Valeria Maltoni is one of the most widely respected marketing voices in the world. And for good reason. Her extensive background spans marketing, public relations, and social media. If it exists in the realm of communications, she’s done it.
Valeria was also an integral nucleus of the Fast Company Company of Friends, a business intelligence and relationship development organization that in many ways presaged today’s social networking craze.
Her blog, Conversation Agent, is an absolute must-read. (Seriously, I read a ton of blogs, and hers is top 5 on the planet, in my estimation). She’s not afraid to go in-depth, challenge your thinking, and strike the match of true conversation – as you’ll see in this eye-popping, live Twitter 20 interview from July 1, 2009.
(Valeria asked in the interview for reader feedback on how blogging has changed – question 17. What do you think?)
1. @jaybaer: Your umbrella premise is that marketing & business are a long conversation. What do you mean by that?
- @conversationage: Conversation is the most natural, effective, yet most complex mode of human connection.
- The goal of conversation is understanding between participants. Turns out that’s the same goal of marketing and business.
2. @jaybaer: What’s the hardest part for companies to switch from talking AT customers, to talking WITH them?
- @conversationage: Companies should let go of assumptions when listening. There’s such a thing as thinking you’re too smart.
- It’s a challenge we have as individuals as well. Unlearning is harder than learning….
3. @jaybaer: (h/t @michaeljbarber) Do companies have to actively engage to foster conversation, or can they just listen?
- @conversationage: Participation is content and fulfillment of intent – you’ve got to put skin in the game.
4. @jaybaer: How do you see the impact of conversation on corporate marketing operations and staffing?
- @conversationage: Hire those who lean forward, who are curious and interested, who listen before they answer, who love learning.
- Watch out for language like “spin” and look for honesty and ability to connect- put on hold the shiny objects/jargon-driven.
5. @jaybaer: Interesting. Do you think social media & social networking can be taught or do you have to have a passion for it?
- @conversationage: I’m a fan of “and/and”. They need to be experienced. Unless you’re engaged (wrote it recently) you will not get engagement.
6. @jaybaer: You’re a fan of storytelling. Great conversations don’t stem from bullet points. How can brands find their story?
- @conversationage: In the same way that money can’t buy you performance, it can’t buy you your story.
- Need to emerge when a company looks inside and owns its own brand. Brand is not the logo, it needs to permeate every aspect of business… and take into account the feedback it receives.
- Owning your brand also means being passionately in love with what you do.
7. @jaybaer: Little difference between media & customer. Doesn’t that put emphasis on cust service? Will it blend w/ marketing?
- @conversationage: Customer service is marketing. Your processes are marketing. So is your receptionist, your building, your people…
- More than blending I would say connect with it. Also, medium = context and dynamics so pay attention to who is in the room.
8. @jaybaer: Will all brands eventually have a Community Manager? Does it help the conversation to put a face on it?
- @conversationage: How about a community facilitator, a content curator, and a team of conversationalists for product development/innovation?
- It’s a team effort to help the organization own its brand. Think about the words: organization, company->organism, together.
9. @jaybaer: I’m glad you mentioned curation. There is SOOO much great content online now (especially in marketing), how do you curate?
- @conversationage: Do you have a goal? What do you want reader to do? How are you going to relate to her? How will your content make him feel?
- And of course also where are you going to fit in? How do you weave in your experience as a proof point or qualifier?
10. @jaybaer: 10 You are simply the best at building “community” on your Conversation Agent blog. Can you describe your approach?
- @conversationage: Love to connect people – where they are. Many ways: “About You” page, comments, email intros, participating to their project.
- Offering researched and curated content based upon their feedback also builds community – of learners (me among them)
11. @jaybaer: I don’t want to overstate this, but you’re Italian (and proud of it) 😉 Does that change how you view community?
- @conversationage: Made in Italy. So genetics + culture. I grew up in conversation and with community in the land of passion. Context again.
12. @jaybaer: You mentioned conversationalists for product dev. Should all companies crowd-source it? Are crowds really wise?
- @conversationage: Hold on! Community facilitator, content curator and team of conversationalists work together. + Accountability rests with you.
- You’ve got to know (experience) how to read the tea leaves, how to negotiate the conversation and extract useful meaning.
13. @jaybaer: Some companies are using Facebook as a primary hub to foster conversation, rather than corporate site. Thoughts?
- @conversationage: Maybe it works for them. And when search+lifestream converge and FB opens up, then the rest of us will join in 🙂
- My point is be where your customers/prospects are and be coherent. Does the Web site reflect the company’s availability?
14. @jaybaer: Will social graph portability – our friends & likes following us around the Web – be good or bad for conversation?
- @conversationage: It’ll be good for those with great memory! Integration is important to experience. 140 characters don’t make a person, only a view.
- Seriously- conversation is the art of thinking together to find something new. It’s good to have new people/ideas in it + mix it up.
15. @jaybaer: Proliferation of social outposts is causing fatigue among people that aren’t freaks for it like you & me. Advice?
- @conversationage: Pick your tools based on your “flow” – where do you feel energy? What suits you? Leave room to explore new places every week.
- Explore, experiment, test, fail – within your abilities to stretch but not to the point of fatigue. Manage your attention.
16. @jaybaer: You’ve always been active in many groups and organizations. Is there a future for offline, in-person connections?
- @conversationage: Of course! We may think we live online, but we’re very much social animals. We need to be with others in the physical space .
- We did 98 events with the Fast Company network – in person, in the room access to great people and speakers. Best energy ever.
17. @jaybaer: Your blog is ~ 3 years old – congrats – & you wrote for Fast Company for 7 years prior. How has blogging changed?
- @conversationage: If you count the listserv, yes 7 yrs. For the expert blog about 2 yrs.
- Good content writing has not changed – we’ve changed.
18. @jaybaer: You’ve always been on the client side. What’s the agency’s role in conversation marketing and social media?
- @conversationage: Coaches, sounding boards, partners, and specialists to help create the environment and context around the conversation.
- I feature agencies in a series at my blog.
19. @jaybaer: The “Conversation Agent” brand isn’t associated much w/ your company, Sungard (unlike @scottmonty). Thoughts?
- @conversationage: It’s a pre-existing condition 🙂 Conversation Agent comes to work every day with the full passion and knowledge/experience.
- I believe that it’s a team and not one person that defines a company and owns a brand, so here I’m part of a team.
- Personal brand needs to be balanced with stewardship, too. Our customer community is also part of the company’s brand.
20. @jaybaer: I’m a consultant, & I give away content & interact w/ people. But you’re not. Why do you do it? What drives you?
- @conversationage: Love of learning, passion for helping people achieve their full potential, desire to meet different people/ideas to meet change.
- I also view career as much broader than job. Want to meet mentors and peers and continue to grow and give growth to others.
It’s a very tough call, but I think my favorite answer from Valeria was: “Customer service is marketing. Your processes are marketing. So is your receptionist, your building, your people…” How about you?