Once upon a time, we were consumers. We consumed things. We took in the messages that were communicated to us. We didn't really get to talk back. If we had a good or bad experience with a product or service?we told a friend. Maybe that friend told a friend. Maybe, just like the shampoo commercial from advertising's golden age, "They'll tell two friends, and they'll tell two friends, and so on, and so on?."

Marketers are finding themselves in an increasingly frantic race to get people talking about their brands. The desire to produce something "viral" is nearly ubiquitous in the marketing world. But it's unclear who exactly "consumers" are these days. We don't even know what that word means any more. Can consumers be producers? Yes. Can they be users? Yes. Can they be active participants, members of niche communities, or even critics capable of effectively mobilizing others? Yes, yes, and yes.

Therein lies the problem. A consumer can be any number of things?sometimes all at once. And that fact is driving marketers, businesspeople, and brand managers nuts. So what do we do? I propose we become conversation architects.

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