Is that a mirror in your pocket?

billsteve_1.jpgIt’s just I can see myself in your knickers.

One of my favourite chat-up lines.  In theory at least.  I’ve never had the balls to use it.  And of course, I never would. Ahem.

Chat-up lines are designed as conversation starters though, aren’t they?  Make ’em laugh…get them in a conversation…see where it leads.  If they don’t kick off a conversation, they’ve failed.  It’s a bit like social media.  In fact (Swiss Toni voice), “social media is very much like chatting up a beautiful woman…”

See those two fellas above having a conversation?  I wonder what they’re saying?

“It’s like this big!”

“Whoa!  But I’d have to like hold it in my hand like this, open up my mouth real wide…”

Talking about an early iPhone prototype, no doubt.

I don’t suppose those two have to fish around for too long to spark a conversation.  It’s more difficult when you’re a business and you want to strike one up with an individual, or audience, that you don’t know terribly well (and let’s face it, most businesses don’t).

You need a decent conversation starter.  Doing a bit more these days in the area of “conversational marketing”, I’ve been putting some thought into what makes a good conversation starter.  And if you believe that conversations are central to the new world of marketing and communications, pondering on conversation starters is a fantastic way of highlighting the difference between “old” and “new” PR.  Because most of what companies shove out as PR is about as far from kicking off a decent chat as you can get.

Think about the great conversations that you’ve had.  How did they start?  Probably with a brilliant question.  Or a forthright opinion.  Or a piece of honest feedback.  Or a good joke.  Or maybe even a chat-up line.  Great conversation starters are thought-provoking, controversial, funny, divisive, sincere, candid, direct, contentious.  Now how much PR pushed out these days is any of those things?  Not much.  It’s all very bland.

The new world demands that we provoke a reaction – an emotional reaction – because that’s the only way we’ll be able to enter into a conversation.  And let’s not be afraid to provoke both negative and positive reactions (though on balance, obviously, we’d prefer that the positive ones came out on top).  Negative reactions can be very useful…because you very quickly learn what the audience doesn’t like and can change your behaviour accordingly.

Let’s forget about trying to please all of the audience all of the time.  Hell, let’s forget about pleasing all of the audience some of the time, or even some of the audience all of the time.  Pleasing some of the audience some of the time is enough, as long as we listen to those that we’ve pissed off.

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4 thoughts on “Is that a mirror in your pocket?

  1. putsimply says:

    Couldn’t agree more with you. And our lives would be ever the more rich if we went by that ethos. But. According to thems wot know, more ‘news’ gets read on a company’s website than it does on your average news website. Now who’s fault is that?

  2. Mark says:

    Is that right? Oh. That’s a bit depressing, isn’t it?

  3. james warren says:

    Mmm, I’ve been thinking about this since you posted it and I’ll be honest fella, it doesn’t sit that well with me. For a couple of reasons. First, the objective of much of the ‘PR pushed out these days’ is to secure media coverage. It is not designed to invoke a reaction with consumers directly, rather to inform journalists. Reason? Measurement. Before blogs and their ilk came along there was no way for us to really measure the extent to which consumers reacted to the ‘stories’ we had to tell them – other than the reach of trad. media (heh, PR measurement has always been an inexact art). Second, I do not believe that saying something that provokes a reaction is the most effective way to initiate a conversation in the ‘new world’. Take the age old pub analogy – if you walked straight into a pub and said something controversial to a bunch of strangers, it would most certainly provoke a reaction. I’d be surprised if it was positive, even if they were talking about something you know a great deal about. If what you said did encourage people to begin a conversation with you, there’s every chance the exchange will be short, sharp and leave you on your arse outside. If your comment does get someone talking to you the chances are it’s the pub bore and everyone thinks he’s a total nobhead and ignores him anyway, so you’re wasting your time. Finally (for the pub analogy at least), there will be lots of people in the pub who perhaps don’t engage you directly in conversation, but just think you’re a little bit of a twat.

    I believe brands don’t need to begin conversations in the new world. They simply need to hang out in the same place as the intended audience and be seen to be listening and ready to respond. As long as the community knows you’re there (and you play by its rules), it’ll bring you into the conversation when the need (or rather their need) or opportunity arises. I guess my point is successful social media engagement is more about customer relations and reputation management than it is promotion.

    That’s not to say promotion does not have its place in the social media world, but bringing it back to your theme of conversation, the best way of initiating a good one is with a friend (I don’t know about you but the best conversations I’ve ever had have been with people I know, like and trust rather than complete strangers). Which means building relationships with those individuals/groups that you believe have a valued perspective on the area of your clients business. And once you know them well (and they trust you), it’s fairly straightforward to begin a conversation with them. If they think what you have to say is total ‘bobbins’ then they’ll tell you (and hopefully only you) and if they happen to think it’s great, they’ll talk enthusiastically to you about it and tell other people too. Conversation started.

  4. Mark says:

    Wise words mate, as ever.

    I think it’s easy to overstate the “reaction” I’m talking about (and perhaps my post did rather). My argument would be that if you don’t create a reaction, there is no action. So to take your point about taditional PR, it still needs to create a reaction among its audience (i.e. the media) or it’s useless, surely? Ideally the reaction is, “oh, that’s interesting, I need to folllow up on that or write a story about it…” But ask any journalist what his or her reaction is to most PR material they receive and I reckon it’d be more like, “what a waste of my time.”

    Your pub analogy is fine as far as it goes, but part of the skill is understanding the environment and pitching your conversation starter accordingly. OK, so wandering into a spit and sawdust boozer and asking whether anyone fanices having a look at you iPhone is going to create the reaction you’re talking about, but quietly walking up to the bar and asking the landlord which of his real ales he’d recommend is likely to generate a more positive reaction. And then you might find that you’re in a useful conversation.

    I’m not sure it matters whether you instigate the conversation or you’re invited into it by the audience, but when you do get involved you still need to say something that provokes a reaction, otherwise the conversation stops and the opportunity dies.

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