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Marketing, editorial blur on the Web

At the Conversational Marketing Summit, marketers and publishers talk about a new strategy for reaching customers.

SAN FRANCISCO--On the Web, marketers are becoming editors. Editors are becoming marketers.

That's what you might take away from the first Conversational Marketing Summit held here Tuesday. And, if you're like most people, your first question might be, "What is conversational marketing media?"

The simple answer is: see the first paragraph.

But the concept is better when illustrated. In one example, Yahoo's photo-sharing site Flickr recently worked with Nikon to host a "Nikon Stunning Gallery," which was filled with professional photos from the camera maker. The stunning gallery then allowed people in the Flickr community to submit their photos for possible entry into the collection. (Nikon presumably paid Yahoo for this opportunity.)

"It benefited everyone," Jeff Weiner, Yahoo's executive vice president of the network division, said during a panel at the opening evening of the conference. "Flickr is an authentic community, and you're starting to see the same thing in other areas."

Similarly, marketers like Reebox and Wendy's are flocking to MySpace, Facebook and other social networks to "start a conversation" with prospective customers by posting user profiles, widgets and other applications so members can tangibly adopt their brands. The strategy has become so popular that advertising agencies that represent these companies are dreaming up new online editorial strategies for the brands.

Sarah Fay, CEO of digital ad agency Carat, said that her agency developed a Facebook application for Reebox in April as part of a larger ad campaign, and it's still proving popular on the social network. "It's like we lit the kindling that started the brushfire," she said.

"We're entering the age of community and a lot of our advertisers are interested in building an experience for users to participate," Fay said. "Myspace and Facebook are areas where we can really insert ourselves into the conversation."

John Battelle, whose publishing company Federated Media was host to the event, quickly pointed out that she sounded like an editor.

"I'm an editor, too. Sometimes I get confused," said Battelle, who co-founded Wired magazine and pens a search blog.

Battelle emphasized the importance of such strategies for marketers, given the prevalence of talkback forums and blogs on which people discuss products and services. "Conversation sites are becoming a primary source of information," he said.

Scott Cook, founder of Turbotax-maker Intuit, might have said it best and without any jargon: "Word of mouth trumps everything."