Conversation Marketing: The Conversation is the Thing

Christine Fife

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Are Companies Just Lazy with Customer Engagement?

Last evening I had a wonderful time at my first Linchpin meetup. First off, it was being held at the new NextSpace (co-working space) location in San Francisco. In fact, I saw the meetup on the NextSpace calendar because I was actually looking into becoming a NextSpace member. I’m currently reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin (on my Kindle, of course), so it was a great opportunity to snuggle two puppies with one hug.I highly recommend all three–Seth’s book, the Linchpin Meetup and NextSpace.

I met some terrific people at the meetup and enjoyed the discussions which focused on reviewing some of Seth Godin’s blog posts. I particularly enjoyed talking with others about his post What’s the Point (July 2010). After the discussion I started thinking back to a blog post by Forrester’s Augie Ray’s from a couple of days ago, Do You Want to Succeed in Social Media or Social Media Marketing.

All of this got me thinking more about the effort that companies aren’t putting into customer engagement. In Linchpin, Godin says, “Every day I meet people who have so much to give but have been bullied enough or frightened enough to hold it back.” He paints these people as “victims” of a societal education that teaches people to fit in: “For hundreds of years, the population has been seduced, scammed and brainwashed into fitting in, following instructions and exchanging a day’s work for a day’s pay.”

I think very highly of Seth’s ideas and am a fan of his blog and books. In Linchpin he reaches out to inspire people to understand that they have a brilliance and a genius to be more and break out of the norm by contributing value and creating something precious. I love that idea and hope people take heed, but I ponder whether he’s right about society’s guilt. Societal norms certainly have a major impact on how people act and behave in their careers, but I think it has much more to do with the high value our society seems to place on laziness.

Too often workers in every industry look to do the least amount possible to still receive their paycheck and move on in their career toward desired goals. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with efficiency or looking to accomplish a goal by using fewer resources, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Our society, particularly in America, seems to think freedom means free and doing as little as possible is good. But that’s not very rewarding. Freedom as a right doesn’t mean you deserve to get things for free. Doing as little as possible to get by doesn’t inspire others and rarely results in amazing innovation. I say it’s time that our society reconsiders the value proposition on putting in time and effort to accomplish something. Remember the saying, “an honest day’s work?”

Now I’ll turn my attention on these ideas stated above in regards to businesses. So many companies are jumping on a social media bandwagon of some kind trying to get at consumers in a new way, but they look at hiring interns and consider social media a free activity. Many wonder why their social media efforts are not yielding a high return on new customers. Do these businesses really think they’ll get something for nothing?

Social media as a platform (or many new types of platforms depending on your view of social media) is a major innovation in communication and companies should be taking advantage of the fact that this new medium gives them a greater opportunity to engage with their customers. To Listen, Speak, Care, Share and Build Relationships with their customers and other stakeholders. Instead, companies are being lazy. They’re using social media as a new means of talking “at” people and expecting people to just accept that. Just because they put up a Facebook Fan Page doesn’t mean their interacting with customers. Think of how often you go to a store or a restaurant and you’re treated badly or ignored or have a bad experience trying to find items, return purchases, understand a glitch in your bill. How long have you sat on hold waiting to talk to a customer service representative only to be rerouted to another person who also couldn’t help fix your situation and eventually you’ve spent 10 hours, hundreds of dollars and now don’t even want the service you are locked into for a year on contract?

I hope that this blog post helps inspire companies to understand that putting a bit of time, money, effort and other resources into using social media, and consequently, improving their customer service, store offerings, products/services and support lines so that people had a reason and desire to “friend” them on Facebook or tag new products and recommend their services. Offer your customers something novel–offer them an energized commitment to caring about their needs and wants and providing them with the best possible services and products. Then put up your fan page and Twitter stream as a means of sharing information with them, but also as an invitation to engage with your company, to provide feedback and build trust so that they want to remain your customer and recommend you to others.

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As I drove off to college I never would have guessed I would end up here! But it’s been a fantastic journey. My career has been richly diverse giving me an advantage over marketers who are siloed into niche positions. I strive to be a true Renaissance person—I love to learn about everything and trying new things comes naturally. My career has been no different; I’ve successfully launched enterprise software and medical device development startups, improved communications processes for the regulatory department of a major financial exchange, increased client business and product development for several international exchange program companies and founded an international educational non-profit organization. My master’s degree in Integrated Marketing from Golden Gate University gave me a broad understanding of traditional marketing best-practices, but my BA in theater gave me the skills to understand how people communicate with one another and the importance of promoting a brand in a voice that is right for the audience.