It Was Impossible To Get A Conversation Going

Posted by

"It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much." – Yogi Berra.

Rob Walker – the New York Times Magazine columnist of, Consumed, author of the best-selling book, Buying In – The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, did a keynote luncheon interview with me earlier this week (on Monday) as part of Marketing Magazine‘s Marketing Week. Here’s one sound-byte that should get you thinking:

"Marketers are still stuck in the dark ages of online advertising… The next decade will see a profound change in how online marketing is conducted. It’s really so early in the history of whatever the online space is going to be… We all feel right now [that] we’re very cutting edge, but 10 years from now, it’s all going to look so stupid. There’s just no doubt in my mind that it’s going to get more sophisticated."

It does make perfect sense.

If you think about how the Digital Natives (those who grew up in a household that always had a computer) are going to be leading the workforce (you can read more about Digital Natives shortly in my Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun column which will be published this week), we are in for some significant changes in how we Market and communicate in a world where people were always online in one form or another. Most recently, Don Tapscott (author of Wikinomics) released his latest book, Grown Up Digital – How the Net Generation Is Changing Your World, and authored an article that appeared in The Globe And Mail on Monday titled, Digital boom is about to hit the workplace. According to Tapscott:

"Their Web, the New Web, is not just for surfing or hunting for information. It’s not a passive medium. The New Web enables people to create their own content, collaborate with others and build communities. It has become a tool for ordinary people to organize themselves, instead of waiting for orders from the authorities."

The true challenge will be: how much conversation actually does happen and how deep does it go?

In a world of Twitter tweets, FriendFeed, text messaging and Bloggers who posts daily (if not more often), how much content can any individual take in, absorb, comment on, follow-up and engage with? Anecdotally, my online social media spaces are filled with organic content that is full of links, comments and feedback, but once something newer is published, the older conversations die in an immediate fashion…. and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Perhaps the shifts that Walker is talking about and the changes we’re all going to go through that Tapscott has documented is an indicator of the power behind newer, faster and more immediate snackable-sized content. It might also mean that how we advertise and market to consumers won’t be as simple as, "give them some Blog postings and let the organic search engine results of that effort work for you." That ship has long since sailed. Do a search on almost anything and you’ll note that most Blogs written by individuals hardly rank at the top of any search results for major brands and companies.

Marketers are going to have to stay well-ahead of the curve. Social Media is already morphing, adapting and changing. None of the new channels are dead or dying, but like Walker said, it only makes sense that they are going to get more sophisticated, powerful and engaging. After all, this is still a Web 2.0 world that we’re talking about and there’s no clear definition for Web 3.0.


  1. Excellent article. Two points I’d like to talk about: the conversation concept, and Twitter. First I’ll get my bashing of Twitter out of the way πŸ˜‰
    Certain technologies, like Twitter, will die. Twitter is not catching on in popularity nor is there more interest in Twitter than there was a year ago. What you are witnessing is that the Twitter founder was able to con, I mean raise, $15 million in financing. He then used that $15 million to advertise in magazines, TV, you name it. When the advertising dollars run out, and the hype dies, and it will die, Twitter will go back into the night. Why? Because it’s a rather shallow product and concept that does not provide much value to the end user.
    Twitter is probably one the dumbest sites I’ve seen since the dot com days. The idea that the My Space mood box and brief comment could be spun off into its own cutting edge social 2.0 web application is stupid. I’d like to see the statistics of how many people join Twitter just to try it out, and within a couple of weeks stop logging into their account because they realize just how shallow and lame Twitter really is. Those would be an interesting statistics indeed.
    The idea of the conversation is really something that is very, very old. In fact it’s so old, it pre-dates all books and some think it marks the creation of man. The conversation is a central part of what Christians in America call their Holy Bible. You have the story of Jesus marketing his father to the people of Israel. Notice how Jesus had conversations with the people and how he told stories. Jesus was an excellent marketer. He understood the power of not only the conversation, but of the telling of a story. The bible is filled with parables (stories) that pre-date even in Jesus. Going back even further, we think of the story of Genesis. Why did God say, “Let there be light.” Wouldn’t he have just thought it into existence without having to speak those words? But that wouldn’t make for much of a story if God never had a conversation with anyone but instead just thought about everything and it came to be. It certainly wouldn’t be an interesting enough story to spread (social viral marketing) around the world.
    We can even go back and see stories drawn on cave walls. These are conversational stories that the people told each other.
    The idea of the conversation transcends technology and even time itself because it is part of our very makeup, our DNA. It is part of being human. It’s a part of human psychology. The conversation is a basic facet of marketing that has always been, and will always be because it is part of what it means to be human at a deep, psychological level.

  2. That’s an interesting article Mitch and I look forward to reading more about Digital Natives.
    Also, I’d like to add to Lance’s comment regarding how we communicate, which I believe rings true.
    Without a good, solid story and the ability to captivate and expressively convey a message with others on a primal level that connects deep within, you’re not going to get anywhere, especially in today’s on-demand culture that for the most part only pays lip service to our humanity and our needs.
    If anyone watched the speeches last night by Barack Obama and John McCain, you got to witness poetry in motion through profound vocal eloquence and linguistic mastery, a perfect marriage of hearts and minds.
    It’s these kinds of stories and ways of communicating that truly touch and make a lasting difference and impacts the lives of people around the world.
    Thanks for raising this topic πŸ™‚
    Best wishes,

  3. I read something a few weeks ago by Nick Denton where he pointed out that bloggers are commentators/observers, and MSM outlets (including the “indie” guys) should stop trying to be like that and focus on what they’re supposed to do: create content. Denton was all like “we have enough commentary out there, what we need is more content,” and I was all like “OMG, that’s so true.”
    Anyway, my point is that the commentators (including the ultra-lazy “tweeters” need something to comment on in the first place. So if you want to control the message, it’s simple: just dictate what they’re talking about.
    I don’t think Digital Natives will be any different. In fact, I think they’ll be just as bad, if not worse. We might be creating our own content, but we take cues from “authorities” and we’re constantly seeking out authorities because if we say something cool (make a comment) about authoritative content, we get more geek cred.

  4. Great article.
    I agree completely with Lance about Twitter. I started trying it out several weeks ago, and I’m still doing it, but I find it very frustrating. It’s NOT a conversation, just a bunch of people talking separately about their own thing, with little or no interaction.
    In that respect, I find that Seesmic is much more satisfying and interactive, though so many of the video conversations there are drivel.

  5. This is a very broad topic but since people seem to focus on Twitter I’ll simply comment about this particular “tool�. I just started to play with Twitter few weeks ago and I am getting a lot of value from it. I am getting ideas, links to topic of interest to me, I got to this post through Twitter as an example, I am getting followers, I get inspired by some tweets, I get to laugh… It’s all good but where is the Conversation?
    Oh! I had few interactive communications with some people and that was pleasant but it soon faded away. I have to confess that I did un-follow few tweople who were broadcasting (should I say broadblasting?) too much and too often about everything under the sun. I could not keep up with the flow and it all started to look like senseless noise on my screen. But now after minor Twitter surgery I enjoy again the communication I receive and hopefully people appreciate my input as well.
    But again is “Conversation� happening? Yes sometimes but mostly it is a multi-way communication broadcast leading nowhere.
    Do I think it will disappear like it was mentioned earlier? No – not at all. It will evolve and change. It will differentiate between business messages and friend’s chatter. It will let users choose levels of priority for Tweets – I may want to get only Tweets from my customers and family during the day – I may want only Tweets from web designers today – I may want to get Tweets about a specific topic I am researching this afternoon – etc. It will become more flexible or it will be replaced but essentially this micro-communication tool is here to stay.

  6. Thank you Gilles for making it clear — Tweeter is about a conversation with a community. If you sign up and just expect to get some value from the public timeline, you’re in DEEP trouble. If however, you and your colleagues use it as a conversation tool, it’s really easy to get ideas or points across with just a few keystrokes.
    That’s why it gets down to 140 characters — it’s about simplicity and quality. But like I said, if you get on the bandwagon and start “friending” tweople left and right, you’ll end up with noise. (Does that mean you should start doing some work on building your community first?)
    It’s interesting to take your point Lance and kick it up a notch: you talk about cave drawings. Do you think the meaning we give to a particular drawing today has the same one as perceived by the “artist” itself back in the cave era? Who’s to tell who’s right?
    Same thing about twitter. A particular tweet may have no meaning to you if you’re not the creator of the message and you were not intended to be the receiver of that message. But that doesn’t mean you destroy the whole process (ie. say twitter has no reason to exist). In this case, twitter is just the rock where the drawing is being created.
    You probably don’t like “dawn123” telling you that she had a bad day at work through a tweet, because you were not interested in “dawn123” to begin with. But what if “billy456” is?
    Like Gilles very well points out, it’s a micro-communication tool… all you need to bring to the table is your micro-cosmos and you’ll see the value of it.

  7. “Anecdotally, my online social media spaces are filled with organic content that is full of links, comments and feedback, but once something newer is published, the older conversations die in an immediate fashion…. and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
    Indeed not – but it makes the ability to spot the great idea in one conversation and carry it over to the next a really crucial skill.

  8. I think different tools offer different communication opportunities. I have found Twitter incredibly useful by judiciously following only people within my industry whom I can learn from. The tweets and urls they send–plus the news service tweeters I follow–keep me on top of breaking news, industry insights and informative blogs. It’s a skimmable dialogue that takes me to the right places online to have a deeper conversation.
    It’s like going to an industry social. Would I expect to have an in-depth conversation there? Probably not. But I would expect to meet new people in my industry and hear about new ideas, opportunities and resources that I can follow up on later. From a networking and information sharing perspective, Twitter is invaluable. And that’s not stupid at all.

  9. Twitter has no value adding piece? It’s all about how you build your network (who you choose to follow, who you’re able to convince to follow you). I probably get more valuable links in an average morning visit to my Twitter page than I do through my feed burner.
    The other day, I posted that I was headed out for a ride on my Harley — the next day, Harley Davidson was following me! Twitter offers marketers a scary short-cut to the intricacies of their target audience’s lives.

Comments are closed.