Is it really the 10th anniversary of The Cluetrain Manifesto? Actually, it isn’t. The book was written in 1999 by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger. It was published in 2000. I suppose then that John Cass’s meme inspired by the upcoming 10th anniversary of the book is meant to borrow the quality of being ahead of its time.
Nevertheless, Valeria Maltoni nominated me as someone who should participate in the meme and chime in on the five questions Cass poses about where we are today with respect to the 95 theses that begat social media. Before I respond to the specific questions, though, a raw perspective:
We’re nowhere. Social media and true consumer-centric brand behavior is prevalent in the technology bubble and few other places. While adoption has been steady and progress has been made, the premise of the book hasn’t exactly “gone viral.” Businesses in general still think bottom line and “what’s in it for me,” first. Advertising still sucks, is loud and intrusive. And consumers still have little reason to trust brands, companies and even folks like me â€“ marketers trying to connect them with products and services that fit their needs.
I’m still a used car salesman to a lot of people. Companies are still monolithic, smoke and mirrors, money hoards with automated phone systems and customer service that has nothing to do with the customer and scantly qualifies as service.
For a market-changing, environmental-shift of a document The Cluetrain was, either it actually wasn’t or the majority of American businesses and consumers are just plain dumb.
To me, The Cluetrain is logical. Be nice. Expect it in return. Why can’t we get this, people?
That said, some people are getting it. More every day. It’s a fight worth fighting. We’re trying to teach business and industry that they should do right because it’s the right thing to do. And someday, we’ll win. When we do, we all will.
- What does The Cluetrain Manifesto mean to you? How has the book and theses influenced or not influenced you?What The Cluetrain Manifesto did is put the core values of basic human decency back into business. Growing up in the shadow of small-business owning parents in a small town, I heard people talking about business ethics, particularly with respect to how to use Christian principles in one’s business approach. The corporate scandals of the 1990s seemed a sort of Sodom and Gomorra moment in business. The Cluetrain simplified the way brands â€“ both large and small â€“ should act. It put being human back in business. It whittled the mega-corporation down to its basic asset â€“ its human characteristics, or more succinctly, it’s people.
There’s more than an odd coincidence that the 95 theses were modeled after Martin Luther’s. In this case, consumers are protesting the smothering suffered at the hands of brands as opposed to similar behavior from the Catholic church. Through these, we can now visualize having a conversation with a company. This forces consumers to view them in a much different way. Those companies that participate in the conversation reap benefits. Those that don’t â€¦ or don’t very well â€¦ are earmarked for failure.
- Which companies have best implemented The Cluetrain Manifesto in your opinion and how were they effective?While the smart ass in me can’t resist the temptation to think John Cass is somehow being rewarded by Dell for starting this meme â€“ they are, after all, the tech crowd (i.e. meme participants) defacto answer here (and not undeservedly so) â€“ I will offer Southwest Airlines as my example. I may not be the first and probably won’t be the last to do so. Southwest has continually engaged consumers, fostered employee education and outreach using social media tools, reaped the benefits of praises for their openness and suffered the setbacks of dissatisfied customers out in the open. But what they’ve really done is simply opened the lines of communications with their customers. They didn’t just start a blog, they read it. They read the comments. They responded, both on the site and through actions. And they keep doing it.
Perhaps it’s a coincidence, perhaps not. But there’s a strange parallel between Southwest’s post-9/11 success and its willingness to listen and respond to consumers. Sure price is a differentiator, but take away money and there’s still lots of reasons to LUV Southwest.
- In thesis 57, The Cluetrain Manifesto states, “smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable happen sooner.” In light of that thesis, is encouraging employees to use social media and blogging a good idea? Is it really effective, when an employee is encouraged but not directed?Encouraging employees to use social media and blogging can be a good idea, but it can also be a bad one. With everything, these determinations have to be made on a case-by-case basis. I don’t want the dipshit who forgot to put a burger patty on my wife’s hamburger last week blogging on behalf of anyone. But when you Tweet something about Nielsen, two or three people who work for them normally respond and offer to help find information if you’re looking.
To answer the question, you have to assess your employees and whether or not you trust they can be good representatives of your company. Certain ones will, others won’t. If the majority of them concern you, I recommend one of two paths: 1. Don’t expressly encourage them (understanding they might on their own, regardless of your consent). 2. Reassess who and how you hire.
- How can companies encourage employees to use social media, empower them to answer customer questions and learn from customers?
The only way a company and its employees can be open externally is if they’re open internally. By openly talking about the employee’s responsibility to represent the company’s interest on- and off-line, giving them the training and the tools to do so and clearly illustrating that mistakes don’t come with retribution but only thorough discussion, you empower them to speak on your behalf. Once your employees believe in you, they’ll make others believe, too.
- Do all employees want to talk with customers? If not, what percentage want to internetwork and converse?Surely not. I can think of a couple Doe-Anderson employees who don’t want to talk with co-workers. What percentage want to internetwork and converse? To date, a relatively small percent, mostly in the marketing department, but unfortunately under the influence of stayed marketing techniques. What the social web is doing, however, is gradually moving both consumers to engage with brands, but also brands to understand engagement is a two-way street and someone needs to talk back. Say what you will about the echo chamber, but what it has done is forced the hand of corporations to move from a brand-centric perspective to a consumer-centric point-of-view. Add the flavor of scalability to the equation and companies have to use more than just the customer service team or PR department to engage.
The percentage that want to internetwork and converse is probably still small (less than 30 percent) but is the exact percentage of employees who implicitly understand the individual customer is their most important asset.
Valeria asked who could enrich this conversation when she honored me with a tag. For me, enrichment comes from very smart people. So I hope that Cam Beck, Geoff Livingston, Eric Eggerston, Becky McCray and David Finch will participate.
Here are some others who have thus far: