The Cluetrain Manifesto famously stated that markets have become “conversations” – something that has never been truer in today’s social media whirl. However, something that we’ve noted recently is that not all conversations that organisations have with their customers and stakeholders are structured in the same way.

Broadly the structure of conversations can be split into two camps: “structured” and “unstructured” conversations.

Diagram illustrating Facebook, YouTube and Twitter as places where brands can connect with unstructured conversation, as contrasted with our Dialogue App where structured conversations take place

Unstructured conversations are the most usual form of conversation. Typically using Twitter or email as the channel, organisations and citizens chat to each other in a casual not particularly structured way. For example, a customer may @ an organisation with a compliment/complaint via Twitter if they’re happy/unhappy with their service.

The problem with unstructured conversations is actually making any sense of them, and ensuring their use is optimised. Conversations using Twitter can especially get lost and remain unused.

Structured conversations on the other hand are much more useful, however their structured nature means that they need to be planned and implemented with a little more thought. An example of a structured conversation is Starbucks asking their customers for ideas on how to improve their service, or Dell asking how they can improve their product.

These types of structured ideas crowd-sourcing are generally structured in 2 ways: 1) They’ll have a focused proposition e.g. “How can I improve our service / product?” 2) They’ll have a structured format for taking part e.g. usually a crowd-sourcing app which allows users to easily share their ideas, and for other people to easily find them and share them.

The structure and formatting of structured conversations means that the results can more easily be used as part of a more formal piece of opinion research, product innovation process or ongoing community engagement programme.

Structured conversations is an area we’ve been doing a lot of work in recently using our Dialogue App – which we developed over in the US, where crowd-sourcing for ideas in a structured way is particularly in vogue. Crowd-sourcing is something that’s slowly be adopted over here in the UK, with the Conservative’s recent policy crowd-sourcing initiative and with our own crowd-sourcing project for the MHRA.

Structured conversation Unstructured conversation
  • Customers
  • Employees
  • Stakeholders
  • Customers
  • Employees
  • Idea-sharing
  • Feedback
  • Opinion-sharing
  • Chatter
  • Feedback
  • Dialogue/crowd-sourcing app
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Blog