Please, let’s all start calling this stuff conversational media

Today, I’ve been at a conference called the Conversational Marketing Summit. I didn’t live-blog it because, well, while I’m not burnt-out on blogs and social networking, I’m completely and thoroughly burned-to-a-crisp-out on blogging about people blogging. However, I thought the organizers of the event did a great job of attracting some big-time marketing and digital media people to come speak with other big-time marketing and digital media people about all the stuff that is taking place on blogs and social networks — and how big companies can tap into all of that stuff with authenticity and transparency as soon as it develops a bigger vocabulary of buzzwords and metrics.

Also, I am very fond of the way John Battelle of Federated Media, who put on the event, is using the term “conversational marketing” and “conversational media” to replace terms that are, to me, less appealing: word-of-mouth-marketing and social-networking and, the worst, user-generated-content. I’ll admit that some of my fondness for Battelle’s — who helped popularize the nebulous term Web 2.0 — evangelizing the term “conversational media” is totally self-serving in that I registered the domain name conversationalmedia.com in September, 1999, with hopes of it becoming a buzzwordian topic eight years later about which people would hold conferences.

Like I said, I think John Battelle did an excellent job attracting some marquee players as panelists and attendees. And I think if you were a senior marketing person at some giant company and were trying to understand how the different ways of online expression are all coming together — and you hadn’t actually participated in any of them — then it was a great conference for you to attend and listen to the experts.

However, and this is with some irony, to be called the “Conversational Marketing Summit” it was one of least conversational conferences I’ve attended in a while. It was mainly John Battelle interviewing guest celebreties. And when he asked for questions from the audience, very few people seemed to want to ask anything. In that way, it was very un-conversational. If you are familiar with the concept of “un-conference,” this was an un-un-conference. Which is fine if you like attending conferences that are like a talk show and you’re the audience.

And, again with some irony, it was one of the least talked-about conferences I have attended in the “conversational media” space. After a day and a half of a parade of digital media and marketing gurus ranging from the (Ask a) Ninja to the person who headed up Olgivy’s campaign for Dove, nothing from the conference has received even a blip on Techmeme as of tonight. And while I saw several people with cameras, there are only a few photos on Flickr tagged “conversationalmarketingsummit.” (Note to any conference organizer in the conversational media space: Provide all participants with a suggested tag for Flickr, Technorati, Del.icio.us, etc., so they won’t have to guess what to tag it, especially if the name of the conference is 20+ characters long.)

Again, I’m not complaining. This was not really a conference for those who have already drunk the Kool-aid. This was a day for those who are curious to learn why they should be dipping out of the punch bowl — and how.

At some point tomorrow or Friday, I’ll pull together some of my notes from today and post some observations and photos of some of the speakers.

(Side observation: I apologize for, yet again, referencing the William Gibson novel, Pattern Recognition and saying something only a reader of that book will understand, but at times during today’s conference, I couldn’t help but feel how dated that 2004 book must read today as there are now conference rooms filled with Hubertus Bigends who can openly discuss the intricacies of strategies that were so mysterious four years ago, they were fodder for a page-turning thriller.)

Update, 9/13: Elinor Mills covered the event for CNET News.com and noticed some things I alluded to in my post. However, I’m not near as cynical as she admits to being. I don’t believe advertisers can converse with customers. However, I do believe marketers can. And while my original post may sound a bit snarkish, there was some great, insightful, appropriate advice being doled out all day. Here’s a quote from her report:

“I can’t help but view conversational marketing as a thinly veiled attempt by the ad industry to insinuate itself into the popular social media craze. Calling it a “conversation” makes it sound benign and implies that it is consensual. Sure, I don’t mind hearing about discounts on products I buy, and between all the outdoor, print, TV, radio and traditional online advertising, it’s a safe bet that I will have heard about new products that I might want.”

I’ll disagree with her to say there is nothing thinly-veiled about it. And, frankly, the reason I give props to Battelle & Co. is for their effort to at least open some discussions among big-co marketing types regarding what are some appropriate (and consensual) ways to join the conversation. When I purchase something from a company, I’d love to talk with that company. When I’m interested in a new product, bring on the conversation.