I wrote recently that

Consider the worn-out ‘Social Media is a conversation‘ mantra. Yes, conversation is a part of Social Media, but not everyone wants to talk non-stop with you! Consistent conversation is a rare thing when compared to how much conversation is going on. Thinking that everyone will now post on your businesses’ Facebook Page is flawed thinking. They won’t, because there is no reason to. It’s overestimation of participation.

When working with clients I clarify this as separating Conversation About from Conversation With. I’ve been talking about ‘making things personal’ but in doing so I think I’ve overestimated myself the subtle difference between these two very different kinds of conversation.

People are continually perplexed by the following issue:

  1. Social Media is full of conversation (True)
  2. The brand has a Social Media account ready for conversation (True)
  3. Therefore there should be conversation with the brand (False)

I believe the problem is that the conversation is point 1 is not the same conversation in point 2 and point 3.

Two Types of Conversation

Conversation About is what most Social Media conversation is. It’s where people are talking to other people about things. This can be a range of stuff: the game, the gossip, the news, photos, videos, events, musings, what you had for breakfast.

Conversation About is very organic and spontaneous, and is built upon a network and community of people that the user is already connected with. Therefore there is a depth of context to the content. Any bit of news that comes in the Facebook or Twitter feed comes from a person which immediately creates context for that content.

Let’s consider the recent Super Bowl advertisers. On the day, hundreds of millions are talking on Social Media about the adverts that they saw, and are making comments, sharing videos, etc. All of this content has context behind it, being built on their existing connections, which allows it to spread organically because the connections make for good sharing.

Conversation With is what happens when a user no longer just talks about the Super Bowl adverts, but goes to a Facebook Page or website and has a conversation directly with the brand, or at least, directly with the brands platform to the other users who are there.

The amount of Conversation About is I expect over 95% of the conversation about the Super Bowl. Conversation With requires people to actively find the advertisers page or website and say something, when they can just as easily comment it on any one of the stories coming up in their Facebook feed.

What Moves Conversation About To Conversation With?

This post from Jeff Bullas contains some great stats – my favourites of which are that 61% of people never visit retailers’ Facebook pages, and that 68% of users who would do so in order to keep up to date on promotions. Jeff’s major take away from the study regarding Facebook Pages was “Give them a highly compelling reason to visit—provide shoppers with discount information”.

The word I want to use here is motivation. What is the motivation for the user to exert effort to have Conversation With when it is so easy to have Conversation About? Of course it’s a matter of rewards relative to effort. Consider these rewards / motivations:

  • It’s fun
  • It’s a novelty
  • It’s exciting to talk to a brand
  • There’s a discount / promotion
  • I get to share an idea
  • I can brag to friends
  • I’m interested to find out more

Given this, I understand other things. I realise how hard continued Conversation With is. I realise how impressive it is when people manage to build community.

What I Want To Know

  • What are the key differences between the two. Lets state the obvious by all means. Why is Conversation About bigger than Conversation With?

Thanks to ohhector for the photo

Archived Comments

  • http://twitter.com/_Deface_ Phil Rees

    If I’m reading this correctly, and I think I agree. The majority of conversations happening across the social media are ‘about’ The main difference is when a brand can direct these conversations to happen more readily in the arena provided, ie. a brands Facebook, forums, blogs or sharing hashtags etc. Actual ‘conversations with’, direct to representatives of the brand you would logically expect to be far less infrequent, unless as you say, motivated into doing so.

    For instance, a record company now uses Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud and Myspace alongside their more traditional website to constantly drip feed it’s fans trinkets of new content as well as ways of obtaining more exclusive music, tickets to gigs, competitions and merchandise that wouldn’t be available from any other source. At the same time official representatives and sometimes musicians themselves actively pose valid questions and participate within it’s social network. Not solely as motivation, getting fans onto these spaces, but to share and build with its growing community and inspiring a sense of long term ownership among their supporters. In turn, the fans who visit these spaces are more proactive in conversations within the brands social network (whether positive or negative).

    None of this is to say that any spontaneous ‘conversation about’, taking place somewhere in the social network is a bad thing, how else will a brands message or content filter to the far reaches of the globe? As the latin saying goes (and I hope I get this right) ‘ordo ab chao’ – out of chaos, comes order.

  • http://thrudigital.com/ Charles Dalton-Moore

    Yes I’d agree Scott. And the job of a digital marketer is to incent users to converse with AND about a brand. When we work with clients, we aim to build ‘stuff’ that is 1) funny, or 2) interesting, or 3) useful. By adding value (even in some small way, like causing someone to smile), a brand can move people towards “conversations with”.

    So to open myself up to accusations of self-promotion, here are some real-life examples…

    Brands can create value from the “conversations about” like:
    – We built a Twitter app for ITV’s coverage of the FA Cup Final, which aggregated the relevant conversations on Twitter, and displayed live player ratings based on aggregated Tweet info. (see http://bit.ly/aOfNkY). This proved interesting to users, incentivised users to participate in the “conversation about”, and drove people to the ITV website where the app was hosted.
    – Another example of creating value from “conversations about” is the insight reporting we generate from brand conversation monitoring (see http://bit.ly/74itOa)

    And in moving people to “conversations with”:
    http://asosreviews.com/ not only aggregates peoples thoughts on ASOS, but is also used by their staff to reply back and continue conversations. It is a meeting point.
    – FaceGroup’s http://www.headbox.com/ and http://www.mindbubble.com/ are great tools for private “co-creation” between brands and audiences which really work, as audiences are explicitly incentivised to “converse with”.

    Anyway just my $.02…

  • Scott Gould

    Hey Phil

    Good thoughts. When you consider the idea of drip feeding, that surely encourages more conversation than big updates? What do you think?

    What’s critical is for us to measure the conversation about. This is why I think most measurement solution for Social Media are flawed. We need to instead be looking at sentiment, advocate, intent.

  • Scott Gould

    Thanks for the $0.2 :-)

    When studying Viral videos the number one motivation was humour, the second being interest. So you hit the nail on the had with these examples.

    Whats good about what you’re doing is measuring the conversation about.

    Most people only measure conversation with, which means they are missing out on the majority of conversation that is actually taking place. Enter ASOSreviews and HSBCreviews that measure the conversation about.

    I’m interested in solutions that focus on measuring conversation about – sentiment, intent, advocacy, frequency. This is far more meaningful than followers.

  • http://twitter.com/_Deface_ Phil Rees

    Completely agree that being able to measure all of the conversations is a critical factor but something everyone is still very much on the first few pages of learning and implementing, (granted some are more advanced than others).

    On the subject of drip feeding content, if a brand was to blurt too much content in one large hit, then surely the resulting conversations would become far trickier to monitor and measure. Perhaps diverting the focus or diluting the impact of any resulting conversations a brand might wish to instigate.

    In my opinion, small, well-timed salivating dribbles of rich, productive and/or useful content is of far greater value, than ‘putting all ones eggs in one basket’.

  • Scott Gould

    Good thoughts – I’m going to mull them over :-)

  • http://widget.xssl.net/~admin228/graphic-design/ teedp

    Two quotes I would like to share that are more so prevelant on social media : namely

    1) say to be seen

    Most conversations are monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses


    2 True conversation is a myth

    there is just intersecting monologues

    Even more true on the web as I post another “hit and run” comment.

    (I think you also blogged about accountability online or the lack of it !)

    My conversation quotes are taken from (Margaret Millar & Circly Maxwell Andrews)

  • Scott Gould


    I certainly agree that the web has created a very fractured idea of conversation. Most blogs consist of:

    1. Blogger
    2. Someone comments
    3. Blogger replies to comment

    but rarely do we find:

    4. Commentors comment on other comments and create discussion.

    Just see below to see this is true!

    So yes, in many ways, lots of monologue that intersects.