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Social Media Communicators Don’t Read Cluetrain

“There’s no market for messages”

One thing has become readily apparent to me: Most social media communicators, “personal brands” (snort) and social media experts have neglected to read the Cluetrain Manifesto. Whether you agree with the principles in this book or not, in my mind it should be mandatory reading for anyone who conducts business communications on the Internet.


Many a social media consultant or online communicator have confided in me that they have not read the Cluetrain Manifesto. To me that’s as unforgivable as practicing law without a J.D. or practicing medicine without going to medical school and internships.

Cluetrain captures the essence of the uncontrolled business environment and they need to provide authentic, real dialogue based around the market’s needs. Without understand the fundamental dynamics of the social media form and the inherently uncontrived conversations it inspires, communicators are lost in the darkness.

At bare minimum communicators should read the opening salvo of 95 theses that comprise the Cluetrain Manifesto, Christopher Locke‘s chapter, “Internet Apocalypso, and Doc Searls and David Weinberger‘s contribution, “Markets Are Conversations.”

It get backs to community concepts which are at the heart of Now Is Gone. In many ways, Now Is Gone is the direct product of the Internet and Cluetrain’s unrelenting view that controlled and contrived business brand messages — personal or corporate — have no place on the Internet. Consider the boiled down thesis of the book and its seven principles of community development.

For me Cluetrain represents a great hope: That business can be done differently. The Internet and social media can become the elixir to revolutionize our corporate cultures of exploitation, and refocus it on social good, causes, and service to actual markets.

One of the reasons the whole personal branding movement disturbs me is that most personal branders are in actuality exploiting these tools to foster a new conversational, self-centered hucksterism that makes me sick. It’s not genuine or real, and I don’t want any part of it. Add your genuine personality to the conversation, not a contrived self image.

Here are my favorite 10 of the 95 theses from Cluetrain:

3) Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

25) Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.

26) Public relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.

33) Learning to speak with a human voice is not a parlor trick. It can’t be “picked up” at some tony conference.

34) To speak in a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.

35) But first they must belong to a community.

61) Sadly, the part of the company a networked market wants to talk to is usually hidden behind a smokescreen of hucksterism, of language that rings false — and often is.

62) marketers do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the corporate firewall.

83) We want you to take 50 million of us as seriously as you take one reporter from THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

91) Our allegiance is to ourselves — our friends, our new allies and acquaintances, even our sparring partners. Companies that have no part in this world, also have no future.

About Geoff Livingston:

13 Comments on “Social Media Communicators Don’t Read Cluetrain

  1.  by  SpaceyG

    Yes I agree, and social media “experts” such as Chris Brogan need to learn to keep their social commitments. Bailing out on speaking engagements at the last minute doesn’t fly down south. Very bad form, and they’ll talk about you behind your back like nobody’s business when you do shit like that.

    When he, Chris Brogan, bailed on the very hideous, huckster-ridden Atlanta ITEC yesterday, I was forced to wander the measly two aisles in search of decent schwag… like some beggar woman in Marc Jacobs. It was loot the booths or listen to droning, insufferable sales pitches from backwater software white men from Mississippi calling women in IT “girls” in their speeches (I swear this is all true), or robotrons from dumb-ass companies pitching silly products that are mostly things you can find free on the Internets – under the guise of having “conversations.” They wouldn’t know an interesting conversation if one ran ’em over in their Ducati.

    The whole experience left me even more bitter and twisted. As if that was possible. And it’s all the fault of Chris Brogan’s issues with commitment.

    Read all the “visionary” non-fiction books you want (and the harpy detractors and dispellees like Keen), but basic etiquette trumps, well, mostly everything.

    I suggest less Malcom Gladwell-y non-fiction “visionary” stuff and more Jane Austin to prop-up such blazingly feeble literary diets as you young men-o-vision seem to feed-off of.

  2.  by  Susan Getgood

    The fundamental error made by traditional marketers, and yes “personal branders” is to think you can *control* the brand — whether it be a product or the product that is you.

    And yes I have read Cluetrain. Gonzo Marketing & Small Pieces Loosely too.

  3.  by  SpaceyG

    Oh mon Dior. Let me type my punishment: Austen Austen Austen Hey Baby Austen Austen Austin ooops Austen Wanna See My Ducati Austin ooops Austen.. you get the point…

    And while I’m correcting the usual blather, I am being led to understand that Chris Brogan most certainly did not play loosely with his social commitments. Rather, the marketing folk for ITEC failed to remove his name from the literature in time to reflect his commitment elsewhere.

    It still sucked.

    Back to my penance:

    Austen Austen Austen Hey Baby Austen Austen Austin ooops Austen Wanna See My Ducati Austin ooops Austen Austen Austen Austen Hey Baby Austen Austen Austin ooops Austen Wanna See My Ducati Austin ooops AustenAusten Austen Austen Hey Baby Austen Austen Austin ooops Austen Wanna See My Ducati Austin ooops AustenAusten Austen Austen Hey Baby Austen Austen Austin ooops Austen Wanna See My Ducati Austin ooops AustenAusten Austen Austen Hey Baby Austen Austen Austin ooops Austen Wanna See My Ducati Austin ooops Austen…

    Need to go get my nails done…

  4.  by  mike ashworth

    As usual a spot on post Geoff :-)

    I’ll be honest with you I haven’t read the book however I do believe that we have become so hung up on the tools and the latest craze that many have missed that they dont work without other people being involved.

    I feel that when the tools are understood as something that can simply help initiate and facilitate a discussion rather than people being obsessed with the tool itself then we’ll see a return to real values.

    People should convey the same values, beliefs, ways of doing business, managing friendships, wherever they are.

    Could you for one moment imagine people measuring the effectiveness of their human social circle, their marriage, counting the number of people who commented upon a discussion they had in the pub, ignoring people who look up to them because they don’t have enough “friends”.

    The irony is that we used to do business in a very personable human way before the internet came along. Now I hear so many people shouting that the this can be created or recreated with these tools. What many fail to understand is that it never went away, people just got distracted.

    I feel that their’s more to be learnt from the fields of psychology and sociology than the latest tool. Discovering more about the power of both human and social capital. Understanding more about how communities in the real world work (or not).

    Applying these to everything we do will result in remarkable changes occurring.

    Mike Ashworth
    Marketing Coach and Consultant
    Brighton and Hove, Sussex, UK
    Boosting Sales for Small and Medium Sized Businesses by
    helping them find, attract and keep Customers.


  5.  by  Connie Reece

    I’m with Junior: Cluetrain. :-) Thanks for focusing in on some core principles that get overlooked when everybody starts jumping on the buzzwagon.

  6.  by  Josh Morgan

    I don’t always agree with Geoff, but on this I am in complete agreement. If you’re not on the train, you’re stuck in the station. It’s not a tactical book, it’s about acknowledging a change in how you view relationships between people. A lot of the “social media gurus” preach about “participation” but are still primarily interested in helping companies talk at “markets.”

  7.  by  xian3000

    I absolutely agree, and in my experience have found that not having read Cluetrain is the least of your worries. Not differentiating the channel at all from print or broadcast or (gasp) direct response is how far away the PR pros around non profits seem to be. Thanks to @Kanter, @IFTF, yourself and many others, there is hope, but I find my self nearly distraught that here, years later, there is no understanding.

    P.S. I’m going to finish my week by Yammering this post to the communications group and assigning Cluetrain as the weekend reading. THANKS

  8.  by  Geoff Livingston

    @Mike: Yup, it’s people. They call it social for a reason, and I am not sure why folks feel compelled to treat it differently.

    @Xian: Interesting word choice: Channel.

  9.  by  CoryS

    I think that everyone also has to understand what Gary V. is up to at WineLibrary TV. Takes the Cluetrain idea of ‘person as [company’s] marketer’ to add ‘social media as a layer on top of business’.

    Thx for the post.

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