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

(overcoming the) barriers to successful enterprise social media implementation

Futurity media‘s Stewart Baines has posted a few interesting questions on his blog. My answers are long-winded, but I think there are rightfully so. This is a difficult subject, and writing short yet sensible answers would be a challenge (anyway, I’m renowned for not writing short answers so I might as well admit it point blank); hence my posting them on this blog and not in the comment section of his post, for readability’s sake.

note on transparency: Futirity media is a company that I do business with

Response to Stewart Baines on how to overcome barriers to successful enterprise social media implementation

Dear Stewart,  thanks for posting this. In essence, it shows that you do understand the collaborative economy and your question — in itself — proves most of your other points wrong without having to go any further. Yet, I will add my 2 cents to all your points:

1. Can enterprises truly engage in social media without becoming “antisocial” organisations (argues Benjamin Ellis). Is this true? Is the profit motive inconsistent with sharing (which is intangible)?

This, in my mind, is a red herring. The motive for entrepreneurship — very seldom — is only profit. First and foremost, profit is a given (if you don’t do any, you are bound to go under), but it’s not the sole motivation for entrepreneurship; apperances can be deceptive. Examples abound: startup owners who relinquish a better pay or even don’t get any pay at all for several years (I have seen many not get any salary for up to 3 years). Cooperatives and mutuals (even though there has been a tendency to demutualise in Britain since 1996), not to mention socially motivated entrepreneurs like Godin in northern France in the late 19th century (many other examples exist, even today) or the Max Havelaar people and other fairtrade evangelists, as well as environmentally-driven entrepreneurs, and so on and so forth. I am not saying these people don’t want to make money. What I am arguing is the fact that their motivation isn’t money or profit or becoming grossly affluent, it’s more subtle than that. Secondly, a gift-based economy is the fuel for building communities, but not every company should go for community marketing. If what you do for a living is selling £10 oil-cloths on street markets, I am not sure your business should start a blog or a community website. In fact, I’m pretty certain it shouldn’t. Thirdly, giving away doesn’t mean that you have to give everything away. Fourthly, disclosure means openness. After all, we are marketeers and we have to be honest about it. Changing the way we do marketing (i.e. moving into neo-marketing) doesn’t mean we become philanthropists (or maybe, like the ragged-trousered philanthropists, our education means that we are part of that system anyway and cannot get away from it). Let’s be open about it. This is permission marketing, yet this is marketing. After all, people also need to buy things don’t they?

2. Should enterprise social media stay under the radar (with small projects) until you have an ROI and then roll-out extensively?

Social media projects are often started as grassroots projects and those are the best ones. ROI is another red herring. Do you mean that all projects that get implemented have an ROI?! Then what about corporate e-mail? Do you think this is a productivity tool? I don’t. Yet, this is a necessary evil, and yet few table the issue – barring a few exceptions – and mention we should get rid of corporate e-mail. Yet, I believe that social media has an ROI and I keep demonstrating it. But we are building the models as we go along. This is called innovation Stewart. When things get invented and you ask yourself the question “what could I do with this?” vs. “why would I need to do that?”

3. How do you identify social media champions in an organisation, how do you motivate them (without financial rewards)?

As far as I am concerned, mostly from the outside in. Social media champions are bound to be found in LinkedIn, Yammer, and their own blogs, and not the Corporate Intranet. As to rewards; I tried to set up an internal competition once and my idea was to thank and reward our bloggers for their contributions. It ended up in a feud, with some of the lesser contributors being disgruntled and our most frequent contributors criticising the prizes they got. Instead I decided not to replicate this experiment and give up the idea of rewarding bloggers other than thanking them for their contributions publicly and publicising their efforts across the company.

4. How do you get those with the most knowledge to share their knowledge when they are increasingly working to time sheets with minimum no. of billable hours? Surely those with “knowledge capital” are disinclined to convert this into “social capital”

What’s the point in becoming a leader of opinion? (real, not self-proclaimed) Champions who understand the things at stake don’t even ask the question for very long. Those who do ask the question over and over again never get to do anything. After a while though, it’s a good thing that social media work be recognised within the official remit of knowledge workers. After all, consultants are required to publish aren’t they? Why shouldn’t they publish on their company blog for the benefit of their clients as opposed to publishing on an obscure professional review read by peers who grant each other brownie points too easily. Clients and ecosystems are umpteen times more important than that!

5. If you can’t demonstrate ROI, will participating in social media ever be written into a job description?

I am not certain that there will be such a thing as Heads/VPs of Social Media within 5 years from now. It might make more sense to instill digital in all the other departments (press and public relations, advertising, etc). I understand that we have a long way to go however. I also suspect that social media trailblazers are merely showing the way forward, and once everyone has been evangelised and trained, they will move on to another job. After all, they are innovators, so they will focus on other things, one social media has moved into the mainstream. Please refer to that Buzz report article by Paul Dunay on the subject.

I believe things will evolve into 2 possible directions: firstly, either social media moves into the press and public relations, as is already the case with most US companies at the moment, which are part of SMBC. Secondly, social media could stay with the Web team, as is the case with us at Orange Business Services, as long as the team works cross organisationally in order to instill 360° spirit into all other marcoms initiatives (events, press relations, public relations, business intelligence, CRM, advertising etc). And I take it for certain that before 2015, the old-style corporate website will attract less than 20% of visits and that other sources (blogs, forums, community platforms, websites, web TV, web radio etc.) will gather over 80% of visits and 100% of conversations. To come back to your question, I don’t think there will be a VP of social media. But I may be wrong.

6. What happens to social networks in the enterprise, when you remove the champions (e.g. they move jobs) – do the networks collapse? (I’ve seen some evidence to suggest this does happen with immature networks.)

My whole job is to ascertain that this Social Media initiative does not end up being that of a few prominent players, let alone mine. It has to be part of a company process or otherwise it’ll disappear.

7. How do you measure the value of enterprise social media in terms of marketing/PR terms, particulalry in B2B space? My point is that traditional B2B marketing was all about segmentation based on job title, location etc. Social media is so scattergun, and your audience typically doesn’t fit the segmented target audience (i.e you can hire an agency like Futurity to be your social media mouthpiece but what are you getting back for that, in terms of increased sales, or raised profile in your target audience.

This will be the primary focus of people like me in 2010. Tools exist, but dashboards will need to be built: Klout.com will give you an idea about how influential you are on twitter, blogs and company websites generate comments and discussions, Webleads tracker will let you identify your leadership and your most valuable content sections (even in real time), and even let you do lead generation (to an extent) by letting you know who is interested in what. Lead generation is something I do a lot of. But, as I use social media to attract people and generate interest, social media is only the spark in that process. Actual lead generation actually happens elsewhere, through resources like knowledge centres and newsletters. What social media does is turn yourself into an affiliate without having to spend £150 on each e-mail captured on a 3rd party website, but you won’t capture them on the social media platforms, you can’t do that. As a conclusion, there is a link between lead generation and social media, but I wouldn’t use social media as the primary source for lead generation. This is a subtle difference, but an important one at that because social media was not invented for companies to do business. Permission marketing is of the essence, even more so than on a traditional web platforms. Most marketeers are still struggling with that.

As a conclusion I would also say that I will be keynoting at Likeminds next week. We’ll have another chance to debate that subject in Exeter.

My 10 top tips for Social Media success in businesses in 2010

Social media landscape - Fredcavazza.net

note: this is the unabridged version of a post originally published at http://bnet.co.uk of which I am a regular contributor

2010 will be year 6 of the Social Media era (née Web 2.0). Needless to say that 6 years is a long time in the Internet business world. For those who can remember those days, it more or less fits in with the time at which the Internet started to be really popular (if we assume that we first heard about it in 1994 and that 2000 was the most exciting moment of all). Both moments are similar in a way, and at the same time very different, because this time there is no financial bubble, or at least, if there is a financial bubble, the Internet has got nothing to do with it. This is why 2010 is going to be the year of Social Media, the moment at which expectations are going to be at the highest, usage is about to peak, and those who know how to use it will reap the harvest they have sown (and those who haven’t will start regretting it).

Other signs are unmistakably showing that this is going to be so: I can hardly bump into a marketing manager these days without him talking to me about social media even though he might not know much about it. This is a clear signal. At the same time, this will also be a challenge, a time in which social media experts will have to be even more careful about their code of conduct.

Here are my top 10 tips for you to prepare for this Social Media tsunami:

Tip No. 1: hold on to your code of conduct

As social media moves into the mainstream, there is going to be a huge risk for traditional marketing managers to seize this opportunity and try to recycle old recipes which already stopped working a long time ago. At best, traditional methods will lead to failure when transposed to social media; at worst, there will be attempts at “infiltrating social media”. As I have pointed out many times, this is an absolute no-no. More than ever, it is time to remind people of the fundamental rules of disclosure, of which Andy Sernovitz and SMBC are rightfully so fond. Besides, the FTC is now ensuring that this kind of malpractice is made illegal (in certain Eureopean countries like France, “infiltration” techniques have already been deemed illegal, online and offline).

Tip No. 2: structure your teams

There has been a natural tendency to work with limited or even very limited social media teams in the past. Indeed, Social Media initiatives have most of the time been started as grassroots types of projects but they are now endorsed much more broadly and officially by Management. Besides, before moving to the next phase, Social Media had to prove its effectiveness first. Now is the right time to change some of your teams’ jobs descriptions slowly but surely, in order to industrialise what you have just started.

Tip No. 3: avoid social media proliferation and do away with renegade initiatives

As Social Media is becoming more popular, it seems that everyone else wishes to create one’s twitter account. But how many twitter account does a company need? More than once, I have seen such efforts fail anyway, because communities aren’t created without effort and one has – as Tara Hunt would put it – to work on one’s whuffy first. Those who forget about these fundamentals are bound to fail anyway. They will also cause aggravation and havoc amongst social media enthusiasts and there will be a price for this.

Tip No. 4: from presence of engagement.

For the past few years, many enterprises have experimented with social media, even if it only meant that they were carefully dipping a toe in cold waters; whereas it is okay for an enterprise to create content and develop its community online and initiate debates, there will soon be a requirement for them to use social media to move beyond top-down approaches in the very near future and foster community feeling and engagement. Social media users demand engagement and not old-style marketing, as the recent demise of the Eurostar has shown. Once again, this is an area in which well-meaning Social Marketing initiatives could suffer from traditional, badly managed approaches.

Tip No. 5: industrialise video and enforce UGC

More or less every sensible enterprise has experienced with video in the late 2008 and 2009. 2010 will also be the time for us to move into a more mature way of producing videos. Similarly, resorting to UGC videos will soon become easier and easier thanks to the introduction of new generation HD hand-held cameras such as the Flip or the Kodak Zi8. As long as sound capture is improved dramatically though…

Tip No. 6: from video to radio.

As pointed out by Cisco’s John Earnhardt in late 2008 at a blogwell conference, vlogging (i.e. video blogging) introduced a new and easier way of delivering original content at a very reasonable cost. Yet, if videos were easier to produce than blog posts, certainly radio content is even simpler. Mainly, with tools like Blogtalkradio or Saooti [Fr] or for instance. This is even more true for those companies which are spread across continents like Orange Business Services: recording a video with an expert in Sydney and another in Vienna is utmost impossible. Web radio studios make that type of fresh new content available to all; not having the picture is only a minor hindrance. Should we name that rlogging? I’m not sure about that, there is probably a limit to silly 2.0 compound names.

Tip No. 7: get ready for the rise of Facebook in the enterprise

2008 and 2009 have been great years for Facebook. Usage has soared, and their business model is being fixed. There is only one thing wrong with it – notwithstanding its quirky interface – and it’s the fact that Facebook can not be seen behind firewalls. This is not just bad for b2b players who would want to use Facebook for Marketing, but also for b2c players (where do office workers get to consumer websites during the day if not behind their company firewall?). Gradually, US corporations are opening to the use of social media in the workplace. I expect it to happen in Europe as well. Little by little, MIS admins will lift the ban on Facebook usage and this will enable greater reach for enterprises and social marketing. The next step is to then hone one’s social media marketing skills on Facebook, therefore preparing for the future of marketing and learning by doing. Facebook marketing for dummies by Paul Dunay is a good place to start in order to grow these online business skills and prepare for the rise of Facebook in the workplace.

Tip No. 8: Time to get back to the ROI/ROE question:

This is a subject on which we have already touched quite a few times in the past (here and here again for instance), social media ROI or ROE dashboards (I definitely prefer the return of engagement approach because it emphasises these things that weren’t possible before) will need to be created or improved so as to demonstrate a proven benefit. Apart from the traditional and less traditional analytics tools which let you measure visits and popularity, I also suggest social media managers emphasise the amounts of money that they have been able to save thanks to User Generated Content (UGC). As far as I am concerned, my assumption is that UGC has made it possible for Orange Business Services to generate something in the regions of $300,000 worth of content in 2009. I would have never been able to develop that much quality content without social media and the UGC approach. That’s what I call ROE (return on engagement).

Tip No. 9: community management has to be improved and industrialised.

Community management is also high on the agenda although I believe that most agencies and clients have the wrong ideas about it. Community management is in my eyes much closer to old-fashioned application coordination and facilitation than hiring armies of staff in offshore companies to send more or less standardised responses to comments (as a matter of fact, Tara Hunt is even more radical as she declares that she is torn on the question of whether enterprises require community managers at all). Much of community management has to be in-sourced I believe, in order to make it real because clients are fed up talking to robotised helpdesk agents. Social Media should be about real people and real engagement. What is certain is that Social Media teams and the other people working with them cross-organisationally will have to learn by doing as well as get more and more professional about this function which is a cornerstone of Social Media activities.

Tip No. 10: beware of forecasts – including this one – and get ready for changes and innovation … but not too much!

In this day and age, new social media stuff appears on a daily basis, if not more. Yet, shrewd marketers have a sixth sense for knowing when to and mostly when not to jump on a bandwagon. New social media tools are being created every day or so, but it doesn’t mean that all social networks would be should be tried. Be selective, and yet open-minded.