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

Argenti Warns Social Media Revolutionises Corporate Communications

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

The following video is a December 2009 interview of Paul Argenti (Corporate Communications Professor at Tuck University) following the release of his book dedicated to how  “Web 2.0” (even though the term is a bit outdated). The book describes how Social Media transforms corporate communications. Here are – in a few words – what should be remembered from that interview. As it happens, a lot of what Argenti describes here is similar to what I have written in these columns and elsewhere:

  1. most execs are out of sync: and it’s easy to dismiss what you don’t know as being a fad or meaningless,
  2. yet a true revolution in corporate communications is unfolding with regard to how our corporate relationships are impacted in all areas: press and public relations, investors, analysts, partners and clients, employees and job seekers etc. What is funny, Argenti says, is that despite point 1, none of the interviewed execs denies this fact,
  3. this revolution has less to do with tools than strategy,
  4. Video and Vlogging (video blogging) are transforming everything we do in corporate communications,
  5. Web 2.0 enable proactive vs. reactive communications;
  6. negative feedback is definitely what execs are afraid of, but it is already broadly available beyond social media. Social Media is not the cause of negative feedback or brand disloyalty and cannot be held responsible for the quality of a product or the fact that a service hasn’t been rendered properly.

to point 6 I would also add that often public relations representatives:

  • have no clue about how to and how not to behave with regard to social media,
  • misjudge the importance of a sentence or a comment whereas – even more than in the printed press – every word counts in Social Media,
  • fail to understand the human factor behind crisis management in Social Media and think that fiddling with comments is enough, whereas human conversations work wonders,
  • minimise the importance of engaging in Social Media as opposed to being present in social media,
  • talk digital vs. do digital, and don’t understand what the web makes available to all,
  • fail to count on positive feedback including that which can be generated by internal blogging communities and partnerships,
  • fail to implement the right processes and spell them out clearly, including disclosure practices.
Many of these issues will be debated at the likeminds conference which is due to take place in Exeter on February 26th at which I will be a keynote speaker dealing with Social Media in B2B.

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(5/10) My top 10 tips for implementing social media

continued from part one, this article will be published in 10 instalments

Five: respecting one’s community (no hard-selling)

Social media users come to your websites to gather information, to exchange, share and receive too, but they will not go there to look at your product descriptions, unless they are particularly interesting or new or you want to get their feedback on them. For products and sales, users will just go to your static website instead. Don’t try and sell your wares on social media or try and do this by using the strictest adherence to the rules of permission marketing and disclosure. If you have something you’d wish to sell there, it’s got to be a limited offer or something which is made available to that community only. Besides, what you offer has to be relevant to that community.

to be continued …

(4/10) My top 10 tips for implementing social media

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

continued from part one, this article will be published in 10 instalments

Four: facilitate, facilitate, facilitate

In order to create a new effective collaborative website, facilitation has to happen at all times, and especially at the beginning of the initiative. Collaborative websites do require that a large volume of information be created upfront in order to attract new visitors before generating collaboration (caution! This content has to be real and not just formal). You will then have to respond to suggestions or comments as soon as they have been added. The Web is about real-time. If the user-producer feels that his suggestions have not been taken seriously, or too late, then he or she will be discouraged and will never come back, or might be tempted to badmouth you on social media platforms. Spontaneity equates to social media politeness because it shows the interest that your organisation is bestowing upon the user-producer.

A Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) survival guide for marketing managers (part 1) – unabridged

note: this is the unabridged version of a post originally published at Bnet.co.uk

SEO is a serious marketing tool

Of all the topics surrounding the web, there is one which tops the list from a marketing point of view and it’s Search Engine Optimisation (aka SEO). It is indeed one of the most important levers for bringing traffic to a site. I can barely think of a Marketing manager I have bumped into in the past 18 months who isn’t obsessed with the fact that his products will or will not show in search engines. This is obviously a valid request and a lot of expectations are set on the improvement/optimisation of web pages to be more search-engine friendly, and a lot of pressure is put on web site owners like yours truly. There is nothing wrong with that though, I believe it all boils down to getting the right explanation across to our managers and explaining what SEO really is and isn’t about. In essence, it’s not about cheating; on the contrary, thinking that optimising your site for ‘free products’ when you sell expensive products is not only daft, it’s pointless. So I won’t take any of your time debating on whether SEO is cheating because it’s not. Or at least it’s not a side of the business that I’m interested in.

My conclusion is that education is at the heart of that matter and I have developed a little web owner survival kit in which I have included some of the fundamentals of SEO, to help Marketing managers and site owners with their daily task of improving their web content and better serve their visitors. This post and slideshare presentation will complement nicely our previous manual on the subject of Internet content.

Your SEO is more than just about  web pages: it’s a matter of strategy

My aim here is not to depict the complete picture of website optimisation. This would be an impossible task. Search engines vary their rules on a daily basis, and narrowing down our attention to Google only wouldn’t be sufficient to simplify our work. What I have attempted to do in this article is to focus on the fundamentals of search engine optimisation. I have used this canvas in the field and I have found it pretty effective in order to evangelise about SEO and get marketing managers to take ownership of this task, as a means, not only to improve their web pages, but mostly to improve how their products/services are presented: well, in essence I could sum it up by adding that improving your SEO will also help hone your marketing strategy, therefore killing two birds with one stone.

When Marketing managers come to see me about their web page SEO they often have grievances about the Internet, or the website or even the webmasters, but none of these are really to blame.

_ “I can’t see my products when I type ‘0800 numbers’” I was told by quite a few marketing managers (just change the keyword/product name, you’ll always get the same problem)

_ Ok, I replied, “but why isn’t your page named ‘0800 numbers’ then?”

_ “It’s normal he answered, we don’t call it that way internally!”

As a natural result, the name of a product which is only internal will never show outside the web because a website isn’t done for internal people, it’s meant for external visitors, who need to be addressed with their vocabulary, not yours. Actually, this means that the marketing manager in question is going to have to step into his visitors’ shoes and stop interpreting the world through his own cultural references. In essence, this is what marketing is all about, and it has nothing to do with the web.

part 2 of this SEO survival guide for Marketing managers will be about our 10 steps for improving your SEO dramatically and simply.