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How to Market through Conversation in Online Communities

When you’re spending time on the social networks and visiting blogs, forums, and other online communities to chat, what you’re really doing is conversational marketing. By talking and building relationships, you’re creating buzz about your brand, which may convert to sales. If you do it right, no sales pitch is involve. You may not even have to share links.

Very few people are going to respond to what you do. The majority of your community members aren’t buying, selling, retweeting, promoting, or showing you any love for the cause. You don’t have to give up on them, however. By being active in the social networks and maintaining a constant presence, you’re staying on their radar.

Even members who are less than active know who you are and what you want from them, even though you’re not coming out and saying it in an obvious manner. If you’re not a visible force and if your brand sort of fades into oblivion, members aren’t going to remember you when it comes time to take action — whatever that action may be.

If people know who you are and what you do and remember you as someone who’s nice but not pitchy or pushy, they’ll reach out to you when they need help. Conversation isn’t important just for the here and now. You also need it for the future.

Conversational marketing is more than just making sure that the lurkers don’t forget about you, though. Probably the most important aspect of the whole thing is listening. There’s a line in the movie Pulp Fiction that all community managers should think about often. In the movie, while having dinner, Uma Thurman asked John Travolta, “In conversation, do you listen or wait to talk again?”

The sad truth is that too many people aren’t hearing what’s being said because they’re too busy thinking about what they’re going to say at the next pause, and this is a big mistake.

Some people look down on salespeople because many of them are all about the pitch. They want to find the perfect combination of words for the purpose of driving other people to buy. In-your-face pitches are fine for cheesy infomercials but not for growing a community. Listen and then talk, and then you can watch your community grow.

Listening opens a world of possibilities:

  • It puts you in touch with new trends. By paying attention to what people are talking about and what they’re buying or using on a regular basis, you get an idea of what the people in your demographic are into.

  • It tells you what’s wrong. This item doesn’t always apply just to feedback about the brand. Listening can tell you why people aren’t enamored with customer service or big business, for example. You need to know what turns people off in order to bring them the things that turn them on.

  • It makes you smarter. When you listen, you learn — everything from trivia and pop culture to best practices for business and tips for success. Every day, people talk about things that you had no idea existed. How would you know about them if you’re not listening?

  • It provides an opening for conversation. Hearing what others are saying is a way of biding your time until the perfect opportunity comes along. When you hear it, you can add your own input or offer a suggestion.

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