Saturday, August 13, 2005

How To Be A "Conversationista"

A few agency types have written in, asking for a bit more specificity around the "Conversationista" concept.

I am not suggesting anything radical. Creating a cadre of conversationistas is a relatively simple matter of re-thinking the responsibilities of our existing Account Services personnel, and making sure they have the technology tools and training they need to be effective in a Long Tail (i.e., fragmented and tierless) media environment.

Okay, maybe that sounds hard. Let's take it step by step. In this post I'll talk about "re-thinking responsibilities."

In the traditional agency, account teams have a hierarchical structure (VP, Acct Mgr, and so on). Each management layer handles a major function (strategy, media outreach, research, and so on). Each team handles 1 - 4 clients.

Is there room for some flexibility in this model?

To create conversationistas you do not need to change this model but you do need to allow it to bend a little. You need to align your OUTSIDE clients with the INSIDE interests of agency staff.

Example: You win a new client; they manufacture bicycles of all sorts. The account (and budget) only require 4 account pros. A couple of these assigned staffers are into cycling; their research and credibility helped win the account. But in an agency of 100 people, there are at least 10 more people who are heavy into cycling in its various permutations (mountain, road, spinning, etc.). In the current model, these extra 10 would-be evangelists are barely if ever tapped for assistance.

In a Long Tail-savvy agency, however, the bicycling manufacturer's inside account manager asks these 10 people to actively evangelize for the client, in their spare moments. No rush, no deadlines, no pressure.

Here's a script for an agency veep to approach 1 of those 10 additional agency employees who are into bikes...

"You like cycling, right? Mountain biking? Cool. Here's a list of 25 blogs that I think are pretty well-read. I found them on Technorati. Do you know of a few more? Great: do me a favor and subscribe (via RSS reader) to these 25+ blogs, and whenever you feel like participating - only when you are genuinely interested in the topic - please feel free to do so."

"Here's a list of our client's key messages; when it makes sense to drop their name and some of these themes, that would be wonderful - but, only when it makes sense in the context of what's going on in the blog. This is not about 'hits' or 'sales,' it's about being a part of the dialogue. Don't try to hide the fact that you are a PR rep. We're not looking to trick anyone. In fact, please go out of your way to solicit opinions from the outside community, and let people know that we'll report on their ideas and complaints to the bike manufacturer as often as possible."

Even the busiest account exec can find 15 minutes a week to participate in forums in which they'd like to hang-out, anyway. You're not "stealing" resources from other account teams, you are creating an ad-hoc group of cross-teamed enthusiasts.

It is a guerilla concept but only in the sense that it is based on convenience and interest, rather than on stealth. The RSS reader enables surgical strikes: when the reader pops up a post that piques the interest of one of the agency's evangelists, they can respond and move-on within 10 minutes, without breaking stride on their other client work.

At Technorati, as of this writing there are 78,739 blog posts containing the word "cycling." Probably a majority of these posts are inane and unworthy of follow-up. But if 1/10th is of-interest, that's still almot 8,000 posts to review and perhaps respond to! In our example, though, we now have 14 conversationistas to tap into (the 4 dedicated team members plus 10 evangelists from across the agency): so each of those 14 staffers need look at about 550 posts.

Keep in mind, that's just to get caught up on the state of "cycling" in the blogosphere. Once the account gets rolling, the RSS feeders will do a good job of filtering new posts as they happen, and the onerous task of culling through 550 posts will soon go to 1-5 posts a day, per person.

Easy as pie, for a conversationista!

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