You’re either participating or you’re not, writes Micheal Walsh at Lingolook. There's no in between. It would be like being half pregnant, or half baked - the first one improbable, the second indigestible.
Why should you care?
Your payoff is that, whether you like it or not, chances are your customers (and increasingly employees) are talking about you online.
If your customers are not talking about you... well, that's a worse scenario to contemplate, isn't it?
These are not necessarily negative conversations, mind you. They well could be constructive discussions filled with chances to learn about your customers and what you need to do to make them happy. Happy people buy more and tell their friends. It's your prerogative whether to join the conversation or not.
The best outcome is that those who are talking about you are spreading the word on your business - Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell called them Citizen Marketers. The worst case scenario is that those customers who talked about you even once stopped doing so, they did not think you cared about what they were saying, so they stopped caring about you and your business - you become invisible to them (and increasingly their friends).
This kind of conversation is a commitment, not a savings account for your marketing spend. When I speak about social media, the tools and dynamics, I often say that they are the container, the context in which you get to:
The fourth "E" is emotion, the human quality that is memorable because it touches us. While blogs and other social media seem (and often are) extemporaneous, they do allow you to show the personality of your business. Your personality is still what differentiates you from your competitors - and, after years of industrial age treatment, what makes you likeable. Before you develop a relationship with your customers, you thus have the chance to:
- encourage participation (yours and theirs) with engagement
- show your passion with education
- ask for permission through entertainment
Those are as solid as the classic four P's of marketing - product, place, price, promotion. If The Cluetrain Manifesto is still news after 10 years from its publication, the conversation that ensued has evolved. My good friends RichardatDELL and Michael Walsh provided their take on a meme that celebrates its anniversary. Here is mine.
1. What does The Cluetrain Manifesto mean to you? How has the book and theses influenced or not influenced you?
I'd like to extend and build upon what Micheal says:
As the Cluetrain makes painfully clear, marketing departments were introduced to bridge the gap between mass products and mass markets and in doing so, wiped out conversations between producers and their customers and replaced them with alienation and mystery.
Recently I had the opportunity to discuss what social media means with Lori di Magno and her husband Tom. I started by talking about the bazaars and markets of old, where people who sold items on display talked with people who were there to find a treasure they could make theirs. Stop for a moment and think about it: is this how you buy? Chances are it is, even in a B2B scenario.
Companies, especially large ones, are still very much in the industrial age. Hierarchies and silos are preventing the people on the inside from being close to the customer. Mass production requiring mass marketing have in many cases killed the personality and voice of the business.
The manifesto is a wake up call to go back to listening, talking with, being human, and learning.
Like Richard, I want to be part of the business that gets it as judged by customers. Has the Cluetrain influenced me in that direction? My personal brand promise for Conversation Agent is to connect ideas and people. Do I get it? I am learning to listen every day.
2. Which companies have best implemented The Cluetrain Manifesto in your opinion and how were they effective?
Companies are just entities, empty vessels (and for some still bastions of power) without people inside them. Some individuals inside organizations get it - they treat others with the respect, and the equanimity that leaders and good managers have.
Here I celebrate RichardatDELL, and his colleagues Lionel Menchaca who just added this blog to Direct2Dell's blogroll (a company open to the outside does that) and JohnatDELL who are participating to the conversation and contributing their energy to moving it forward. Have they been effective? If you're reading this, you are online. What do you think? Have you come across them? Chances are you have, and your experience was good.
I do not know enough about what other companies are doing to implement the principles of the Cluetrain. But here's some homework from the manifesto. Businesses can begin:
"by searching out people with the organization who understand what's going on. In Almost every case, they're there. Make friends with them. Make friends with the marketplace again. Start listening. Find your voice. Then start talking as if your life depended on it. It does... There may not be 12 or five or 20 things that you can do, but there are 10,000 possibilities. The trick is you have to figure out what they are. They have to come from you. They have to be your words, your moves, your authentic voice.
The Web got built by people who chose to build it. The lesson is: don't wait for someone to show you how. Learn from your spontaneous mistakes, not from safe prescriptions and cautiously analyzed procedures. Don't try to keep people from going wrong by repeating the mantra of how to get it right. Getting it right isn't enough anymore. There's no invention in it. There is no voice."
This is where small businesses and entrepreneurs have a tremendous advantage: they can choose to get it and implement quickly. There are less layers, there's less history and attachment to what worked in small businesses.
3. In thesis 57, The Cluetrain Manifesto states, “smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to 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?
Recently I had a painful exchange with an employee who blogs on behalf of her company. This is a large, global company. The exchange was about a misunderstanding on a post, her version of a resolution was quite drastic - delete all comments and references. When I probed as to why, she responded: "I'm just an employee, I'm not at liberty to discuss this stuff here."
Is this the result of encouragement or direction? Can we please all use common sense? I work inside an organization, there is no need to change who you are for it, I can assure you.
4. How can a company encourage employees to use social media, and empower them to answer customer questions and learn from customers?
By walking the talk, just like with everything else an organization does.
Guess what? Your business has policies in place for about everything it does, and processes for many of those things. People watch what those high up in the organization do, where and how they spend their time. If they do what they say they do or what they say you should do, then you follow the example and feel confident someone is noticing (that's all empowerment is, really).
If they don't, there is no amount of programs you can throw at the employee base. They will know they are walking a very fine line, with no mistakes allowed at all, and that will be enough to hold back and to take their lessons and talents elsewhere at the first opportunity. Social media tools are so new, by and large they are uncharted territory. But they give us the chance to bridge back to being in touch with the reason why we are in business: to serve customers.
When we learn from customers, we have the chance to improve, make the business work better and as a result, sell more. Respect, trust, and loyalty are the greatest assets a company has.
5. Do all employees want to talk with customers? If not what percentage want to internetwork and converse?
It takes practice to want to talk with customers. Especially in those organizations that put the fear of the gods in you about making mistakes and needing to follow rules and regulations to the letter. Before you do the talking, before you roll out shiny new blogs, before you get all excited about pushing messages through a new, SEO-friendly tool, ask yourself one question: are you listening?
Are you listening to each other internally? Are you listening to the people on the front lines who are in contact with customers? Start there. Start listening to what they are saying - they represent your customers. The more eagerly you listen to them, the more they will be putting energy into listening to customers.
Who can enrich this conversation? I would like to listen to Jason Fall's take, what Tim Brunelle would tell MCAD students, Scott Monty's unique point of view, what would Tangerine Toad say, and Connie Bensen's advice on these five questions.