A few days ago, Chris Brogan started an interesting discussion. His post was about how social media changed the way people were talking and how big companies wanted big conversations like mass mailings:

For the rest of the world, I believe that there will be some issues with how social media delivers. I think some companies will want big conversations, mass messaging, when what we’re offering are cafe conversations. We’re offering the intimate, the personal, the chance to talk in numbers of dozens and hundreds, and to make the appropriate kind of impact.

Steven Hodson followed up with an interesting perspective on whether social media was really just a “connector set”.

Suppose the conversation(s) taking place weren’t a part of something large but in fact were just small islands of conversations joined together by those services. What if rather than the services being the connectors it was the conversations?

I think part of what is missing is that they are assuming that big companies will refuse to change. I am not saying that they will change overnight, but the effects of social media will be undeniable after some time. We have started to see some of these changes with Dell, Zappos and others. Social media is not about reaching the largest number of people with the simplest message, that is television. Social media is about conversations. The conversations are small and personal. However, there will be other people listening. There will also be people listening to the people who had those conversations.

Valeria Maltoni alluded to this in her recent post about customers, support and service:

Companies should care about providing support and service to their customers. And we should keep score of who does by voting with our money. No better way to provide feedback than through action. We should also recommend those companies to our family and friends.

Why is this important? Word of mouth marketing and grass roots movements. These are two of the most powerful concepts in sales and marketing and are the biggest benefits from participating in social media. Social media is not really a “connector set”. It is about the power of the masses. Individually, a single blogger does not hold much influence. However, that blogger may be read by hundreds of other bloggers. If these bloggers start to recommend the same services, or even universally protest something (see #motrinmom), things can change quickly.

So, how does a company harness this power? If I knew a foolproof way, I would be rich, but I am not. It should be easy, right? You just throw some links in Twitter and FriendFeed and wait for people to start talking. If only it was that easy. The key to sites like FriendFeed and Twitter is interaction. This interaction can be in the form of providing useful links, not just marketing material. It could also be one-on-one conversations. Personally, I think the conversations are more important. Conversations build trust. Conversations build community. Trust and community can build passionate fans of your product and brand.

There is one problem with this. Building trust takes time, and building community takes time. You can not try to take a shortcut and hope that everything is OK. Companies do not try to take shortcuts with their marketing plans. That is a recipe for disaster, or at least wasted money. Companies will need to be patient when building a community in social media. However, I have a feeling many will not. We will see many more major failures before we see many companies succeeding with social media.

Do you think we could be patient with companies using social media? I have a feeling that most people will not.

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