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My name's Joel Kelly and I live in Halifax, NS.

I'm a 20something guy doing digital and social media strategy for a Halifax-based marketing agency.

I'm a vegan nerd and marketing asshole.

You should follow me on Twitter.

Contact me about whatever (like, say, your marketing questions) at

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Conversation is the real king -- a continuation

Last week Marc on twitter said that "conversation is the equivalent of a processes/transforms content but with out the wood the saw is not needed."

I really can't agree. It feels to me like a underestimation of what conversation is and how it relates to marketing especially. The content is the wood, the conversation is the building it makes. The building materials aren't king, the building itself is.

I'd posted a quote from Cory Doctorow stating that content isn't king, conversation is. I suggested that this applied to marketing because content should be created with a view to inspiring and participating in conversation, making the conversation the king.

This was met with some strong disagreement. Some very spirited, uh, conversation.

The content I created was only a couple paragraphs long, but the conversation it sparked continued for days, and in fact is still a subject of some discussion here at the office.

Such little content, such a huge conversation. The conversation has taken on a life of its own, has become so much more important than the content ever was.

To suggest that the content is the "king" here, the important bit, is to totally misunderstand the power and expansiveness of conversation. Carman reminded me yesterday that my little bit of content was my contribution into a much larger conversation about content (Cory had already written about it, and people talk about content being king all the time), and it sparked even more conversation on the subject.

The content itself served only to encourage more conversation. The conversation was the point, it was the goal, and the content was written merely to help it along. It served a larger beast. It wasn't king at all.

So how does this apply to marketing? Well, let's take the swine flu, shall we? Marc suggested that the difficulty in getting people to stop calling it that (and refer to it instead as H1N1) is due to the power of that "content."

But the content is a mere two words. The conversation surrounding how we talk about pigs, the conversations we have at work reinforcing the naming, the jokes we make about how weird the name sounds, etc etc, hold the real power. To change that is to change massive conversation, to reverse the effects of millions of discussions.

The content started it, but it holds no power. The conversation changes minds.

But not all content is created to spark conversation, right? It's just meant to teach, or change minds, or inform. Well, you might have written it for that purpose, but what you've done is created content that's by definition unremarkable. If nobody wants to talk about your content it isn't very good. So sure, you might make content like that, but why would you? If you're creating content to teach or inform and nobody uses that content to teach someone else, or contribute to a conversation about it, or use it in future discussions, you've created useless content.

But the content came first and it sparked the whole discussion, so it's king, right? It's the important bit? That's like saying that because the plane got you to the Caribbean and it started the whole thing that it's "king", it matters most. Of course that's not true. The plane isn't the point, it's not the goal, it just gets you on the right track. It serves a higher power -- a vacation. And the value in vacations is, oh right, the conversation.

Tell me in the comments why I'm wrong and I'll write another post.


Stuart Foster said...

Like this approach a lot. If conversation doesn't exist, does the content matter? I think to a large extent no. It's the same argument as the tree falling in the forest. You need to incite, engage and facilitate conversation to develop your professional growth and that of those around you.

Joel Kelly said...

Absolutely, Stuart. "My content isn't meant to be conversational" is really saying, "people don't care enough about my content to talk about it."

Marc said...

Ok, Ok I agree! Your right - we go on vacation for the content.

For the short term content and the long term content. We go for content that enriches our lives and makes us more interesting to ourselves and to other people
- and yes I’m in need of a vacation.

The content of the vacation gives us purpose for conversations, day dreams, paintings, poems, internal beliefs, feelings and for memories that make us smile on a rainy day. As content becomes more diverse and rich, the conversations (I'm proposing all of the above are conversations) become more diverse and rich and in turn create more content...and the content circle is complete.

There is no linear relationship between content and conversation that gives one more value over the other. Content is King because it dictates the conversation it is the only purpose of a conversation. Content is king because it is the conversation.


Note: I posted this in your post on vacations by mistake so I'm not purposly spamming you blog...I'm doing it just not on purpose.)

Joel Kelly said...

As I said on Twitter, if you're saying that all conversations are content, then you're saying nothing significant about those terms. Content is king if we call conversations content, but I think that's a complete underestimation of what conversation really is, and how much more power it has than planned or prepared "content."

Marc said...

That’s a different point. Now your saying the style and delivery of the content adds important non verbal meaning to the content.

Can you put 'marketing asshole' on your business card or on your resume? Probably not - although it would create conversation and apparently that is your goal - but on you blog it’s ok. The umbrella 'blog brand', i.e. alternative media, controversial etc..., makes it ok, it’s expected so it’s on brand. In fact that piece of content adds a very important clue for the readers and creates and expectation of your blog content.

So maybe the context of the content is king? I would agree with that


Joel Kelly said...

Well, lots of people do say context is king, so that's a fair point.

What I'm saying is that all content may potentially contribute to a conversation, but not all conversation can be called "content." It's something that's larger than content and it isn't independently created or crafted. It's something more important that you should hope to add to and help facilitate.

Anyway, we probably mostly agree but for bickering over terminology at this point.

Marc said...

I'd agree with that...