Joining the Conversation

As we’ve seen in earlier posts, if you’re a company of any size with sufficient history, people are already talking about you.

Do you ignore the conversation?

Or join in?

Well, if you’ve read this far, we hope you’ve decided that ignoring is not smart, and joining in is a real possibility. Let’s talk about how you engage those who are talking about you or your enterprise.

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Social Media Performance Group Social Media Approach

You’ll find lots of prescriptions for social media success out there on the social Web, and many of them are known by snappy acronyms: The Five A’s, the Four C’s, 5×6, and so on. We couldn’t come up with a slick acronym; didn’t really try. What we have are five action verbs for execution (FAVEs? Oops. That one just sort of happened!) that you should keep in mind as you begin to engage with your community.

Here are the FAVEs in short, and we’ll detail each of these in subsequent posts.


This one’s first for a reason. Many businesses forget that you must listen before you speak. You must offer before you take. You must engage before you ask for action. Spend the first month or more of your social computing engagement process just listening to what people are saying. Restrain yourself from responding, even (especially!) if you see things you don’t like. Gauge the tenor of the conversation. What words do they use? How are they feeling? What gets them upset? What goads them to action?

During this phase, follow the old adage: It is better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

While you’re listening, start sorting your community into segments. Who are the loudmouths? Who are respected? Who are emotional about your product? Who are skeptical?

You’ll want to devise different approaches to the groups you find. The beauty of social computing is it enables you to address different groups differently. Start planning your engagement strategy while you listen.


OK this one logically comes first. How can you listen until you find who’s speaking? But we think you see why Listen has to come first.

Mark Zuckerberg, the young creator of Facebook, famously said, “Communities already exist. Instead, think about how you can help that community do what it wants to do.”

There’s a community out there talking about you or your busi­ness. You need to find it and engage with it. Help it do what it wants to do. You probably won’t have to look hard, but you should realize the community may exist only online, only off­line, or both. If it’s only offline, you’ve got a bit of convincing to do to get them online.

To find your community, ask around. Ask others in your field. Google your business, products, product category.


Engaging with your community means — at last! — joining the ongoing conversation. Don’t think that you can land like a ton of bricks and start dominating. Follow the 4-to-1 rule: Comment on four posts for every post that you write. Give — invest — in the relationship before you ask for anything.

A great personal example of the need for giving before getting came after we did a seminar for a job seekers’ group. After the presentation, an engineer came up to us and said, “LinkedIn doesn’t work for job search.” We asked why he thought this. “Well,” he said, “I did what you said and joined the same LinkedIn group as someone who worked at my target company. I sent her a connection request, and she accepted. So I sent her a message asking her to introduce me to the hiring manager. And she refused! When I asked why, she said, ‘I don’t know you.’ So LinkedIn doesn’t work.”

So what our engineer friend didn’t realize, and what you need to always keep in mind, is that it’s social networking. Ap­proach it as you would approach building a relationship in real life. You may be able to meet more people online, but they’re still people, and will develop a relationship with you over time, not immediately.

Once you have the hang of participating, you can begin to be more active — starting topics, offering more information about your business — but until your community is comfortable with you, don’t get too heavy. Your early aim is to get people to check out your Website.

Which means you’re probably going to need to renovate your Website. You need to make it social-media-aware and social-media-friendly.


After you’ve earned your stripes with your community, you can start asking for action. Your first Ask shouldn’t be as bold as, “By our product,” or “Give us your number and a sales person will call.” You’ve just met these people! It would be like arriving at a party in a beautiful mansion and asking, “So how much did you pay for this dump, anyway?” You could say that to your best friend, but you aren’t best friends with your community yet.

Make sure your Ask is appropriate to the reputation and amount of social capital you’ve amassed through your participation. By no means should you immediately set up your own community and ask everyone to join. That step comes later, much later, if ever, and you’ll probably know when it’s appropriate.

Nonetheless, there’s no harm in having lots of Asks on your existing site, and inviting your community to come by for a look. If people want to take an action, you need to make it easy for them.


You’ll read a lot about social computing measurement on the Web. It’s an obsession among certain people, many of whom swear it’s not possible to measure social media outcomes.

We think social media is the only medium where it is possible to measure outcomes exactly.

You’ll hear people claim, “I know exactly how much money I’ll raise if I do this direct mail campaign.” And they may be right. Through trial and error, they’ve discovered an approach that works. But can they tell you which of their messages go immediately into recycling? No, because if they could, they wouldn’t mail those pieces out in the first place.

It’s the same with TV and radio advertising. It’s an old saw in the advertising world: “I know half of what I spend on advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.” Heh. Not really that funny considering you’re talking blithely about wasting more than $209 billion annually in the US alone.

Online you can connect your actions with the response. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently. It may not be a snap to do, but it’s possible.

Joining the Conversation is the 16th in a series of excerpts from our book, Be a Person: the Social Media Operating Manual for Enterprises. The book (itself part of a series for different audiences), is available in paper form at save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

See the previous posts What is Social Media?Social Sites DefinedWhy Social Media? How is Social Media Relevant to Business? First Steps Toward a Social Media Strategy, and Decide What Your Business Will Do About Social Computing, pt. 1

Next up: Listen to Your Community

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