media conversation is revolutionary is untrue.  The conversation was always there. It simply got interrupted for a few decades by the introduction of broadcast media!  Social media allows us to start to reclaim the conversation with our customers, even in a global marketplace.

Marketing, interrupted

Beginning with radio and then TV, companies discovered the efficiency of moving from selling soap and cereal through local producers to manufacturing mass quantities and marketing through mass media. Undoubtedly it worked — and still does — with powerful efficiency.  But at the same time, the conversations were still happening … without the benefit of the local marketplace.

In this era, approximations for market conversations had to be created. This was the Golden Age of polling and focus groups. We had to create conversations when we lost the community marketplace.

The Conversation Renaissance

The market conversation that became lost in the mass media megaphone was found again in the quiet discussions in geeky chat rooms and news exchanges on the first Internet sites.

In 1999, a seminal and visionary book, The Cluetrain Manifesto was published.  Christopher Locke and his co-authors saw that this new technology could help us re-capture these historic market conversations, as it stated:

“‘In the early 1990s, there was nothing like the Internet we take for granted today. Back then, the Net was primitive, daunting, uninviting. So what did we come for? And the answer is: each other.  The Internet became a place where people could talk to other people without constraint. Without filters or censorship or official sanction — and perhaps most significantly, without advertising.”

When Cluetrain was written, there were just 50 million people on the Internet, most of them AOL dial-up accounts. And yet it correctly foretold the potential for mass conversation, the opportunities for marketing, and the inherent fear traditional advertisers would have of giving up control of the dialogue.

Conversation as god

Within 10 years of The Cluetrain Manifesto, two trends collided that not only re-energized the idea of “conversation,” but elevated it to rockstar status. First was a critical mass of diverse demographic categories actually accessing and using the Internet.

Second was the emergence of user-friendly, fun, and helpful sharing sites that collectively became known as “social media.” This allowed people to quickly and easily connect, comment, and PUBLISH.  For the first time in history, our civilization could conduct free, global, instantaneous conversations.  It was a revolution.

An influential book in this period, Groundswell by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li was a wake-up call to both the dangers of ignoring the social conversation and the economic opportunities of immersion.

Early social media bloggers such as Chris Brogan pioneered a “purist” movement that placed the sanctity of “the conversation” above any business or commercial interests. The conversation became a sacred trust that stood above any profit motive. “Social media is not about you and your stupid company,” he once famously said a few years ago.

Corporate influence and mainstream rationality

The popularity of social platforms naturally attracted large corporations, advertisers and SEO alchemists.  By 2009 companies both large and small joined the social media frenzy trying to make sense of the unprecedented amount of direct consumer information that was flooding the airwaves.

The purist’s mantra began to die out as social media went mainstream and companies began to ask “how do we make money on this stuff?” Conversation was nice as long as it was linked to conversions. Conversation seemed to be happening everywhere. The challenge became making sense of it.

Sophisticated “listening programs” emerged that could slice and dice consumer sentiment, monitor competitor activities, detect shifts and trends, excavate potential problems and, perhaps most important, begin to link consumer online activity with market influence.

The once and future conversation

Has the social web re-connected the consumer conversation?  Has technology re-established a medieval sense of knowing your customer to the point of anticipating needs and knowing your customer’s extended influence?

To some extent. But let me provide one short example of how social media can only complement, not replace, actual customer conversations.

In the mid 1990s I was a marketing director for a multi-billion-dollar product that was a linchpin for both my company and our customer’s supply chain.  It was so important that we organized annual “listen to the customer” visits with a cross-section of our global customers.

These were more than casual conversations. We went through a formal training program to teach us how to probe and listen intently. The sessions were conducted with a minimum of three people from my company so we could cross-examine each other and compare notes at the end of each meeting.  This was a customer conversation on steroids.

One year, my team had traveled around the globe and ended the series of meetings with a group of experts and scientists at a Fortune 100 consumer product company.   In the last hour of the last meeting, on the last stop of our tour, one of the scientists mentioned in an off-handed remark that he had seen a preliminary report from an obscure lab indicating a possible health concern with one of the components of our packaging material.  We were all tired and ready to wrap up, but there was something about the scientist’s tone of voice, or maybe a nuance in his body language that made me think that we needed to know more about this issue.  So we kept probing and learned from him for another 45 minutes.

Although there were still many questions about the research, we learned enough to immediately begin a multi-year, multi-million-dollar effort to re-formulate our product with components that were deemed safe by the emerging research.

By the time this research was indeed validated and appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal – ten years later — we had converted all of our customers to the new, safe product.  It was a non-event.

No.  Actually, it was a significant event, wasn’t it?  It was a historic turning point for our company and our customers that never would have occurred without the intense effort we put into that effort to listen and understand.  And it never would have happened had we relied only on something like social media listening tools for our “conversation.”

Conversation without insight is meaningless … simply chatter.

The hidden costs of conversation

Another challenge of the New Age conversation is keeping it aligned with the goals of the company.

In a recent interview, McDonald’s Social Media Director Rick Wion said that consumers now have their favorite McDonald’s company tweeters and look for opportunities to get online and gab with them about everything and anything.

Certainly this interaction can humanize a brand. But at the end of the day, is paying your employees to be a psychotherapist to a lonely widow in Pittsburgh going to sell hamburgers? Is that the company’s core business? And when does it end? Do you keep adding people to have infinite conversations?

Rick mentioned the possibility of providing automated tweet responses to some questions. This upends the notion of conversation and puts us back into broadcast mode, doesn’t it?

Hijacking the conversation

A third risk of the New Media Conversation is that it opens the opportunity for extremists to hijack the agenda.  There are people who may want to harm your brand for no reason other than they want to get attention in a very sick way.  Are you prepared for that?  Can a small company with limited resources concentrate on the .00001% of the population who wants to destroy you?

I recently spoke to a colleague who told me that a small Christian college is now bringing in lawyers to deal with a hater who has set up a Facebook page to attack the institution, and even individual faculty members. This is not the ideal use of its marketing dollars but certainly a cost of the New Age Conversation we all need to be prepared for.

The end of social media conversation?

While the social web was the key enabler to “conversation” the channel is starting to look more and more like a mass media channel isn’t it? For proof of this, look at the list of the Top 10 You Tube videos from 2010 — most of them slickly-produced corporate mini-movies … also known as ads.

What are the most popular Facebook pages? Kind of like a who’s who of America’s Biggest Advertisers. Remember that until a few years ago, companies were not even allowed on Facebook.

In fact, there is very little real “conversation” between customers and companies taking place on the social web.  There may be news, reviews, rants, and remarks. Complaints, status updates, tweets, and comments.  Observations, explanations, interpretations, and salutations … and companies need to be in the middle of it … but there are precious few actual conversations that would lead to a market insight like the one I explained in my packaging company example.

Social interaction offers an inexpensive and broad way to paint a high level view of a market sentiment but only the laziest marketer will think this is enough to really do the job right.  Social media is not the new conversation.  That conversation has been out there as long as there have been people trading goods and more than ever, you need to get out there, see your customers, listen to them intently, and respond quickly, sensitively, and passionately to their wants and needs. Go have a REAL conversation.

What do you think?  Are conversations happening out there for you on the social web?  Are there examples where social media can replace traditional customer conversations?  I would love to hear your views from your part of the world!

Note: The links to Groundswell and Cluetrain are affiliate links. I mean, why not?

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  • Anonymous

    Mark, here’s another stellar example of why your blog remains one of my favorites.  It’s insightful and honest, and cuts through the raging din to get to the heart of what really matters for businesses turning to New Media. Well done.

  • Conversations are never wasted, if you listen carefully.  In my early days of selling investments, my company ran postcard ads in Reader’s Digest.  I was given one of the cards to follow up with a prospect, an elderly widow.  She said, “Son, I’ll be honest.  I don’t want to invest.  I don’t even have any money.  I just wanted someone to visit me.”  I visited with her while we enjoyed some pie and coffee, and she told me about her family.  Was that time wasted?  I don’t think so.  It taught me how desperately people want somebody to listen to them, to make them feel important.  That is a lesson I’ve never forgotten.  The champion seller is the champion listener, not the champion talker.

  • I use social media for conversations, but I don’t feel  a real contact. Peharps I have too many correspondants or friends.

  • If I recall correctly from The Long Tail, Chris Anderson made this big argument that iTunes would cause a flattening of the music industry, making it so that the mass of music buying was fairly evenly distributed among of huge number of artists. Yet, if you look today, the spread of iTunes purchases looks remarkably similar to those of CD purchases. Major artists make up the overpowering bulk of dollars and transactions, while the long tail is extremely small. I mention this because we can wish that new technologies will be utterly transformative, but it’s unlikely that tools will change anything. Society would have to change.

    If business is all about the conversation, our use of technology will mirror that. If it’s all about getting the money and running, our use of technology will mirror that. The technology is unlikely to change who we are and how we approach business, and we see this with how different people approach social media. Some are all about the conversation and transparency, others prefer to keep up an image despite reality, and others couldn’t care less how shady they are as long as it brings in the dough. In the end, it’s just a tool to facilitate our personal lives and our work. How we utilize it (and whether or not that makes business sense) is up to us.

  • Social Media, is the ghost of Myspace. Been there done that!  

  • I don’t believe real conversation can happen online. Sure we can exchange thoughts or comments, but you have to take that exchange offline to really converse.

    I find that social media is a great way to meet people, much like any networking event. But it’s when that interaction results in a real life meeting that the online exchange really “converts”.Love your example of what real conversation and listening is. The shop keeper in the pre Mad Men era may have discussed the weather & local events with his customer but only as a cordiality. He knew the client wanted to know if he had some fresh chops that day and the butcher was happy to provide the answer and make the sale.
    There’s great difficulty with companies getting past this “social” thing. Traditionally, social & business were oil & water; the two never mixed. That’s the culture of the corner office.Conversation with clients, as you say, is not new. But now the conversation falls under the social media umbrella where it should be integrated within the whole business. Social is not a department, it’s your business. Social media has enabled us to treat clients as people not just consumers.

  • Thanks. Very kind of you to say! 

  • What a great story Harvey. Thanks for sharing that with the community.

  • There are lots of different approaches. From my own perspective, I have made a lot of CONTACTS who have led to real conversations, and important relationships.

  • Well said Eric.  Not only does social media reflect society, in some ways it amplifies it. Thanks for the great comment!

  • Powerful comment Ray and I agree. This would make a great blog post.  Thanks for posting this today! 

  • In my experience, the social web is a place for people to discover, explore, and validate (through direct conversation and 3rd party social proof). For small, impulse purchases (usually B2C), it can directly affect sales, but for more complex purchases (typically B2B), the social web doesn’t (yet) have the ability to convert on its own. 

    Social interactions can help establish familiarity, comfort, and even affinity with a brand, but when it comes down to brass tacks, your prospect wants to talk to a real, live human being – maybe (gasp!) even in person. 

    Though there are conversations that are contained within the social web (twitter exchanges, Facebook threads, blog comments), the most powerful conversations are the ones that happen offline (phone, email, in person). These are the “conversations” that are more than just talk – they are a record of actual events, they tell a story. And those stories, ironically, make the most powerful social content. SO, in that scenario, the social web is NOT the conversation, it’s just a medium by which to disseminate the conversations that are happening elsewhere (i.e., in Real Life!). 

    I don’t have any empirical evidence, but I’d hazard a guess that the conversations that live exclusively on the social web are more about what people THINK (very important, no doubt) while the conversations that happen offline are more about what people DO. While dialog on the social web may start the wheels turning, it’s usually the Real World conversations that will get someone to take action. 

  • Yes, the conversation has always been there and social media updates can’t replace the type of intimate interaction you described above.  I do think that social media (and other more traditional methods: email, business cards) can initiate the beginning of a relationship and deeper more constructive conversations. Companies, individuals, communities need a starting pt or an opportunity to introduce themselves and be known and social media may offer one approach.

    Thanks again for the thought-provoking post. It’s a good reminder about the limit of technology.

  • A very wise assessment Jamie.  I have been looking at “conversations” in other social spheres (like mommy bloggers) and generally see much of the same. Thanks! 

  • Absolutely.  Great summary.  And may I just say how nice it is to see your face? : )  Love the new non-logo avatar! 

  • Thanks!

  • A very thoughtful post. However, I am not sure I agree with your conclusions.

    First, the case with the packaging material. Perhaps already, and definitely in the future if you believe in the vision that Groundswell advocated, your discovery of a potentially hazardous material could just as easily take place online. No, make that even more easily, because you could receive the reports to your listening tool without a long tour. The story seems too easy to spin around to show how in ye old’ days you needed to go through all that trouble, but not so anymore.

    Second, online conversations. I suppose it is somewhat of a background issue. I have at times been deeply immersed in gaming: top-level FPS ladder play (in a small game though) as well as role-playing and raiding in MMORPGs. I have spent countless hours talking or writing with people I have never met over ingame chat, voicecom, forums, and IRC. Sure, much of it was about games. But not all. And besides, we would have talked about games if we had met IRL, anyway. So yes, you can have a REAL conversation online. I find it impossible to form the idea in my head that you couldn’t.

    Third, how revolutionary the social web is regarding conversations. I think it really is revolutionary. There just hasn’t been a platform before where you can hear what your customers are saying to others about you, or where you can jump in to a number of conversations around the world or someone else can jump in to yours at such ease. It is as if the walls have been removed from the room and everyone been brought to watch. If that is not revolutionary, what is?

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  • I love the fact that you stepped out with a dissenting opinion Ville.  Thanks!!

    On point one, we’ll have to agree to disagree.  I would only offer this.  Many studies show that up to 80 percent of the communication we receive is non-verbal. This would indicate that a person having a face-to-face conversation would have a significant competitive advantage over somebody relying only on information from a computer screen. In my particular case, perhaps it was a pause, a slightly worried tone, a glance down, that made me probe for more information.

    I agree with you on the second point, but the main gist of the article was a lack of communication between customers and companies, not person-to-person. I have shared your experience in this way.

    On your final point, I’m with you all the way. : ) 

    Thanks so much for making “the conversation” richer Ville!

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  • Man, I’ve been struggling with a comment to this for days! 

    First of all, this is a great synopsis of the evolution of the social media frenzy (hype) to date.  You’ve highlighted how it’s evolution actually typifies the evolution of all forms of technology. And, you know I’ve personally been very concerned about certain “commercially focused” activities that will one day force real consumer generated content away from the mainstream. And, you’re right, this is happening right now. But, we are just at the begining of the evolution of “Social Media”, not the end. I’m not smart enough to predict what’s going to happen in the future but what you’ve highlighted here is “priming the pump” for a major shift.

    1. Clearly many businesses are regressing to their old ways of advertising and many see “Social Media”, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and other similar sites, just as another form of “Media” and focusing their efforts as they once did with TV, Magazines and so on.  They collect friends and followers, spam them to death and then eventually lose them all. But, the smart ones, those who’ve learned the game ( people have two ears and one mouth for a reason???) are leaving the Facebooks / Twitters of the world or at least altering their use to find people really interested and move them to more appropriate, focused communities to nurture the discussions and learn from them.

    2. There is an explosion in the “deep web” of communities of interest where consumers are shifting their discussions relative to products, services and other commercial interests. I’m also including blogs in this category (like this one!). These are places where they feel “safe” from commerical activity, the invasion of blatant advertising and potential retribution from stating opinions. Those companies discussed in my previous point who actually “get it” are developing many of these communities for those interested in topics relative to the company’s business to share and learn. But, those same companies have quickly learned to let the community evolve and gleen insights from them, not advertise. Real conversations are happening in these places. And, many quickly move to face to face human interaction where geographically convenient and appropriate. By the way, in many cases it’s not the company approaching the individual but the individual approaching the company once they are ready to act on something. As a specific example, I’ve never seen you once advertise your services in your blog but how many times as someone approached you because of this community and actually become a client?

    And, for every community sponsored by specific companies (ie: GROW) there are literally millions that are not and people there talk all day, every day about all kinds of topics. 

    There was a terrific analysis done not to long ago about the social impact of the Motorola acquisition by Google.  During the first 24 hours after the announcement, the majority of online posts were Tweets and other microblog posts (45%) spreading the announcement. But the second largest area of discussion was consumer generated content on blogs and social communities (37%) and a distant 3rd was Social Media Networks (ie: Facebook) at 7%.  The summary of the analysis was most insightful:

    “Clearly Microblogging is out there as a news accelerator. But people still want to articulate their viewpoints in substantial numbers (blogs/reviews) and engage in dialogue (forums / communities). The low use of Facebook (and other Social Media Networks) as a place to express a view is very surprising in that the world’s most visited site only accounted for 7% of the views expressed”.  

    I’m hoping another analysis will be done soon to show the shift of this discussion as people started thinking about it and really discussing the impact. My guess is that Microblog (Twitter) and Social Media Network (Facebook) discussions will be very minimal.

    But, in order for companies to really leverage the Social Web, they must first understand what’s happening, position their “story” to leverage what they’ve learned and get out there and talk to people. Will online conversation stop?  No, they will only get stronger (and more hidden). But, those businesses who do not properly leverage the “gold” they’re being delivered will have great difficulty surviving in the future. Those “lazy marketers” you referred to will only be a short term annoyance.

    Likewise, those “New Media” sites (like Facebook etc.) need to prove that there is real value being generated for those advertisers spending those billions or they will suffer much the same way. In the “old days” companies advertised through traditional channels because they felt they had to.  There was no way to accurately measure impact. But with the “New Media” channels there is. It’s a very good news / bad news scenerio for those service providers.

    Sorry for the rant……..

  • Glad to see you finally started your blog. Heh. : ) 

    very insightful and thought-provoking. You know sometimes i wonder if all the corporate activity is shutting down or out-shouting the little guys but then I see more and more focus on local and some great success stories. I also think some of the geo-location innovations will favor local businesses if they can get on board fast enough!

    Wonderful comment. Much appreciated! 

  • Hey, Mark! This is a great post and I’m definitely sharing it with my
    network, but I gotta say that “the hidden costs of social media
    conversation” is a really small part of the article. Perhaps changing
    the title for something closer to the majority of the content will make
    it more useful. 🙂

  • I don’t think that traditional conversations with customers can ever be replaced. Like everyone else, I’ve been both, a satisfied and a dissatisfied customer. There isn’t a letter that I can write, nor a comment that I can post that will convey my sentiment in the way my voice tone and body language would in person.  There are definite advantages of face-to-face conversations. However, the supplemental value of social networking as part of business shouldn’t be undermined.

    While the argument can be made that business use of social media has disrupted our interactive lives, its use wouldn’t be so popular if there was nothing to benefit from it. The consumer ultimately wins as businesses engage deeply into social media.  Aside from marketing, business’ social activity supplements many psychological needs of consumers… the need to be heard; the need to feel connected; the need to be a trendsetter; the need to laugh (funny ads), and so on.  It could also be that social media gives a voice to consumers who might not otherwise be heard in conventional environments.  Time and circumstances prevent many people from expressing their thoughts and experiences in person.  There are also people who like to interact on a social networks BECAUSE it feels less personal.  The ability to “hide” behind a computer gives a lot of people a sense of security, to give thoughts they may not give in person… be they good, bad, or indifferent.

    While you’ve expressed other hidden costs of social media conversation, your article seems to highlight traditional conversation as the greatest loss.  Social media conversation definitely has changed some ways of conducting business; but the ground rules are the same.  Listening to your customers, not just hearing them, is one of the best ways to get more customers.  When a genuine interest in company growth is present, the company focus is on more than how to get money out the consumer’s pocket.  For companies that can understand this both types of conversation are helpful to both parties.  

    Didn’t mean to write a book!  Insightful article, enjoyed reading it!

  • I do see that as the theme of the post and an accurate headline, but thanks for the feedback.

  • Love, love, love this comment. A great blog post in it’s own right! Very interesting perspective about the psychological needs. Well done Nakia!

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  • Reminds me of an old maxim I heard when I first entered the working world: The best salesman is the one who solves a problem for his customer.  I’ve never forgotten it, and it’s a lesson that Harvey obviously also learned well!

  • MARK,

    Greetings from rural Australia.

    I love Harvey Gardner’s comment and its sentiment.  Conversations are never wasted if you’re listening.

    Thank you so much for taking us on an oral history of marketing.  From the days before the mass market to today.  It’s a history many young people don’t know.  And many of us older ones forget from time to time.

    I’m a Baby Boomer.  Born in New York City.

    When I was a child, my mother took me shopping with her.  Mrs Novotney at the delicatessen always made a fuss of me.  Gave me thin slices of salami to taste. Waving her knife in the air while telling me its ingredients.

    My dad, a talented artist who was in advertising, took me with him to his evening visits to the drugstore at the corner.  I remember him whisking me up in the air and placing me on a stool at the soda fountain.  With the druggist pulling a seltzer water at the fountain and placing the glass of bubbly water in front of me.  Gratis.

    Then he and my dad would discuss saving the world.

    These conversations and acts of kindness were more than about friendship.  These were men and women in business solidifying their relationship.  They were building a foundation of loyalty.  And I was part of the base.

    Years later when we left New York City and moved to York Pennsylvania, my mother shopped at the local grocery store.

    My mother didn’t have a driver’s license, so was forced to shop within our neighbourhood.

    And this grocery store wasn’t self service.

    The store was owned by a grey haired, glum widow who stood behind the counter, with her hair pulled back into a bun, wearing an apron from neck to knee.

    You quickly learned to arrive with a list.  Ask for each item one at a time.  Which she got off the shelves.  Slammed on the counter.  And glared while my mother asked for the next item.  

    She offered no conversation.  Offended my mother with her coldness.  Scared me. And we rushed out the door as soon as we were finished.

    When the first A&P supermarket opened directly across the street, my mother was amongst the first through the doors.  Friendly, chatty, helpful staff.  Self service.  A larger selection of products.

    My mother was in seventh heaven and thrilled beyond belief to be able to dump the ogre across the street.

    When I arrived in Australia solo in 1970, street shopping was the norm.  Shopkeepers loved to get to know you.  Always building loyalty.

    Today, the only conversation many people have with a business is online.  Most large retailers don’t allow a clerk to take the time to be friendly.

    If you can find one.

    A recent discussion on my non-commercial radio station, ABC Radio National, about customers and what they expect from their social media networking with a business, was an eye opener.

    Most listeners said they didn’t want to be their friend.  They ‘Liked’ a Facebook business page mainly to ‘bag a bargain’.  They didn’t want to be educated.  Nor told about the product.  Just want to know when a sale is on, or take advantage of special offers.

    Which is different to what the social media experts tell us about the benefits of having a business page on Facebook.

    The best business conversations are still one on one.  I ring companies to find out more information.  And become annoyed when I’m directed to their website.

    The company that wants to have a two way discussion with me is the one who gets my hard earned dollars.

    But I despair that they’re becoming an endangered species.

    This is a timely conversation, Mark.  At a time when the world has never been better connected, we seem to be becoming very isolated and personally disconnected.

    Relationships are superficial, shallow and at arms length.  Rather than deep and meaningful.

    Business IS about making money.  But the relationships and the conversations are part of the road to be travelled before we get to hear the ‘kerching’ ‘kerching’ of the till. 

    Best wishes and take care,


    Carol Jones
    Interface Pty Ltd
    Designers of The Fitz Like A Glove™ Ironing Board Cover

    Ironing Diva’s stories are at

  • As long as there have been conversations there have been some that are less productive than others. Business in the mass push era (20th Century) focused on central planning, time studies and efficiency. It was all about what could be pushed from the center out to the masses.

    No human being wants to be treated this way. Thankfully we have technology that allows us two way conversations no and consumers expect to be heard.

    McDonald’s therapists? I imagine a few psychologist would disagree. But Hey… if they can get away with it, they should encourage it. In the hyper competitive burger war world of fast food merchandising, market share is “share of mind”… If a burger eater is engaged wtih McD’s, they aren’t telling their problems to the King.

  • Thanks!  That means a lot!

  • Ozio Media

    The social media internet is a buzz with conversations everywhere! If businesses take the time to listen (which I believe they are starting to do more of) they will see that there is a real opportunity found within the different conversations that abound. For example, following a Twitter hashtag and simply commenting on how a business can help with a particular event or problem is not a conversation. It is a start. What happens after that is the actual conversation. Taking the extra steps to talk with the people both online, and then offline, is where the real conversations begin.

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  • Ben Joslin

    Benefit #1 to marketers is not the conversation itself, instead the ability to address customer interactions. Sure the author may have traveled across the world to hear snippet of information that led to a product improvement…but not all companies can do that. When a customer posts something to a company FB page (on their time, maybe in middle of a traffic jam on smart phone) and then actually gets a nice response – that is great! That interaction leads to loyalty and brand equity. The 2nd big benefit is peer to peer interaction. Social media is a platform for those brief conversations that may have happend in the “old days”. Consumers can now read user generated reviews of almost anything! This element of social media is now the number one influencer of purchase behavior. That’s as real as it gets. The author IMO kind of gets it wrong there never has been a CONVERSATION. Back in the market square, the merchant wasn’t having a conversation, they were just trying to sell you crap. Same today. Social media has leveled the playing field and allowed CONSUMERs to come first. I read what some one else posts, I decide if the companies response to my post is adequate. Consumer is now in drivers seat…that is the essence of the social revolution, not a platform for conversation that never really existed. This whole notion of “conversation” was around in email marketing before social, there is some über CMO or. Marketing committee that comes up with this jargon! Conversation? Never existed, never will. Just meet my needs, answer my questions, and I will buy your product, no conversation necessary.

    Want to see who is doing social right? Check out Backcuntry dotcom, no i don’t work there.

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  • This is even more true now than when you wrote it. Social media, from a corporate perspective is mostly mass, blast media. Where it is useful for corporations is:
    1. In finding out what people are saying to each other about you (not just what they are saying directly to you)
    2. As a quick-response customer service tool. An augmentation of call centres.

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