I find the colloquialism “You must join the conversation” a tired phrase legacy of 2006. It’s overused, oversold, thrown around and just not accurate.
Many of the blogging authors are my friends, or I even work with them, so before I offend anyone, let me first preface with some context. When I think of online conversations, I think of real world ones, where people are engaging in dialog to and fro. For example: Typing conversations in messages forums, on twitter, on plurk, writing a blog post, leaving comments on blogs, or even friendfeed.
Before we get too wrapped up in “joining the conversation” it’s important to first note that not everyone is creating content and leaving comments. In fact, we’ve published public data to prove this. See this profile tool, select a demographic and pay attention to the conversational behaviors we identify as creators (creating blogs, upload video or images), and critics. (rate and rank content or leave comments). Learn more about the different behaviors by reading this 8 slide presentation.
To prove my point, let’s start with data: In most markets, (even youth) there are no bars that span 100% for creators. In fact, 18-24 year olds in United States only are creators 39% of the time. 45-54 year olds in UK only create online content a paltry 6%, although they are critics 11% of the time.
So what does this tell us? Not everyone is part of the online dialog exchange. Not everyone will ever be part of the online conversation.
On the flip side, I can influence my marketplace by not being part of the conversation. How? I can vote for content on Digg, tag content on Delicious, share feeds from Google reader, all of which flows into my Friendfeed where there are almost 2000 influencers reading. For my marketplace of web strategists and interactive marketers, that wouldn’t be the best use of my time, I can get more mileage by being a creator. The point is, I’ve the luxury of making that decision based upon my understanding of my community.
Now this is not a suggestion that brands shouldn’t do anything, but in fact, they should first look at the social behaviors of their marketplace, and then choose the right activities to engage in. It’s important to note that “Joining the conversation” is but one way to engage.
Therefore, we should first take into account that people use the web in many different ways (some are non-conversational) and before we anoint our entire communication strategy to be purely conversational, let’s first do some self –and community — analysis. As sometimes, the greatest behavior in a community isn’t conversations, it’s ratings, rankings, gestures, link sharing, profile creation, connecting, or just reading.