I recently had the pleasure of catching up with a blogger I greatly admire, Valerie Maltoni (@conversationage), and she shared some of her invaluable insights into effective social strategy and the art of conversation between brands and consumers.

SM: Valeria, can you explain to us what you do in and around the art of conversation?

VM: I’m a business strategist, so if you think about strategy as motivation, I help businesses and companies think about what are the motivating factors around their business that we can use to structure the processes and systems they currently have to create a framework to design the right kind of conversation.

What I see as the opportunity in social media is to use the tools and technology to allow the transformation of buyers into customers. Most organizations think of customers as all the people who buy from them. But think about transactions. If you have a lot of people buy just once, what you really have is buyers, not customers. To me, commerce begins when you have those buyers come back and buy a second time and third time. And with social you have those customers who not only come back, but bring back their friends. With social media it’s like ‘word of mouth’ on steroids. So you see the multiplying effect of designing a conversation that allows people who are attracted to your business and solution to come back with other people and generate more business.

SM: With all the brands you’ve worked with, what would you say is the number one, most consistent problem that they struggle to overcome? What’s the biggest mistake they make?

VM: In terms of challenges for brands, I would say that persistence and commitment are a big mental shift. Many marketers and communicators are used to the idea of campaigns, so they go to market with a big push and when the campaign is done there is no continuity. Sustaining that energy that the community may have in rallying around the campaign is really important. They don’t take advantage of it.

In terms of challenges for business, I see it as having two parts. Some businesses have a communication problem. They need to, as I’m used to saying, go on a different diet and be less constipated with their customers, have regular communications and conversations and not be afraid to get up close and personal. That is one side of the problem.

Other businesses have poor marketing and communications because they are symptoms of a business model that needs to be adjusted, that needs help. You can put more effort into your branding, marketing and communications, but it’s not going to help until you look at what change needs to happen within the business. They need to ask whether or not they are in a different business today than when they started.

SM: Would you say that the starting point for brands is that they need to define who they are in the type of conversations they want to generate? How do you systematize a conversation? How do you build it out internally so you can launch it and maintain it?

VM: There are cultural underpinnings, so in terms of process what you first look at is understanding what the organization is doing. Take a look at their presence, their internal culture, what the organization thinks about itself, and re-propose it to the organization in a safe matter where you provide them with key takeaways from interviewing a cross-section of stakeholders.

From there you take a look at the ecosystem in terms of the competitive presences in the marketplace, what kind of things they are doing, where are they in the social/conversation spectrum? Then take that information to inform your thinking of their marketing and business and communication plans.

From there, generate a framework where you look at the difference between where they are and where they would like to be, figure the thought process that gets them there, and how to you design an action plan to get them there.

If anyone is interested in the art of conversation, I recommend you follow @ConversationAge and visit www.conversationage.com.