Everywhere I look, I see B2B marketing that spouts “join the conversation,” “get in the conversation,” and other references to the word that skew it’s meaning into the equivalent of “talk to the hand.”

In my last post, I wrote about debunking the B2B buzzword, engagement. In the same vein, I’m wondering what the heck happened to the art of conversation? Have we become so numb by the ability to publish whatever we want that we’ve forgotten how to be human?

The words dialogue and conversation are also interchanged without thought but, in online marketing, they have different criterion:

Conversation: an interchange of thought, information actively shared between/among people. (Requires 2 or more people)

Dialogue: an exchange of information (Only requires one person)

The difference here is that a conversation is an active exchange of information between people where a dialogue (as an exchange of information) could be between a person and a website, blog, video, etc. without the need for two active (human) participants.

I think this is an important distinction. I do not think the two are interchangeable.

Let’s look at some examples of what a conversation is NOT:

  • A push email – even if the recipient clicks
  • A Tweet with no commentary (title and link and handle)
  • A blog post with comments from readers, but no response from the author (This does, however, change if readers are commenting in response to each other.)
  • A white paper download
  • Viewing a video

Examples of what transforms dialogue into conversation is response.

  • I receive an email, click the link, and forward the email on to a colleague who responds back to me with comment about the content I shared. We may exchange several more emails in discussion about the content.
  • I receive a comment on my blog, respond back and ask a follow-on question and the person comes back to answer the question. Or another reader jumps in and answers the question I asked and I respond to them.
  • Someone posts a question to a LinkedIn group and provides a link to a blog post or article on the topic. Group members respond by leaving comments and referencing perspectives of others – discussion ensues.

If I had just clicked the link and read the information in the first example, there is no conversation. It’s the act of involving others and adding my commentary that turns the dialogue into a conversation. There must be back and forth between people for a conversation to form.

The evolution is that we don’t need oral communication to have a conversation. As long as two people are involved, a conversation can be facilitated by a variety of technology platforms, from email to communities to social media and beyond.

But, it’s only dialogue if technology is carrying on half of the conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge proponent of marketing automation. Use your technology to establish a dialogue that engages people through contextual information they want and need, GO YOU! But it’s not a conversation until another person gets involved. This is because the “dialogue” is dependent on the behavior of the single participant, not both.

[If I visit this webpage, the system sends me a link to content A. If I visit a landing page and download a white paper, the system sends me content B. Etc. In a dialoge scenario, there’s not a possiblity that it could veer off to content X.]

This is even more important when you consider social media. I see so many exchanges where someone is looking for help, only to be told to call an 800 number. Really? That’s the best you can do? Although that fits the criterion for a conversation (2 or more people), there’s also a difference between a valuable conversation and a crappy excuse for one.

So, when you think about “conversation” in marketing terms – what are you doing to make it more human?

And for those of you thinking “Wait. I get thousands of responses to my nurturing program! I can’t possibly deal with this…” I would point you to buying stages and personas and battening down your lead scoring schema to get to intelligence that’s useful. It’s all in your approach to prioritization.

Don’t let conversation become a meaningless buzzword. With a little art and science we can make marketing human, approachable, and definitely more social.

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