Guest post by Dr. Jon Buscall, an online communications consultant based in Sweden.

Forget about thinking in terms of communications, marketing or PR for a moment. What’s your conversation strategy? How are you setting out to talk to the people that matter for your business – whether it’s prospects or even mainstream media?

Starting New Conversations

It’s imperative to start new conversations if you’re going to convert prospects into customers or encourage customers to become ambassadors for your brand. Online communications are often perceived as impersonal, but social media has consumers looking to engage. With the web becoming increasingly social, a great way to start a conversation is to vary your content from just text-based communications. For example, Gini recently posted a video about setting up an editorial calendar for your website on this very blog. Not only does this video vary the content and offer great tips, it is also a great conversation starter. Taking a deep breath and daring to appear on camera in your cycling gear – instead of looking like the elegant business woman Gini usually seems to be – shows some of the personality behind Arment Dietrich. This is not just a successful professional playing the corporate game. This video shows she’s also someone who’s happy to have fun and share a laugh with customers. This, in itself, is a great conversation starter, but what’s more, instead of saying, “It’s easy to approach Arment Dietrich,” Gini demonstrates that she’s approachable and fun. That’s a great way to start a conversation!

Other Tips for Starting New Conversation

* Start a business blog, write regularly, and respond to every comment!

* Get active on Twitter – but don’t just post links to your blog. Really talk to tweeps.

* Ask your community questions.

* Make sure your business is everywhere online so customers and prospects can connect with you.

* Dare to drop the corporate crap that populates a lot of your business communications by committing to different communications channels.

* Encourage your staff to talk like people, not a corporation.

Keeping Conversations Going

If you ever start a conversation in business, make sure you keep it going. There’s nothing worse than starting a blog, getting responses from people, and then not bothering to respond. That tells people they’re not important to you.

Same goes for Twitter. If you put a Twitter button on your website, you better be there if someone reaches out.

My other top tip for keeping conversations going is, as I wrote recently (The Secret of Repeat Business is Effective Communication), to use a contact management system like Highrise (no affiliate) to schedule conversations. If you’re not converting customers and contacts into loyal customers and contacts, you’re missing out on incredible value. Follow up conversations by scheduling times to contact them by mail, Twitter or phone. This cements lasting relationships and generates return business.

Finding New Outlets to start Online Conversations

Finally, if you’ve not tried a PR service like PR Web or MyNewsdesk, you should, especially if you’re looking for mainstream media coverage or reaching out to bloggers. Direct PR newswires are rapidly keeping up with emerging social communication channels and many offer social media pressrooms. Instead of posting a traditional press release, these services allow you to post your business information with tie-ins to networks like Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Twitter.

Although these services can be expensive, they work hard to ensure your releases and other press information are heavily search engine optimized and found in Google by journalists, bloggers, and customers looking for inspiration. A social media newsroom is something to consider because you can share news, information, video and audio content to drive traffic directly back to the communications people in your company. And that can be a great way to start new conversations that can help grow your business!

Your Turn!

Go on, how else can companies effectively start online conversations?

Jon Buscall is an online communications consultant based in Stockholm, Sweden.

Editor’s Note: I think my mom must have sent Jon a big, fat check for the nice things he said about me vlogging in my cycling gear!

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich