A Social Media Best Practice: The Value of Growing your Share of Conversation

(This is cross-posted from Marcel LeBrun's blog at

The social web is a highly measurable medium. It is rich with metrics especially when it is compared to traditional media which produced only a few metrics to work with, like reach and frequency. In this post, I want to expand your “field of listening” and dive into a best practice that a brand can undertake: growing your Share of Conversation.

Most marketers are already familiar with the more popular measurement of share of voice. If we want to measure share of voice in social media amongst several competing brands, we would compare the number of articles, posts, tweets, videos or images where a brand and its competitors are mentioned. This would tell us which brand is mentioned the most relative to its competitors and by what margin. If we measure the competitive share of voice between Tylenol, Motrin, Advil, and Aspirin, we can see that Tylenol has the largest share of voice among its competitors.

What is share of conversation?
Most companies appreciate the value and importance of monitoring direct mentions of their brand and perhaps their competitors as well. The Share of Conversation concept is about opening your field of listening to focus on a broader conversation that is very important to your brand.

Every company’s product solves a problem or meets a need. The three questions you want to ask are:

  1. What are the needs or problems that your product is setting out to help with?
  2. How do people discuss these needs or problems online?
  3. When these problems are discussed, how prominent is your brand in these conversations?

Definition of Share of Conversation
It is the degree to which a brand is associated with the problem or need that it is setting out to help with.

If you are Tylenol, you can broaden your listening to include the entire conversation about back pain, or headaches, or arthritis.These are all significant and distinct conversations that the brand is setting out to help with. What do arthritis sufferers talk about online and how prominent is Tylenol in that conversation?

How do you measure it?
Let’s look at the overall conversation about Arthritis on the social web. It is a very active topic with well over 24,000 on-topic posts/articles published per month. When people talk about arthritis, do they also talk about Tylenol?

Measuring share of conversation is simple. The easiest way to calculate this is to use a professional social media analysis tool (disclosure: I'm the CEO of Radian6), which will quickly let you visualize the results and also enable you to automatically track it over time to measure your progress.

Why is share of conversation important?
When people go looking for solutions, they will search online. They may start with a Google search or reach out to other arthritis sufferers amongst social networks, forums or blogs. As a brand, it is unlikely that you can dominate all the top Google listings as well as all the other sources where users will turn to find information. The social web is not about controlling information anyway, it is about participation. With 24,000 on-topic arthritis conversations, the probability that they will land on your site in their search for answers is quite low. So you want to strive to have your brand associated with the conversation wherever they do land.

Advertisers know the power of repetition (even though consumers typically don’t “trust” ads). When I hear something mentioned once I might dismiss it, but when I hear it repeatedly, particularly from trusted sources, I start to think there might be something to it.

If Tylenol can successfully add value and become an insider to the arthritis conversation, then it will have achieved much more value than any one-way message or ad campaign can achieve. The key is trust. Arthritis sufferers will trust each other far more than they will trust any corporate message, particularly an ad. If Tylenol can earn the trust of the community and grow its share of conversation, it will have achieved a valuable and difficult to replicate position.

How to grow your share of conversation?
Start by listening to the conversation. We already know that Tylenol is only associated with ~1.7% of the arthritis conversation, so we know arthritis sufferers are talking about something else. What are the hot sub-topics within the conversation? What are people buzzing about? This discipline of listening must become an ongoing process since conversations are constantly changing, in real time.

The next step is to begin participating in the conversation. Consider where your company or brand can add real value to the specific topics that are important to the community (based on your listening above). Ask questions and seek first to understand. Then, contribute helpful content.This could be a whitepaper, ebook, blog post, or video which addresses questions that are frequently discussed. Listen for expressions of needs or causes that your content is designed to help with and reach out when appropriate. Ask questions designed to better understand the community’s needs and deepen your learning about arthritis sufferers. Through your participation, you will convey and demonstrate your brand’s passion for the problem and your willingness to invest in helping them.

As you participate, your brand association with the topic will grow and you will become a trusted insider in the community. A brand that personally engages and participates becomes less institutional and more human - an “unmasked brand” which is easier to know & trust.

Where to start and ROI
It is easy to to have a significant impact even if you want to start small. What if we started with an initial investment of a few hours per day for one person (and a professional listening tool, of course, so that the person’s time is spent in conversation and not in the administrative tasks of searching, reporting, etc.).

As a first step, we will narrow the broader arthritis conversation to focus on the 250 most influential sites.For this topic, the top 250 sites generated approximately 3,000 conversations (and 11,000 comments) about arthritis in the past month which is ~100 day – a relatively manageable volume for one person to tackle part time. Our resource would first focus on these conversations, taking the actions I described above (listening, learning, adding value, participating, etc.).

How much visibility would this get? These top on-topic sites collectively had 78.8 million unique visitors last month and close to 1 billion page views so that is a lot of overall exposure. To come up with an ad-equivalency benchmark, I used JP Morgan’s average CPM forecast for 2008 of $3.44 to calculate that a “theoretical” banner ad campaign on these sites would cost up to $3.4 million (if you wanted to cover every visit to every page/post). Many of the ad exposures would be wasted since only a percentage of the total conversation on these sites is on topic. Your direct conversational engagement efforts, however, are always 100% on topic so none of your investment is wasted. Plus, the value of direct engagement in the conversation is much higher and longer lasting than any ad impression.

An ad campaign is fleeting. If you want to generate the same exposure next month you have to buy it all over again.Investing in becoming an insider to an online community and generating positive word of mouth builds up and accumulates over time.It is conversation capital. It is an investment that pays dividends for months to come.
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