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January 15, 2009
Listeners Make the Best Conversationalists
A few months ago, I teamed up with Jesse Thomas to create v1 of the Conversation Prism as a way of capturing and presenting the oft-underestimated extent, reach, and depth of the Social Web. While it's been highly regarded as a map of the Web 2.0 landscape, the Conversation Prism is a reference tool for Social Media professionals to start listening to the voices that define and steer your markets. It only features the networks where conversations occur.
Tools and networks will come and go. Popularity will shift across existing, up and coming, and not yet introduced services. If you're not everywhere, then you're only addressing a small portion of a highly vocal contingent that may or may not reflect the perspective of your larger community. And as such, there are important conversations taking place without you right now.

The risk and reality of it all, is that your customers and influential trendsetters could be misinterpreting your value proposition without dispute.
Listening, learning, and participating in a measurable and effective Social initiative requires you to look beyond Twitter and Facebook. Not doing so, handicaps the overall reach and effectiveness of your marketing, communications, and service strategies.
In this current state of Social Media, online conversations, along with real world activity, can not be ignored. Identifying these discussions is only the first step however. It takes much more than running Yahoo or Google searches or setting up Google Alerts to unearth relevant dialogue. Casting a wide net in order to identify where your communities are thriving is the only way to truly identify which networks are important to your brand and business. And, once you understand where these conversations are transpiring, you can observe the cultures, climate and basis for the dialogue to create a participation strategy and also navigate each opportunity to the appropriate person.
In my experience, it's the listening that separates Social Media experts from Social Media theorists. To cross over, take a day, use the Prism as a starting point, and search keywords related to you business, company name, company name+sucks, competitor names, product brands, etc. Document important and relevant discussions and create a Social Map that visually communicates where important dialogue is materializing, where you and your team are needed, as well as maintaining a pulse on your ORM (online reputation management) initiatives.
The Conversation Prism is a living, breathing representation of Social Media and will evolve as services and conversation channels emerge, fuse, and dissipate.
As a communications or service professional, you'll find yourself at the center of the Prism - whether you're observing, listening, trafficking, or participating. Get your ear to the ground and start listening and learning.

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Brian Solis is the author of "Engage," a new book that helps businesses build, cultivate, and measure success in social media. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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