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The Future of Social Conversations

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Back in “the good old days”, conversations around a blog post would happen at source – the blog itself. This led to a few direct results:

  • The blogger would be seen as an “authority figure”, since the ability to spark conversation meant his or her thoughts were worth listening to and debating;
  • Commenters could share their thoughts and, by adding extra value to the conversation, potentially increase awareness and interest in their own blogs or social footprints.

Then social media happened (and, yes, I firmly place blogging as one of the granddaddy’s of social media, but for this post, I’m going to separate the distinction).

Instead of blogs being the sole recipient of comments, now there were Facebook discussions, Twitter conversations and, more recently, Google+ threads. The domain of the blogger was no longer the domain of the conversation.

For bloggers, this was seen as a major problem – just Google has social media killed blog comments to see how much concern there is. Personally, I blame crap content over social conversations when it comes to this complaint, but then I’m a grumpy bugger.

For brands, who used blogging as a way to garner immediate and direct feedback on company culture, product launches, etc., the problem was more pronounced.

Instead of being able to monitor on a single domain, the question of scale reared its head as multi-channel conversations painted a much more fractured picture of how their brand was perceived.

The thing is, this new challenge shouldn’t be viewed as a challenge, but an opportunity.

The Hyper-Extended Conversation

While having multiple discussions going on at the same time causes its own set of problems as far as scale goes, it’s also nothing really new.

Just because a pre-social blog post kept comments on its domain, that doesn’t mean the topic wasn’t being discussed elsewhere. Email shares and forum posts, for example, continued the conversation away from the eyes of the blogger.

Additionally, despite what many bloggers might think, our blogs aren’t the centre of everyone’s digital universe. Web users have vastly different social behaviours – some prefer engaging on blogs, while others prefer their own “safety zones” in the shape of their chosen social network(s).

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As people and as businesses, this is how we learn – by allowing people to share honest thoughts and acting on them.

Often, blog readers may be put off commenting on a post. The reasons can be many:

  • There is already a lot of conversation happening, so why add more at the source?
  • The blog community seems like a clique.
  • The blogger doesn’t respond, so why should you leave a comment?
  • The reader simply doesn’t feel comfortable offering their details to comment.

All valid reasons to not comment – yet these very reasons (and more like them) don’t mean that same person won’t discuss the post elsewhere.

This unwillingness to comment on a blog directly, but still discuss elsewhere, offers a great learning opportunity for those looking to truly understand what makes an audience tick, both from a blog reader angle and potential customers through a business blog.

The Closing Loop of Fragmentation

Technology vendors are recognizing this need for closing the loop on fragmentation, and are trying to offer solutions that marry the best of blog commenting in their native form with their social counterparts.

For example, Livefyre – which I use on here and pretty much all my blog properties – took a big step in collating the conversations around a blog post with their SocialSync feature.

The Future of Social Conversations image Livefyre SocialSync Twitter conversation

This cool feature identifies conversations on Twitter (see above image) and Facebook Pages, and delivers them into a blog’s comment stream. This ensures any additional discussions on two of the bigger social networks aren’t missed, as well as enables the blogger to reply directly from their own comments back into that network.

While the SocialSync feature is perfect for bloggers looking to truly optimize the conversation, Livefyre’s business solutions for brands goes even deeper and offers social signals from multiple touch-points online.

Livefyre’s main competitor, Disqus, offers their own take on closing the conversation loop. As well as pulling in Reactions from Twitter, the company provides deeper insights into the community around your blog.

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By analyzing the kind of content your readers consume elsewhere, as well as the content that encourages them to leave a comment, Disqus can recommend similar content on your site.

By providing this overview, you can tailor the content you produce based on the goals around your blog – discussion, consumption, lead acquisition, and more.

Disqus’s ability to implement these focused tactics based on comment intelligence, and Livefyre’s true social integration, offers a glimpse into where we’re going and how content producers can truly drive their own deliverables.

If you’re a self-hosted WordPress blogger, then Comments Evolved for WordPress offers a simple, out-of-the-box solution that collates the main comments around your posts in one place – on your blog itself.

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The plugin allows you to run either native WordPress comments (the standard system that comes with WordPress), or a choice of Facebook, Google+ and/or Disqus.

From a social network angle, if your post encourages discussion on Google+, these will show under the G+ tab. If the post is shared on a Facebook profile, any subsequent comments on Facebook will be pulled in.

It’s a quick solution for those looking to see the bigger conversational picture and offers more options for readers to use their preferred system.

The Future of Social Conversations

While these current platforms, and more like them including the likes of Echo and IntenseDebate, are looking to offer an all-round experience when it comes to blog commenting, the future should be looking to move way beyond even that.

Comments are merely the starting point of where we can go – the possibilities and insights comments can truly offer are limited only by the vision of what we see as important, and the technology to provide these goals.

Influencers and Advocates

While comments offer social proof and validation for the interest in a blog post topic, the actions after that are where we, both as bloggers and brands, can gain the real value from.

  • Which commenter drives even more interaction on the post with other commenters?
  • Which commenter extends the conversation and drives more traffic your way by sharing elsewhere?
  • Which commenter evokes you to rethink your position the most over time?
  • Which commenter jumps into other blog posts elsewhere to promote your argument over that blogger’s?

These are just some of the data points we can gather from following the social footprint of a commenter, and identifying who the influencers are in our community, and how that ties into blog or brand advocacy.

It helps us reward these folks and increase the loyalty we already enjoy with them, as well as identify who may be the best “community marketers” that can help us when we have something to share – an offer, promotion, news, etc.

Emotional Resonance and Content Strategy

One of the biggest advantages a blog has over more mainstream print media is the ability to connect on an emotional level.

While you can still find some excellent examples of emotional reporting, especially in Time Magazine, which seems to be going through a renaissence, most print publications don’t position themselves as emotional connectors, mainly due to editorial standards and restrictions.

Blogs, on the other hand, can offer a very distinctive and human voice behind the content, which can connect emotionally with the reader and build a long-term fan. While that reader may leave a comment advising of how much the post meant to them, on less emotional posts, it’s harder to decipher.

By combining sentiment analysis technology with Natural Language Processing (NLP) and a blog’s chosen comment system, the blogger (or brand) can start to see which content instilled which emotion.

  • Did the content leave the reader elated, happy, sad, blase, concerned, etc.?
  • Did certain parts of the content offer one reaction, and other parts of the same content offer another?
  • How did they share that content afterward – positively or negatively?
  • How did they feel when you responded in the comments to one of their questions – did you grow confidence in your ability to be conversational, or alienate a previously friendly face?

These are just some of the ways we can use social intelligence in comments and the reactions from our content, and start to see what works, what converts, what instils actions and reactions and how these compare to the actions we were hoping for.

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By doing so, we tailor our content creation to be the strongest it can be, and – ideally – provide exactly the type of content that delivers on whatever our goals may be.

Social Conversations and the Win Factor

Now, for the average “hobby blogger”, this may seem like something that’s way overblown and unnecessary and that’s probably true.

But as we move towards content creators becoming mini-media operations, and brands looking to both connect with their creators as well as tailor their own corporate content more strategically, it’s a future that’s worth thinking about.

From the blogger’s side, they become more authorative and produce the content that makes their part of the web more attractive than others in their field. Subscriptions rise, content is shared, and the conversations around the blog – regardless of where they are – drive consistent and informed content.

From the brand’s side, they understand the consumption behaviour of their customers – existing and potential – and deliver the type of content and calls-to-action that increase ROI, loyalty and brand share of voice. They can also only identify the very best bloggers and content partners to work with, based on relevance to not only the brand but the brand’s goals, and how that blogger and his or her audience fits into them.

From the reader’s viewpoint, they receive only the very best content and non-invasive promotional offers and news, based on their own previous decisions that have helped shape the new consumption model they’re now part of.

Of course, there needs to be a strict adherence to respecting privacy. Data is powerful when used properly – but dangerous precedences can be set in motion when this power is abused.

But for the companies and content creators that build and use this data ethically, the future of social conversations awaits. And it’s even closer than we think it is today…

image: Reilly Dow

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