engagement, Facebook, social media strategy, Twitter

Own the Conversation

9 Comments 03 November 2011

Image by kodachrome65, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Image by kodachrome65, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons


What is your organization’s primary topic of conversation online? If you don’t know the answer to that, you may find that this is the thing crippling your online success. Without knowing and owning the online conversation topic, your organization is doomed to wander aimlessly about in the online desert. To get at this, I often ask this simple question: “What about your industry or issue is so interesting that you want to have a conversation about it?” Taking this simple question a step further, I’ll often ask: what topic of conversation is interesting to potential fans, can define your organization, but isn’t about the organization itself? Knowing your conversation, then owning it, offers a map through the online desert to real engagement, trust-building, and advocacy.

Community managers understand why “the conversation” is so important. If the online community manager mentioned the organization all day long, the community would soon leave. A great community manager understands what people want to talk about, knows the reason that they are there, and plans content accordingly. If you can figure out the conversation, and own it through offering great content and opportunities for the community to engage around it, you’re on your way to real engagement, real trust, real evangelists. The desert may be behind you.

You have to know the conversation first, then own it.

 The conversation is the strategy.

The three organizations below know their conversation areas, and they are working hard to own them. They’ve gone beyond news updates and random tweets, and have focused their updates  to encourage real conversations about topical areas. Read the updates from The March of Dimes, the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, and the New England Aquarium, and you’ll know they are in a conversation, and that conversation is extremely relevant to their supporters.

The March of Dimes‘ mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. The conversation on their twitter stream is very focused on supporting pregnant moms, especially around staying healthy during pregnancy. They constantly field questions from pregnant moms and support those who have children with birth defects and whose children were born prematurely. November is prematurity awareness month, and they are have planned a series of special twitter chats (#preemiechat). This week’s chat was with a NICU nurse, and the conversation was fast and furious. Their Facebook page currently features a custom tab about World Prematurity Day, November 17th, and the Twitter profile currently features this link as well. It’s easy to see how March of Dimes knows and really tries to own the conversation around premature babies and healthy pregnancy.

The Canadian Youth Business Foundation is a national Canadian charity, providing pre-launch coaching, resources, mentoring and start-up financing for youth ages 18-34. Their online conversation focuses on what it takes to be a small business, with a special emphasis on youth business. They work hard to own this conversation space in Canada. Their presence on Facebook and Twitter brings in a lot of inquiries from interested youth entrepreneurs, which is what they want.

One glance at the New England Aquarium’s Facebook page and it’s clear: their conversation is about how cool marine wildlife is and the relevance of marine conservation. They post videos of trainers working with seals, sea turtle rescue, blog reports about oil spill effects on marine life, and videos of deep underwater dives. You want to be part of this conversation because they bring you right into their animals’ lives, and the conversation about them is infinitely iterative. The important thing to note is that their “conversation” never strays from the aquarium’s educational mission. Updates are not just news, but opportunities for educational conversation and engagement.

What’s your conversation about?

  • What a wonderful perspective and questions for orgs. I think the idea of conversation help focus at a time when we all feel so fragmented. Good work, Debra…as always.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Thanks, Joanne. It can be challenging to figure out “the conversation.”  I’ve certainly worked with organizations that try out a few ideas before figuring it out, but that comes with the nature of social media as well – experiment and modify. I often think that knowing what to expect in terms of the conversation also helps the followers/supporters to participate as well.


  • It is ironic that folks who are often consumed by their passion for their cause can struggle to determine what constitutes meaningful conversation with their audience – conversation that leads to further involvement. So often they become trapped into talking about themselves and their events rather than about the issues behind their work. I think the key is changing the perspective. It’s not about what you have to say about yourself, it’s what is important to your audience and what benefits they can derive by being part of your organization. Thank you, Debra, for this insightful post, as always.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Amy – I think you captured the struggle for the right conversation topic(s) perfectly. Thanks for adding to the conversation.


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Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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