Every day I stumble across yet another company jumping into the uncertain waters of social media "because others are doing it." Public relations agencies are pushing social media practices as a "must have" for clients are part of the capabilities presentations. But, contrary to what many social media pundits say, social media is not a silver bullet nor is it ideal for every company. It's a strategy that should be carefully considered and its tools are designed to take companies to where their customers are already conversing.
To that end, Brian Solis, principal of Future Works and author of PR 2.0, has introduced the Conversation Prism -- a tool that he says "helps chart online conversations between the people that populate communities as well as the networks that connect the Social Web." Designed with Jesse Thomas of JESS3, the Conversation Prism was created to help companies visualize the immense landscape that is social media and to be used as a tool to help these companies truly consider where they need - or need not - to be. This morning I spoke with Solis for a bit about why he developed the Conversation Prism, its purpose and its use. Oh, and he's giving it all away for free.
Q. [Jennifer] Why did you develop the Conversation Prism -- and how is this a step beyond Robert Scoble's Social Media Starfish?
A. [Brian] The Starfish got the conversation started visually. There's nothing wrong with the Social Media Starfish, but we wanted to come up with something more representative of what is out there beyond some of the more popular social networks. It's one thing to have a lot of discussions about participating in social media or why you need to be on Twitter or Facebook, but it's much more extensive than most people think. Social media is not just about being on the popular networks; it's about knowing which networks apply to your world. I wanted to give a graphical representation of just how big this landscape really is and even this version still needs some work. The next one will include international networks and a few other channels we haven't yet hit.
Q. Why is it important for companies to be able to visualize all of these networks?
A. Because the Conversation Prism is both a little dose of reality and an education tool. What the prism does is give you an idea, a beautiful representation of where conversations are taking place around you and its intended to make sure everyone understands that the social networking landscape is so much bigger - and just as important - as some of the more popular tools. It's basically showing that if you are thinking of jumping on the social media bandwagon -- stop. Evaluate. The landscape is massive. Each company's participation is going to be different. The goal of this is to give companies a good place to start in finding the conversations that are relevant to them.
Q. So I'm a company decision-maker and I sit down and see all of these social networks laid out. I might be terrified. Do I really need to participate in all of these?
A. No, and there are a few different ways you could go about determining where you should be. The most effective would be to take the time and go through each of the networks (not just the popular ones) and do some analysis. Do keyword searches and see what conversations are going on about your company or your competitors or solutions similar to what your company has to offer. Find out where the relevant conversations are taking place. Some companies may be surprised that the conversations most relevant to them are happening on some of the smaller and less popular social networks.
Q. You mention in your blog that you used MindJet to create a social map to determine the places where you should most likely be on the social Web. Is this a necessary second step for companies considering a social presence?
A. It can be. First companies should read about each network, observe it and document it. Then, if they choose, they can create a social map that represents where they should be based on the research. Every company's social map is going to look different. Some companies may even determine that they do not need social media because the right conversations just aren't happening. You can't just jump in and start friending everyone without purpose. But a company doesn't need to create a social map. Just look at the prism after you've done the necessary research and imagine it or manage it to represent only the networks that matter to you. That can be your "social map".
Q. How do you know this even works?
A. The whole idea for this map came about during a client project a couple of years ago. I was working with a company that wanted to socialize its content and had put up a presence on all of the popular social networks. But they didn't have any "friends" and there was little to no activity. The CEO was wondering why all of this money was being spent on social networks. So I created a rough version of the prism. I demonstrated all of the places where the company currently was at and showed them how examining all of the networks in the social media landscape could exponentially increase the usefulness for them. We went into several sites and checked to see if the company's products or competitors were in there, assessed the frequency and volumne of the conversation and see how influential it was. What I ended up with was just a handful of networks that they really needed to be in -- places where their competitors were already very active. Then we created a social map and showed them examples of conversations that were taking place. It not only changed their infrastructure but it gave them the steps to manage it themselves.
Q. What about social media consultants or any other external influencers who try to guide social media strategies for businesses? How should they use this?
A. What I'd like to see is people use it not just as a demonstration of how big this landscape is but use it to help people understand how to bridge what they already do to what this map represents. This can't just be a demonstration of how large the landscape is and why people need to get involved, period. Consultants and their clients need to go through and listen to each of the networks and see if there is value there; see if they can find the places where they should fit within each of the respective communities.
The Conversation Prism, as well as Solis' e-book "The Essential Guide to Social Media" are free for use and, according to Solis, a complementary fit for companies trying to determine how, when and if they should enter the social Web.