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What is conversation hierarchy and why is it important to your marketing strategy?

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By Mark Schaefer, Marketing Consultant

One of the biggest challenges I face as a marketing strategist is unrealistic customer expectations when it comes to social media marketing.

In part, we are contributing to our own problems when we glorify well-worn case studies like GoPro, BlendTec, John Deere, and Zappos. We talk about these outlier successes over and over until it seems like these successes are within reach of anybody.

They’re not. To have a success like Zappos… well, you need to be Zappos! You need a visionary leader, a wide-open company culture, and maybe even a little creative craziness to duplicate a success like that.

But could you do it? Could you become a social media sensation? There are a lot of factors that go into this, but one of the key considerations is where you sit in the conversational hierarchy.

How conversational are you?

Here is the business case for Facebook in just one sentence: “Come spend your free time with me.”

Nobody has to spend time on Facebook. People go there to relax, see pictures of Grumpy Cat and play Farmville. To get anybody’s attention, you have to earn the right for people to waste time with you, and to do that you have to be conversational.

An easy way to think about this is, if you are a person or brand that people would discuss at the dinner table, it probably makes sense for Facebook and other social media marketing to be a major piece of your arsenal. So if you are Disney, a sports star, a popular restaurant, or a television show, your social media popularity — and organic reach — will be predictably high.

If you haul hazardous waste, lay bricks, or make chemicals for a living, these are not normally dinnertime conversations. I’m not saying don’t have a social media presence, but it probably does not need to be number one on your list of marketing goals.

Recently, I announced I have been working on a new way to measure content marketing success. When my team does analysis for a customer, one of the things we study is the conversation hierarchy. If you are a conversational brand, naturally the expectation of your ability to move content should be high. If you are in a profession like legal, medical or other services, it might be in the middle range, and other companies like a coal mine might be at the bottom. So, it is only fair to group these companies in a way that creates reasonable expectations for content ignition success.

One way to do this is to group industry categories by their current organic reach on Facebook. Here is an example from a study of more than 8,000 companies. It shows a few categories with very high and very low organic reach, which is a reflection of their place in the conversation hierarchy:

This seems intuitive, right?

But most people have not thought about Facebook marketing this way. The default position is spend, spend, spend for fear of being left behind. But by carefully considering the conversation hierarchy, we can better predict reasonable expectations for Facebook spending and success.

A second consideration is if you aren’t a conversational brand, could you become one? The iconic example of this is Blendtec, which struck lightning with a video series demonstrating their product’s ability to blend anything.

The “Will It Blend” video series is often held up as an example of content marketing success for a decidedly boring product. They certainly created a conversation, didn’t they?

What if our company made ladders? Could we turn this rather boring, commodity product into a viral sensation like Blendtec?

Anything is possible, but you have to ask yourself, ”Would it be more effective to drive sales by offering an in-store point of purchase coupon, or by producing a wacky video series about ladders?”

Even the very largest companies have a limit to budgets and resources, so we have to be careful with our strategies. Sometimes the old ways are best. And making that decision about spending big on Facebook and video might begin with a consideration of the conversation hierarchy.

Make sense?

Additional Resources:

What is the best social media platform for your business?

Three marketing truths you need to hear now

Social media engagement: Hushing the noise 

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.

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