Category Archives for "Conversation"

Conversations Online: Skype Hangouts etc

Finally, in this review of ways to hold conversations online, I turn to media that enable perhaps the closest to real-life conversations, Skype Hangouts etc.

Traditional phone with screen, as envisaged in science fiction, some years ago!

This is the type of phone we imagined before mobiles and Skype. OpenClipart-Vectors / Pixabay

When I was a child, the videophone was more than science fiction. Television and telephones existed and so bringing them together was obviously a fairly straightforward technological advance.  I can remember wondering why no-one had thought of doing it.  Of course, there would be risks, getting out of the bath to answer the phone!

It is interesting the videophone seems to have happened almost as an afterthought. They have never taken off as stand-alone devices. The mobile phone perhaps dominates this market and video is not practical when the phone is on your ear!  You would need a camera and a phone; it’s not going to happen. (You can use ear phones and look at your phone but the other person would need to do the same.  It’s not impossible but it is impractical.)  This left the humble PC to take on the role.

Talk to just about anyone who is ICT sceptical and they’re likely to except Skype. They have discovered the value of worldwide communication at no cost apart from the fee they pay to their ISP.

So, let’s look at the advantages.

  • Video means conversations almost as good as real life can take place online. Whilst it can never replace being in the same room, facial expression and body language can be seen.
  • Calls and hangouts can involve more than one person. This means small conferences can take place. The limits are at a certain size, an audio conference with keynote speakers becomes more practical.
  • The global reach mean callers can be anywhere in the world that can access a connection.
  • All this is effectively free.

Conversations Online: Social Media

Many people argue social media is the most effective way of holding conversations online. They certainly have many advantages. If you are looking for new people to sign up to your email list, then social media is a good place to start. The trick is to know when to point your social media to your website.

It is important to remember your friends, likes, followers, etc are the property of the social media application. You have to follow their rules and if they change their site structure or their rules, you can lose your work on that particular application.  This is why you will want your social media contacts to sign up to your email list.

How do you make best use of social media for your organisation?

  • Be selective – there is no need to be a member of everything going. By restricting your involvement to a few platforms, you can learn  how they work in-depth. You can always add another later.
  • Don’t forget specialist social media, such as YouTube, still counts to your total. YouTube offers opportunities that take time to understand and implement. It is not just somewhere to display your videos.
  • Refer contacts back to your site because your site is where you build meaningful relationships. Someone who visits and signs up to your email list may become a follower and eventually a customer or advocate through social media. Indeed, the person who has visited and likes what they see, is likely to spread the word via social media.
  • Don’t sell on social media. Use it to engage with new people and interest them in your work. Later they may publicise your offers on social media but it’s better when it comes from them!
  • Consider advertising on some platforms. Facebook in particular seems to be a successful platform for advertising because you can specify the type of person who will see your advert. However, it is usually better to grow your presence organically, without paid advertising, until you know the market to which your product appeals.

Conversations Online: Video and Audio

Another way of encouraging conversations online is through video and audio.

Conversations can take place:

  1. Within the video or audio
  2. External to the video or audio

Conversations within the video or audio

These media can be used to record real-life conversations. They can convey a lot of information in relatively little time. Bringing together people with experience in a particular topic can be very fruitful so long as the conversation is chaired effectively.

Transcripts can be helpful, especially for audio. Listeners can follow the transcript whilst playing the audio. You can do transcripts of video too; I follow someone who does a weekly video with transcript. It’s OK so long as the video is just a talking head.

Don’t underestimate the value of audio. Many people play CDs, podcasts, etc in their cars or whilst they’re out jogging. I prefer music myself but many people do use them for this purpose and so audio is still in demand.

Conversations external to video or audio

A video or audio on a web page or blog post may be a good way of sharing a conversation but it needs space to comment if viewers or listeners are to contribute.

Services such as YouTube provide a comments facility. If you embed your YouTube video on your site you need to consider whether you want people to comment. Most blog posts have a comments facility but if you embed the video on a page you may need to include one.  It is possible to provide comments facilities on pages or you can embed a comments facility from Facebook, for example.

Provision of comments facilities does not mean people will comment. Mostly people don’t but two things might increase numbers. One is traffic, if more people see your work, some of them will comment. The other is a loyal following who trust you and understand they will receive a reply (from you or others) and by commenting they support your work.

Building a loyal following takes time and effort but many voluntary organisations already have a loyal following. It may take a while for your following to adjust to being online and to discover you want comments. Opportunity and the example of others doing it will generally get things started.

Conversations Online: Emails

Another way to encourage online conversations is through emails. Many people believe emails are old-fashioned and social media are more effective means of communication. Actually, emails are still the most effective way of building up online contacts. Social media are proprietary applications and so your links and followers are not your property in the same way as your email list.

Everyone will be familiar with the invitation to stay in touch with a website by entering an email address. There are three main ways in which email addresses can be used:

  • An RSS feed to send news of new blog posts to your list. This is easy to set up through your email service provider. You can set it up to send an email every time you post or else it can send a weekly or monthly summary.
  • Send broadcast emails. You write an email and send it to everyone on your list. If you have more than one list, you can send the same email to everyone or send different emails to different lists. There are various ways of grouping and segmenting your lists so that you can target subgroups. If you are using emails for sales, broadcasts are the best media so long as you know what you’re doing!
  • The email sequence is where someone signs up to your list and receives several consecutive emails on some topic. Commercial websites might send information relevant to their products and services so that their customers can learn more about what they are offering. Usually sequences are educational and as an incentive to encourage people to sign up to the list.

Remember people don’t like receiving sales emails, whether as broadcasts or part of a sequence.  So, they should be used sparingly as part of a carefully planned campaign.  Think of emails as a primarily educational medium.

The big advantage is people know how to reply to emails. The means to comment on blogs are not always obvious and sometimes there are various hoops to get through, such as registering, entering strings of characters to prove you’re not a machine and then waiting for your comment to be moderated. With emails you simply hit reply.

However, conversation by email is limited. Other people on the list don’t see your reply unless the website host shares it with them. There are ways around this, eg where an email includes a link to a web page, which can include a comments facility.

How have you used email for conversations?

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Conversations Online: Blogs

If you are seeking conversations through your website, blogs are an essential tool. Many people do not realise the many uses to which a blog can be put. Here is a summary of the properties of blog posts:

  • They are independent of site structure, so posts can be created and destroyed with no consequences for the rest of the site
  • If you find your site is becoming complicated because pages are full of miscellaneous material or there are too many pages to cover in your menus, the chances are a blog would be better way of organising your content
  • Each post has its own url, which means it can receive back links from your own and other people’s sites.
  • Posts can be assigned to categories and so be indexed on the site. So, you can have categories in your menu. For example, if some posts are about events and others are news, these could be displayed as different menu items.
  • Posts have tags, which mean keywords can easily be found by searching the website.
  • It is possible to comment on posts. It is possible to comment on pages but as pages are permanent and often full of the important but boring stuff, comments are not always helpful.

Things to Consider

So, blogs are an essential part of most sites. Some people resist putting a blog on their site because they believe they have to write a post every day. This is where it sometimes helps to talk to a consultant before committing to a particular site structure. You will need to consider:

  • The types of information you intend to put on the site. If there is a lot of material that is either temporary, eg events, or ephemeral, eg news then a blog is worth consideration.  Temporary posts can be deleted or archived.  Ephemeral posts simply get older but form an archive for the occasional interested visitor.
  • Frequency of posting.  Daily or less frequent but regular posts are necessary only if you plan to use search engine optimisation. This  can be essential for commercial sites. Many voluntary sector sites have other means of finding site visitors. Often they are the only organisation providing their service locally, so people seeking it will find them. Many have members and lists of contacts who can be kept in touch with the site.
  • Use of comments.  Comments are a reason for people to return to your site and make their contribution. They are an excellent way to get a conversation going.
  • Links with social media.  It is possible to set up blogs so that each time you post, you update social media and email contacts.

Conversations Online: Websites

In this and next few Wednesday posts I continue the theme of conversations online and explore how conversations happen online. There are differences between online and offline conversations although perhaps they are more apparent than real.

Nothing possible in real life is impossible online, although some things are more difficult. If we don’t pay attention, we miss a lot of the value of online relationships.

Websites may seem to be an odd place to start. They are after all a one-way medium. I put stuff on my website for visitors to read. Ok that’s true but I need to know what my visitors want to read. Or rather I need to know which visitors I want to build relationships with by placing content on my site they want to read.  (I’ve just started a new Tuesday sequence about how a website can be written by and for its visitors.)

Many organisations design websites without a target visitor in mind. It cab be difficult to work out exactly who is the ideal visitor!

Many sites are about the site owner or their organisation. Why do so many voluntary organisations write at great length about their governance structures? Sometimes on the home page! It helps to take a step back and think about who you want to reach and what might interest them.  Who benefits from what your organisation does and how?

Things to Consider

To be part of a conversation the site needs to be designed so each page has one message leading to a call to action. The call to action is how you know there is a conversation happening at all! Too many sites don’t explain properly their call to action or it is an afterthought. For example, beginning the home page with a request to download a newsletter is not a good idea. The visitor needs to know something about the newsletter before they download it. Help them make their decision!

Also think about the exchange you want. Do you want them to download your newsletter or to subscribe to it? The former is hardly a conversation at all. The latter may be the start of a relationship.

All this is fairly limited. In future posts I’ll explore how you can enhance your website and online presence so that you can take part in conversations. How does your website engage with its visitors?

Selling Causes Online

Selling may seem an odd way to describe promotion of a cause! But we do sell causes, whether we work online or not. Over the years I’ve handed out leaflets for many causes, such as the peace movement, the environment and a political party.

Standing on the high street handing out leaflets, is participation in the marketplace. It always has been. Political and religious views have always been expressed in the marketplace, just as much as it is a place for buying and selling products and services.  All three depend upon conversation to make a sale.

Selling a Cause

The purpose of selling a cause is to get a response from the customer. This might be a financial response although sometimes finance can be illegal, eg buying votes, requesting donations without a license. Aside from finance, you may be seeking responses such as:

  • Votes
  • Signing a petition
  • Writing to MPs or other influential people
  • Attend meetings, including worship services
  • Other forms of education through giving away pamphlets, etc.

However, finance within whatever legal framework applies, is possible.  So:

  • Donations may be requested or made
  • Invitations to join organisations or take out subscriptions
  • Sale of products to generate income for a cause
  • Sell or give away products that directly support the cause, eg information to include in letters to MPs
  • Some causes may seek beneficiaries and ask them to sign up for a service which may be free or paid for

Why Causes are Different

So, the boundaries between causes and products or services, are not always watertight. Even if there is no financial exchange, there is little  difference between a cause and a commercial exchange. Given that some businesses give a lot of stuff away and see themselves as educational, some may be hardly distinguished from a cause.  The distinction is income destination from the marketplace; goes into private hands or to finance the cause or its beneficiaries.

If we imagine a spectrum from those who are out solely to make money through to those who have a cause and no intention to make a penny, experience shows both ends tend to move towards the centre. The money-maker, if successful may find they need a cause to build relationships with their customers, whilst the cause may find it needs finance to meet its aims. An entrepreneur with integrity and an efficient cause may find they meet somewhere along the spectrum.

The term “social entrepreneur” was in vogue a few years ago. Really, any successful entrepreneur has to be social because they must build relationships with their customers. The term aims to show commerce can have social roots. The present argument about  accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, rather than distribution of wealth among small entrepreneurs who make sure finance circulates in the economy, perhaps shows the tension between business and social causes is still current.

To what extent do you find the distinction between a cause and a business helpful?  Do you have examples of business people and causes working together for mutual benefit in the marketplace?

Selling Services Online

The difference between products and services is a service is usually a one-off. It is tailor-made for the customer and so takes up more time for the producer than a product, where the same thing can be replicated many times.

So, a book is a product whilst consultancy based on the book, is a service. You would expect the price of a service to acknowledge the extra time and effort involved.

The issue for anyone selling services, online or offline, is scalability. Scalability is how you fit sufficient work into the time available to make a living. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Charge a higher price. This works where there are corporate customers who can afford to pay consultants thousands of pounds a month. They do this because the consultant generates more than their fees for the business. In the third sector, this is unlikely to work on the same scale.
  2. Develop services to sell to more than one person or organisation at a time. So, rather than one-to-one coaching, you set up group coaching. This means you may be able to do more for the same unit costs. Let’s say you typically charge for a session a sum that means you need to sell twenty a week to make a living. If you can run four sessions for five people, this reduces the work and maintains the income.

If option 2 works for you, then your service is scalable. Hairdressing is an example of a service that is not scalable.

Examples of Scalable Services

To deliver any service requires conversation, even hairdressers need to discuss their service with their customer.  Conversations are central to some services, such as consultancy and coaching.

Coaching is an example of a scalable service. Where coaching is about passing on a skill, eg website maintenance and so a number of people can share the same session. Consultancy may not be so easy where it addresses issues unique to a client.

Masterminds are another example of a scalable service. They bring a group of people together to share their expertise. They pay an organiser who holds the ring and sets the theme for each meeting. So, in a mastermind of website designers participants contribute their work for comment or bring issues or questions about their work for discussion. They are in touch because someone has set up the network to which they belong, usually someone who has a good track record with the theme of the mastermind.

Can you think of other scalable services?

Selling Products Online

Conversations in the marketplace aim to sell something. This does not necessarily mean an exchange involving money.  The exchange may be of ideas or activities.

So, it is helpful to think about what we mean by ‘sell’. To sell something is always an exchange. If I have a product I will give it to you in exchange for something else. It works because we both receive something we value more than whatever we give in exchange.  Any of the following may apply:

  • You give away the product at no immediate cost. If the consumer enjoys the free gift, they are more likely to make a purchase later.  Online this might be a product you can download from a website.
  •  You give away the product in exchange for information. The information is often your email address. List building is a major advantage for anyone marketing online and you are probably receiving many communications from email lists you’ve signed up to over the years.
  • And of course products can be sold for money.

The Power of Products!

The big advantage of products is that once you’ve set up your online system, people can make purchases at any time with minimal additional work for you. Setting up reliable and robust systems can be a headache but it is in reach of anyone who wants to do it. This is a major development online and has been possible for only a few years.

Two Possibilities

I can write more about any aspect upon request.

  1. Things shipped to your house. So, you can order a book, some groceries or a DVD and in a day or so it arrives at your door. Some people work from home and when their sites receive orders, they package and send them off. Others use companies that manufacture, pack and send orders on their behalf.
  2. Products that can be downloaded directly. These include ebooks, videos and online courses. This is an exciting area and there is much giddy enthusiasm about earning millions through massive marketing campaigns. Very few people are going to become millionaires through this route (for obvious reasons) and it is unfortunate there is so much emphasis upon generating massive income. The way I look at it is if you have something of value to others then your duty is to make it available at a fair price. Those who are interested in your product must appreciate that a fair price is one that enables you to make a living.  Many small groups in the voluntary sector could generate modest income from selling products online.

The concept of a fair price is perhaps likely to be contested. But we should not fear this because it always has been. The marketplace has to be the arena where people agree a fair price. If someone has a good product they will care about their customers and their customers will care about them.

What are your views about products online? How do we work out a fair price?

Conversations in the Marketplace

Conversations in the marketplace are likely to take place between people and about real things. This contrasts with transactions through images of the real online.

I don’t want to get too hung up over the question whether it is possible to encounter something new online. A better question is how we make best use of our machines. We need to understand them and learn how they help or hinder. The problem is we make assumptions and project them onto all our creations.

The interesting thing about idolatry in the Old Testament is that it applies equally to images of other gods and images of the God of Israel. They understood that any image is immensely seductive and will divert us from paying attention to what is actually there.

The Internet is all image and if we are not careful we converse with images, ie representations of the real but not reality itself.

Conversations Between People

Ultimately, the Internet is a means of communication, of conversations between people. Relationships build the foundations for communication.  As trust grows it is possible to communicate more. So, the role of the marketplace is primarily building trust.

So, the question is how to establish a presence in the marketplace to enable buying or selling. There are three types of things we can buy or sell, online or in real life: products, services and causes. In the next three posts, I shall look at these in turn.

The challenge is how to do this with integrity.  Do you have any ideas or experience?

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