I really do not know where this B.S. comes from. I have been using social media for a few years now. I started with Friendster, which led to Tribe, Myspace, Tagged, Facebook, and Twitter. The only Social Media that has Conversation potential is blogs.
I firmly believe a conversation is a 2 way interaction, discussion, exchange vs one way. And I think Brands and Agencies are listening to the hype from Social Networks and their Employees, Investors, Gurus, and Journalists who cover the industry and who have a monetary interest in the term Conversation.
Conversation - John and I spent 10 minutes last night at the bar discussing some new music we have heard.
Not a Conversation - John called me and said he will be by at 8pm to pick me up to go to the bar.
Blogs enable the first. Twitter and Facebook only enable the second.
Most social networks have short bursts or threads about a topic where people post to the topic, but often none of these posts even when put together are a conversation, but definitely for individuals they are not. This is due to technology limitations and formatting. The closest technology I have seen so far to real conversations would be Google Wave. But often it is the sheer volume of comments, spouts, posts in social media streams that make coming back to something so hard. Victim of its own success.
So a Brand can see what people are saying, get commentary feedback etc. But if I say I have an issue with Coke, and Coke engages me to talk, but instead of me others each put in one comment or even two, while Coke keeps responding all Coke has is a list of comments vs a real exchange/discussion.
Blogs allow this. There are some very successful Blogs like the or Huffington Post and Musings of a VC in NYC (link is to your left). If you look at the comments there is semi-conversation. A true 2-Way exchange.
But the rest it's not 'What people are talking about', it's actually 'What people are posting or commenting about'. HUGE difference. I rarely have more than 1 or 2 exchanges with people in the topic streams in Facebook and Twitter. Re-tweets are not Conversations. Having 300 comments to a Wall Post by 285 Individuals who have read none of the other comments is not a Conversation. Value to a brand? Yes! But not a conversation.
So in effect Social Media is about connecting and sharing comments, posts, subjects, content, but not about any sort of real discussions. It's ok to have the goal of getting people to post, comment, share commentary about your Brand or Product. That is healthy stuff. Especially if there is something you are promoting. Think of how much money you can save if you do this right. But be careful. You could be left scrambling if your message, offer, promotion doesn't travel.