One of the biggest criticisms of social media and communities is that they involve a lot of mindless chatter.
At first and even second blush, this chatter doesn’t seem to lead anywhere and certainly doesn’t suggest hard business outcomes. It is, however, critical to building relationships. Conversational artifacts – the subjects and themes that people talk about – are critical to building long-term and sustainable relationships.
Good salespeople have known this forever – it’s why CRM systems in all their clunkyness have space for birthdays, anniversaries, hobbies, etc. While those software fields are rarely used, people with good relationships skills never forget those small facts.
Why? It is the mechanism we use to re-engage because it’s rarely effective to ask after an absence “Why haven’t you bought my product or service yet?” That would be pretty awkward. Everyone needs some warm up before the game recommences.
An example of the importance of conversational artifacts hit me recently at a conference. I was at the Inbound Marketing Summit. One of the speakers is a photographer/ videographer for NBC in the White House press corps and for those in social media circles a micro-celebrity in his own right because he gives a unique and first-hand account of history. His name is Jim.
At Incite Group we make a point of following these people as they give a unique perspective and often are the first to use social media in new and imaginative ways to communicate enamsse. We’ve been following him for quite a while – as I am fascinated by the inner workings of government. Other than that, I really have no reason to talk to him.
Before the conference had started I saw a tweet from him giving some indication that he was having trouble finding the conference location. I had tweeted back some specific instructions to help them find the entry. I got no response from him because I was just one of tens of thousands of followers – we had no relationship.
At some point after Jim’s presentation, he was chatting with someone I knew so I went over to introduce myself and tell him what a fan I was. But then something funny happened. I must have touched his arm when I said hello and he had on a very soft, velvety jacket. I made some comment about it and that led to some good natured bantering.
That gave us the conversational space to continue a discussion and we talked for quite a bit about politics, social media & what was happening in the Australian marketplace around social media.
Why? Because of Jim’s jacket. Stupid? Absolutely. Critical? Incredibly. Weeks later Jim sent the following tweet:
This is how relationships start – with a common thread and recognition. Talking about Jim’s jacket was an incredibly effective artifact in developing a relationship where he not only recognized me but remembered me well enough to know how to reach me.
I’m sure Jim met a ton of other people at the Inbound Marketing Summit and if he’s like me, many of them are hazy memories. But we had a very funny conversation about something that really didn’t matter that much to either of us. I now know that I am likely to hear back from him if I have a question for him. Now in this case, I’m not at all sure that Jim and I will ever do business together per se but the example serves to illustrate a really important point about mindless chatter. It is exactly how we can start to orchestrate serendipity and in turn build new relationships.
For example, it was recently announced that NBC is being bought by Comcast. A friends company was recently purchased by Comcast. Maybe that ends up being a helpful connection. I don’t know that it will be but I can take an educated guess that it might be.
Orchestrating lots of those probable opportunities leads to connections and relationships with people that matter. Over time you can track it. I am a strong proponent of planning for specific business outcomes with social media and community initiatives and because of that, it is critical to understand the power chatter has to those outcomes.
Does it make it harder and noisier to isolate the drivers of the business outcomes you are looking for? Maybe but I think that noise has always existed in the workflow, it is just that traditional database-driven applications do not do a great job of tracking or exposing it.
For social media managers looking to get political buy-in for some of these tools that can seem ‘chatty’, I recommend doing exactly what I did here – engage influencers and show some of the conversations to your colleagues.
Many of them will be surprised at how quickly you can build personal connections and relationships with people who are critical to the hard business outcomes for which they are looking.