What We Have Here Is a Failure to Converse

Perhaps I was wrong. In this new 2.0 era, I thought communications was all about having conversations.

Conversations require interaction where people talk and listen. Maybe I’m missing something, but I observe a lot more talking than listening. It seems everyone has something to say and everyone is clamoring to be heard. To me, it looks like the talkers far outnumber the listeners.

Was I mistaken to assume that things would be different with the arrival of the social media revolution? Am I naive in thinking that people would connect with each other because 1) they were genuinely interested in what others had to say and 2) they actually had something of value to share?

As we interact, as we share information, we connect with each other. Social media give us the tools to connect and converse. Sometimes during our conversations we’ll encounter negative or inaccurate information. Does that mean we should immediately end the conversation? Should we refuse to talk because the conversation may be a little awkward or uncomfortable? Absolutely not!

Using social media, we can correct inaccurate information real time. We can connect with those who may have had a negative experience with our company’s service or product. We can deliberately choose to join conversations to gain understanding (listening) and to offer understanding (talking).

Wrong information conveyed through social media can be self-correcting. For example, I’ve actually watched as people on Twitter debunked a wild, salacious rumor of a celebrity’s death—all in less than 10 minutes. That’s powerful! The power came as people were not only willing to listen, but also to join the conversation.

Not everyone understands the new world we live in. Whether you like it or not, there really aren’t many places to hide. In our new 2.0 world we’ll never win by ignoring negative comments or by hiding in the shadows. No longer can we keep people from saying less-than-flattering things about us, especially if they’re true. (In reality, we never could.) Previously, though, we often didn’t know what people were saying behind our back. Today, we have an advantage because social media empower us to join conversations—real time.

Conversations are going to happen, with or without you. The real winners are those who recognize that the social media revolution has ushered in a new era of transparency, accountability and authenticity.

Recently the CEO of a major nonprofit expressed anxiety about a blog post that shined a flashlight in the direction of his organization. Some major decisions made by that organization affected a lot of people, yet the nonprofit was reluctant to be transparent in how those decisions were made. And why.

Rather than joining the conversation, the CEO hoped to exert political muscle and silence any communications that might reflect negatively on his organization. That might have worked 10 years ago. Today, such a tactic is naive and will ultimately backfire.

Any nonprofit must be open and transparent in all of its operations. Donors will appreciate having interactive conversations about how their contributions are being invested. Anything short of an authentic conversation will give an appearance of arrogance or perhaps even leave the impression that the organization is out of touch with reality.

A friend recently gave me the book Marketing in the Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. The book is quick read, yet full of practical wisdom, tips for success and real-life examples. I hope you buy the book, but to whet your appetite I’ll share here the three steps to marketing success as outlined by the authors:

  1. Listening. It goes without saying that any good conversationalist is first a good listener. Listening deeply produces insights that cannot be gained by market research or other traditional forms of gathering information.
  2. Talking. In the past, marketers have used traditional media to shout at mass audiences. Today, we marketers are most effective when we don’t try to control the conversations, but rather join them and realize that we are having an ongoing dialogue with a real, live human being.
  3. Engaging. People feel engaged when they feel ownership of something, when they know that they play a vital role in influencing the outcome of something. Volunteers and donors give of their time and money when they’ve been heard and when they feel like someone is talking with them in their language.

It’s all about conversations. Let’s talk.

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One Response to What We Have Here Is a Failure to Converse

  1. Right on Duane!!
    Very well done check out our website. My partner and I coauthored the book Authentic Conversations. Would love your feedback!

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