Hanging himself for Abusing the word conversationLast Thursday morning at 2 A.M., Pete Blackshaw of The ClickZ Network and Nielsen Buzz Metrics, in what appeared to be slight desperation, sent out a mass message to all the members of the Consumer-Generated Media (CGM) on Facebook. He was seeking feedback on two topics he was “mulling over” for his next ClickZ article, which happened to be due the next day.

Of the two topics, one stood out to me immediately, in part because I wondered if one of my recent posts could be seen as a prime example of abuse, and more importantly, because term “conversation” is one of the hottest buzz words rolling off the lips of marketers to date.

Here are the questions Pete proposes:

CONVERSATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY: Are we as marketers over-using or abusing the term Conversation? Are we truly credible in putting that term to use? Is conversation as we see it synced up with how consumers truly view that term? What will it take to ensure the term works for the long term?

Pete left the discussion open to all members, with the enticing possibility that they might be quoted in his upcoming article (sadly, I missed the deadline to get my opinions in). Pete quoted many of the responses he received and has turned the topic into an ongoing discussion following his article, Sustaining the Conversation.

Here are my comments on Conversation:

It is abuse when the term “conversation” is used inaccurately. Sorry, but I think we need to go back to the basics on this one. Conversation is a dialog between two parties. This requires listening and talking by both parties or there is in fact no conversation being held. I’ve had one-to-one interactions with customer service departments, that I wouldn’t consider conversations at all. Listening is required after all.

Whether conversation happens or not, boils down to motives. Conversation between companies and consumers fail for the exact same reason that no one wants to talk to that girl in the office who is always talking about herself. 

The idea that you can manipulate the views of consumers simply by contacting them through a new medium is absurd. We need to get past the idea that the right connection to consumers is going to solve all the problems in the marketing world. It’s not the medium. It’s the message. Great you’ve found a new way to connect to your audience. The same old shouting isn’t going to work.

Man talking to his toothpaste One thing to remember is that conversation isn’t going to happen for everyone, even with the purest of motives. Some just don’t fit the part. Brian Morrissey from Ad Week said it best, “I don’t want to talk to my toothpaste.”

Are we abusing the word conversation? Can a true conversation exist between a company and a consumer?