Jon Strande takes on the idea of conversations in business:
I've got a real problem with this term. Everyone knows what it means literally, some people understand what it metaphorically refers to... but I'm not looking forward to companies that put this in to practice, for two reasons:Personally I agree with one of the commentators on his post,Jonnie Moore, who argues that:
- There is too much *directed* communication already taking place out there.
- We all deal with too many companies in a given day to begin with, who has the time to pay attention to anything more?
Having a converstation does not mean doing dumbass market research and taking what people say literally.
It does not mean that a company expects me to have deep existential dialgogue each time a buy a mars bar.
It does mean that an organisation is sensitive to its stakeholders. That it notices their responses, and its own responses to their responses.
There's a whole lot more going on in conversation than just the words on the surface.
Quite. I've been thinking for a while about what this means for stakeholder engagement. I've been asked time and again by people how many stakeholders can you seriously expect to engage with. 'Stakeholder fatigue' is now a serious problem, particularly for NGOs, who cannot afford to 'be' stakeholder for half a day in a conference centre thousands of miles from the office for all the companies that seriously want to ensure their concerns are being heard.
This is where I believe businesses need to develop new skills to maximise the potential of the kinds of conversations Moore is talking about.
Rather than the big statements companies, NGOs, government and (very occasionally) citizens traditionally made through books, articles, press releases and events - all carefully mediated through publishers, event organisers, editors, press offices etc we are looking at smaller, more frequent, more nuanced communications facilitated by blogging and other social software. Think small waves instead of the big splash.
This changes how marketers and CSR/CR managers ought to think about engagement/conversations. The primary art will be monitoring the many small waves (mostly not directed at them or even about them) to identify currents and trends, many transmittedly through the blogosphere. Where necessary some intervention may be advisable, but for the most part it is a process of watching and filtering attitudes and concerns.
Direct conversations are then conducted with a greater level of knowledge, if less frequently. Rather then starting a conversation as you might over the telephone, this model is more like tuning in to the radio and only calling a phone in where you have already started to gather information about attitudes, tone, scope for engagement etc
The Big Splash model is not going away, but being able to monitor the small waves is not only more efficient, but critical if you are get more of a picture of what stakeholders really think.
Strande quotes Malcolm Gladwell on why asking people what they want and why changes their decision-making. I would take Gladwell's point to support what I am saying - it is through observation that you have really effective conversations.