Web 2.0 and controlling the customer conversation

Gerry McGovern has produced another practical piece on the evolution of the Web for business. He writes, “Web 2.0 and social media mean that for teachers a declining part of their job involves telling. An increasing part is listening to the class and facilitating them in having conversations. Teachers should help moderate these conversations and draw new learnings from them. They need to say less of: ‘let’s open up a book.’ and more of: ‘let’s open up a conversation.’.

“The traditional manager is taught to command and control. Web 2.0 challenges that model…. Companies are not democracies, of course. And social media will deliver little value if it becomes some giant water cooler conversation because not all the best ideas are discovered at the water cooler. Huge quantities of absolute rubbish are talked there too. So, social media and Web 2.0 are not a replacement for management decision making, but rather a support to make better, more-informed decisions.

“The naïve tool-centric view of Web 2.0 still exists. ‘Just give them the blog and the wiki software and get out of the way’ has very limited logic. But it is classic IT-thinking. As if the tool was the be all and end all, and the only purpose of life was to discover the right one. As if it was the type of quill that Shakespeare chose that made him the writer that he was.”

“So Web 2.0 and social media still need management…. But the managers are not the only clever people in the room anymore. The room is much bigger and it is speckled with cleverness. To manage in the Web 2.0 world is to converse, to listen, to be honest and upfront, to collaborate, to moderate, and constantly watch out for the trends and patterns that always emerge when many minds mingle and mix in the network.”

The message needs to sink in that companies need to start giving up some control over the conversation with their customers. I know this is very hard to hear, and even harder to do, but it is happening whether comanies like it or not. Those that continue to keep a stranglehold on the conversation will eventually find that no one is listening…

Pardon me while I light my digital Marlboro…

Online product placement is the future of digital marketing, an ad agency chief-turned-venture capitalist has told a digital marketing conference.

Mark Kvamme from Sequoia Partners, speaking at last week’s AAAA Digital Conference (now there’s an event guaranteed to get the first listing in the Yellow Pages!) and reported by Online Media Daily, said that if he were starting his former ad agency CKS Group today, he would “bypass the traditional interruption model of advertising and focus on ‘owning the conversation’ among consumers using digital tools to shape their own media interactions.”

Kvamme’s said that “The key thing here is how do we invite, ask, entertain and co-create? If the consumer doesn’t like what we’re giving them, they’ll click off immediately.”

However, he then predicted that the future lay in “creating new ad units that blur the conventional boundaries between content and advertising.” He gave examples from companies Sequoia has invested in, including the comedy video site Funny or Die, which lets visitors create their own movie trailer spoofs incorporating footage from new releases, and StarDoll, which he claims has made millions by selling “Playbrands,” branded digital clothing and other items the site’s tween and teen users can buy to outfit their virtual dolls.

Surely “blurring the line between content and advertising” is not the way to capture today’s cynical Y-gen digital consumer? That doesn’t sound like “owning the conversation” to me – that sounds like intruding upon a conversation, just like the banner ad models Kvamme is criticising. Besides, in today’s disintermediated environment, trying to own the conversation is not realistic. As The Cluetrain Manifesto says, markets are conversations, and companies need to try and participate with the conversations that are already going on, not “own” them.

It would be interesting to hear of any Australian examples of what Kvamme is talking about, and evidence of whether this works or not. I’m happy to be proved wrong if is approach really works.