In recent discussions I have described the stuff that happens where the world of networked media and marketing collide as, ‘conversational marketing’. Now, I am aware that this is hardly a breakthrough term. The c-word is now firmly lodged into the boilerplate of every marketing proposal to hit the pitch desk in 2009. And it drives some people to distraction as it suggests some type of creepy word-of-mouth practice where ‘friends’ start dropping brand names into conversations in the pub. Particularly those that they have spontaneously found to deliver amazing value or excellent customer service. However, I think it does work when the companies in question realise that there are some conversations in which they can take part with credibility - and others that they shouldn’t touch with a conversational bargepole. Identifying which those conversations are isn’t entirely straightforward. That’s because brands instinctively want to go and hang out with the cool kids. An example would be a massive brand trying to follow someone on Twitter. Or a product trying to join a blog chat. Both of which can result in cringe-making disaster. However, there are, unsurprisingly, conversations that brands can have and join with credibility. The trick, in my experience, is to start with working out what the company or brand in question is passionate about. Now this question may result in much eye-rolling from cycnical execs who equate the health of the corporate balance sheet with pain not passion. Or alternatively, lip service to some corporate mission statement or, worse still brand bible, which has all the passion of a Stepford Wife. However, I have found that by digging beneath the corporate facade you can almost always find something of genuine interest, even if it at first sight it seems weird or dumb. One way into the subject is to find out what people in the company or organisation hate. Answers I've had to that line of enquiry have included the way their company is portrayed in the press. Or an irritation about a damaging urban myth that won't go away. Something similar, I believe, is what set Robert Scoble off on his bleeding-edge blogging mission at Microsoft. Staff at the software giant who felt they were doing good work in the areas of healthcare or innovative engineering were fed up with being seen as the Evil Empire. By talking about the good stuff on Channel 9, they were able to engage in a genuine conversation that went beyond the brand. The other good thing about the term conversational marketing, that I have taken to pointing out, is that people instinctively know a good conversation from a bad one. There’s no need to analyse or measure it. Everyone already knows.