Well, I don’t think I’m going to be invited to speak at the upcoming Conversational Marketing conference by FM. I wrote the note below to John Battelle and I think it summarizes my feelings about why I think Conversational Marketing in the current “People Ready” form diminishes things rather than enhancing them. It has also helped exposed the very elitist vision of many high level bloggers. For the new media to be successful it must be highly participatory and democratic. Despite claims supporting this notion, I’m coming to realize that few “A list” folks have much if any interest in actively engaging with topics they cannot control. This is *very* significant because control of the conversation can be a potent form of censorship, even if “anything goes” once the conversation starts. For tech stuff I think Techmeme shines as an effort to cede increased levels of control to participants more than to elites and hope this vision becomes the dominant one as the blogosphere matures.
I’m watching my favorite TV show , Charlie Rose, and noting the “sponsored by Pfizer” bits (technically PBS can’t run ads but they are effectively ads). My first thought was “hey, why am I so hard on FM when even PBS is mixing ads and conversations and they are not even a for-profit entity!”
But … upon further reflection I’d argue that the Charlie Rose PBS model is an appropriate way to involve advertisers in a conversation where People Ready was not. Of course the goal at Rose is not to have a *marketing* conversation, but I’m increasingly convinced “conversational marketing” may be an oxymoron.
I’m guessing Pfizer had *little or no input* in the topics Rose has picked for his science series, and they probably didn’t even want to – they wanted the *association* with a *real conversation* about science. Charlie drove the conversation, Pfizer gets their juice from associating with the real conversation.
Now, with People Ready the conversation was defined by FM and Microsoft marketing primarily as a marketing support vehicle rather than an investigation of topics of interest to the community. The participants were to some extent commercial “players” in the equation. With better disclosure there is no big deal about having prominent tech people talking about a Microsoft Marketing paradigm but I can’t see myself ever *choosing* to read that stuff, feeling that it will be filtered through a positive lens of an ad campaign rather than the critical lens of a real conversation.
Update: Here is CNET’s take on the conference