what the cluetrain manifesto teaches us on social media … 11 years later

the manifesto's trademark armadillo picture

this is the unabridged version of an article published and written originally for Bnet.co.uk of which I am a regular contributor

OK, “markets are conversations” but keep on reading anyway …

How many times have I heard consultants open their presentations with the ultimate quotation from the 1999 cluetrain manifesto to justify the need to jump on the social media bandwagon: “Markets are conversations”; QED (or so they think).

I have been a long time admirer of the manifesto myself (if we except its pseudo French translation to make it sound international). 95 theses (not just one) such as the one quoted above, make up the manifesto. In this piece, I will take just five of them which I think are most important and should be remembered … at least as much as the obligatory conversation motto.

thesis #3: “conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice”

•    in social media, it means that you have to have real people and real life interaction– including behind-the-scenes — when discussions are triggered in tools like twitter for instance. Automated responses will not do.

thesis #7: “hyperlinks subvert hierarchy”

•    this doesn’t mean that your boss should be replaced. It means that websites are driven by linkage, not menus and that they aren’t designed like software. Unfortunately, I haven’t witnessed any progress in that direction. Too many discussions – not to say feuds – in businesses are triggered by the relative position of a menu within a home page. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way the Web is working and the way that SEO is done.

thesis #24: “Bombastic boasts “we are positioned to be the pre-eminent provider of XYZ”—do not constitute a position

•    in social media, what matters is directness, truth, honesty, disclosure, real information from real people, not preformatted pitches in corporate speak.

thesis #26: Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.

•    as per our previous post on Paul Argenti’s latest opus on the subject of Corporate Communications, it’s not so much that PR doesn’t do that at the moment which matters, but the sheer necessity for PR to reinvent itself and become human again. It’s not as obvious as it may seem when you are behind the company firewall so to speak.

thesis #66: We want access to your corporate information, to your plans and strategies, your best thinking, your genuine knowledge. We will not settle for the 4-color brochure, for web sites chock-a-block with eye candy but lacking any substance.

•    clients, ecosystems, visitors at large want information, and they want information that is useful to them, not company brochures which mean nothing. when I see most Corporate websites 16 years after the launch of the first ones I realise how little progress we have made in that direction. this is also because Corporate Websites have become the new bone of contention between entities, the area for which all business units are battling and that most of the time, people lose track of what could be of interest to visitors. At the end of the day, this is also what makes blogs easier to manage than corporate websites, as blogs are real opinions from real people.

links and further reading