Creating conversations in the social media space (not just campaigns)

How does a brand even start their thinking re: creating conversations that make sense in the Social Media space?

Two guys are standing at the water cooler on a Monday morning. Jack needs new training shoes. His Nike trainers are well over their 6 months changeover date. Next to Jack stands Pete, an avid runner, and he’s commenting on how great his third pair of ASICS Kayanos are. He wouldn’t change them for all the Power Bars in New York. Suddenly Stu (a marketer from downstairs) runs into the conversation yelling something about 15% off all BBQs at Wal-Mart for this week only. Stu blinks at them and then stares blankly. He then repeats the 15% offer. Continued silence from Jack and Pete. Jack and Pete keep talking for a while and then leave Stu, who still hasn’t clicked they are not interested.

Sadly, this is how brands have behaved since the invention of the newspaper, television and radio. With the emergence of social media this scenario is slowly changing, the communication structure is flattening and ‘engagement’ is becoming the new metric to ROI.

This post looks at the world of conversational marketing online and asks the question “How does a brand spark relevant conversations online authentically, where the conversations are already happening?” Being a part of conversations that are relevant to a brand increases engagement and interaction with that brand and is the new marketing nirvana that can lead to increased sales. But how do brands achieve this beyond the banner (widget or VDO unit) and into the conversation?

We first need to start with a simple 3 step process where brands 1) listen 2) engage 3) monitor.

Listening & monitoring. It would be hard not to notice the endless hype around twitter, facebook and a host of other platforms. With over 2,000 social networks, 160 million groups and 750 million people globally engaging in some kind of conversation, brands are listening to what is being said about their products, services, competitors and future offerings through monitoring tools (see 20 top buzz monitoring tools).

Engaging means brands for the very first time are experimenting with sparing conversations amongst pockets of interested and diverse groups of people. The results are organic and eye opening for many. Leading brands such as Nestle, Virgin, McDonalds & evening highly controversial tobacco companies have the approach of ‘test and learn’. Traditionally, brands would engage market research firms and spend countless months and extremely high budgets to ask people all sorts of questions. The outcome? Sterile and, in most cases, totally ineffective.

To work through a real example of your brand and see how you would approach a conversation using Social Media, you need to start from a place of knowing who you are ‘Who are you? = Brand’ + ‘What do you stand for = Brand pillars’

The next step is to expand out into what type of positive conversation you intend to engage in.Think of the types of positive conversations you have day to day.There are many elements to them, and in general, they have one or all of the following broad elements:

1.They make me laugh = Entertain

2.They tell me something I didn’t know before = Inform

3.They open my eyes that little bit more because of the opportunity/possibility they communicate = Inspire

4.They give me an added boost and make me feel good in what I am doing = Encourage and Support

Of course, there are many other elements in conversation, however these are typically negative and do not create a YES + AND conversational space where people want to contribute and grow.

The BIGGEST and best point to keep in mind is this:Picture you are the conversation you want to have and you are at a dinner party with a table of strangers.If you are tasked with engaging the people around the table, how would you normally do this?Before you say ‘I am going to say it like this or offer them this’ think about yourself at the dinner party again and ask ‘What reaction would I likely receive if I was to do/say that in the real world’.Now multiply that reaction by a million (as this is the online world) and then decide if you still want to share/converse as you had planned, or if you will try a different approach.

There are some gems in the 95 Theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto to assist in this thinking process. While we won’t list them all, here are the most relevant to keep in mind as you work through this exercise:

1. Markets are conversations.

2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.

3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.

10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.

11. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.

14. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.

15. In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.

20. Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.

21. Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.

34. To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.

38. Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about human concerns.

And so, what might the outcome look like? Well, taking the above framework in mind, we undertook this approach for a brand you may know, IKEA. The following questions lead us to the diagram below. It is merely one possible outcome, however it ended with a framework of online conversational starters and approaches that would be at least authentic for the brand.

Key questions to ask:

1. Who am I? Your brand. The central point you want to converse about

2. What do stand for? What does your brand have a right to talk about? IKEA and DIY = yes. IKEA and None of your friends will have this = No.

3. How can I share this to…? Choose the type of positive conversation that you want to have. Think about your conversational objectives. Where do you want the person you are conversing with to be because of the conversation? i.e. happier, better informed, inspired, encouraged?

4. What elements do I share to spark and maintain this? The right digital elements to share and support this conversation need to be thought about. It does not necessarily need to be a full blown widget, it could be as simple as a series of images, some text and a link (it is most likely NOT a banner ad though).

5. What would I say to kick this off? What is the ice breaker? What do you say first? How can you start this in a way which is the most engaging and creates the most open space for discourse?

The only thing now is….how do you find and reach into the right spaces online to have this conversations?! That will need to wait until our next post. Look forward to hearing your thoughts.


Linqia works with leading global brands to drive social media marketing results through an online marketplace by connecting brands deep into the conversations of online groups and social networks.

This article was co-authored by Maria Sipka (Founder and CEO of and Piero Poli (VP of Business Development and Strategy at


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