Ten years ago the above statement made it to #11 on The Cluetrain Manifesto‘s list of 95 theses. Read the thesis again and then consider the “networked markets” that existed in 1999. There was no Facebook, no MySpace, no Digg, no Yelp, no TripAdvisor, and certainly no Twitter. Instead, customers were connecting with, and supporting, each other using newsgroups, forums, email newsletters, and–barely–blogs.
Messrs. Levine, Locke, Searls, and Weinberger knew nothing of the socially networked world we now all live in, yet their groundbreaking–and bestselling–book was as prophetic as anything written by Nostradamus. They effectively predicted the demise of the one-way dialog that marketers had spewed forth for decades–telling consumers why they should buy their products and how they should make them feel–and foretold a new era of conversational marketing. An era, where a business could only hope that its customers would be willing to invite it to join the conversation about its brand.
The Cluetrain Manifesto heavily influenced my own Radically Transparent book, in particular the following statement–which I highlighted with a thick, yellow highlighter:
The Internet became a place where people could talk to other people without constraint. Without filters or censorship or official sanction — and perhaps most significantly, without advertising.
Ten Years Later
Notice the past tense: “became.” I draw your attention to that because, ten years on, so much has changed in the way we discuss corporate brands and reputations. Yelp has allowed us to better rate and review the local businesses we frequent. Facebook has empowered us to connect with friends and family that share our interests–and perhaps our shopping habits. And, Twitter is the go to place for any snippet of emotion we wish to share with our network–including our frustration that our cable company never showed-up for that 1-6pm installation it promised.
In 2009, we do indeed receive better information and support from those within our social network of choice. While search engines such as Google might satisfy our need for quick, factual references, we’re turning more and more to the advice of people like ourselves.
The good news for the “vendors” is that we are apparently open to allowing them into our conversations. More and more companies are building MySpace pages, launching Facebook profiles, or setting up Twitter accounts for customer support. They’re still very much prone to slipping into “corporate rhetoric”–often reverting back to their “I have something to tell you” voice–but there are signs that businesses are willing to learn this new conversational marketing language.
And, while it may have been ten years since The Cluetrain Manifesto hit store shelves, it remains a must read for everyone and I suspect will continue to be the blueprint for marketing conversations, long after we’ve grown tired of today’s hot social networks.