Social media: Conversations vs. Conversions

There was an interesting post on GovLoop about the why of social media. The post boiled social media success down to conversations. Social media is viewed here as another channel to reach people. Under such a regime, traffic becomes a focus. “How many people are using these tools?” The focus is on providing information to the masses.

But mass can be a liability. Managing all of those conversations can be a major time waster. Where is the call to action? It’s about forward movement, not churning. Having more people at your public meetings, for example, doesn’t guarantee that the city council will implement your plans. The same is true of social media. More conversations don’t lead to forward motion.

I argue that getting people to visit your content is step 1. Getting people talking about it is step 2. Getting people to act on it is step 3. The only measure that matters is step 3. In other words, the focus should be on conversions. What are you selling? What opportunities are you providing your constituents? Mass does not inspire action. In fact, mass can be an impediment to action. Tribes that are smaller, more exclusive, and know each other are the most active.

The number of friends you have on Facebook is unimportant. More important, how many of those Facebook friends are doing step 3?

If you’re getting a lot of hits on your website, and people aren’t acting on your content, then maybe you need to rethink your communications strategy. More hits does not equal success. I don’t even pay attention to my Google Analytics.

Providing information is a waste of time 90% of the time. There is plenty of information out there. People don’t want information; they want a way to act. If it’s an emergency, how can they help out? 10% of the time, information can be empowering. But you’ve got to do it in a remarkable way that gets shared.

Conversion-Driven Government is about getting people to act. It’s about action, not conversation.

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Andrew Wilson

Good post – would add that more “conversations” need to occur in government about how actually social media can be used effectively to change behavior. For me, the biggest component missing to gov. discussions on social media is the research being done in this area. I think there is evidence both for and against the ability to really affect behavior change but the issue seems far from decided. Some very good work by BJ Fogg in this area that is worth checking out – http://www.bjfogg.com/.

Colin Walker

Completely agree. This is the problem with many government implementations of social media tools — it’s all about numbers. Sure, I want a bunch of people to be receiving information from me about my department or program, but I also want them to show up at events and register for programs. You make a good point on your website about organization clutter on Facebook friends lists too.

Thanks for linking to your website by the way — I look forward to your series on email marketing. I’m glad to see that there’s some material being created on marketing in the public sector… always nice to have someone else to point people to and say “See? I’m not crazy!” I especially like the quote “Most government websites are terrible, not because they lack a slick design, but because they are trying to be all things to all people.”

Paul Day

Thanks Colin for reading, I really appreciate it!

You’re not crazy. The government is a desert for social marketers. We lack influence. My goal is to get us more influence. I don’t want us to be brought into a project at the very end, when they say “Market this”, and it’s a crappy product because a bunch of engineers decided that making it cheap and unremarkable makes their bottom line look better.

Jay S. Daughtry, ChatterBachs

Great insights, Paul. You’re right: numbers don’t equal success. I also like the breakdown of the steps you’ve provided. The sharing and the talking about it is key. In social media too often organizations can be focused on their message rather than on building a dialogue within a community where their voice can then be trusted and heard. Social media is a two-way street, not solely a place where one’s agenda can be promoted.

Chris Higginbotham

The number of followers you have or the number of hits you get is measurable. Action is less so. In government, the trend seems to be toward the measurable.

As far as analytics go, I don’t think you can underestimate those. In order to generate the attention that leads to action, you need to get noticed. Using analytics to optimize your web presence can drive people to your site/blogs/feeds and get their attention. If people don’t know your mission, it’s hard for them to contribute.

Paul Day

Thanks Jay and Chris,
Is action unmeasurable? I don’t think I was trying to say, “don’t count”. More-so, I was trying to say “Count what counts”. Conversions are measurable.

Chris Higginbotham

I totally agree. Everyone wants their social media presence to encourage action from stakeholders. But I think some (most) leaders are more impressed by “we have 400 new followers on Twitter!” than by anything else. It isn’t necessarily right, but this is all still new to people and quantities go far in government work.

Bryan Conway JD, PMP

I think there is a lag between engaging in a conversation and the opportunity to act upon ideas / concepts learned from the conversation. The duration between steps 2 and 3 could be quite lengthy! Also, most conversations are not action oriented – unless you are posting an event that requests attendance, how will you know if your conversation resulted in action?

Paul Day

I think the whole point of conversion-driven government is action. Conversion-Driven government is finding ways to cultivate action – preferably, action that can be monetized. So the government sells products that generate revenue versus solely relying on taxation (which creates a negative relationship with citizens, who always resent taxation).

It could also be attending events, volunteering, ect.