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The Cluetrain Local 599
(first unedited draft 5/99 - unfinished - and look, it's 2001 and STILL not finished. Sigh!)
Nancy White, Full Circle Associates
© 1999, 2000
"As a net is made up of a series of ties, so everything in this world is
connected by a series of ties. If anyone thinks that the mesh of a net is
an independent, isolated thing, he is mistaken. It is called a net because it
is made up of a series of interconnected meshes, and each mesh has its
place and responsibility in relation to other meshes." -- Buddha
The Cluetrain Manifesto (http://www.cluetrain.com) has presented a tantalizing anthem for people-focused business practices. A kinder, gentler corporation, where human values are factored into the bottom line, and indeed, as a means to a healthier, sustainable business model by "speaking with a human voice."
But the Manifesto has a decidedly high-technology culture ring to it, and is working it's magic through a dissemination method that is entrenched in the high-tech halls and cubbyholes. It is the land of blinding information transfer.
But where does the Cluetrain stop in not-for-profits, communities, and in social service organizations? What are the routes of the "local", where the trains aren't so fast, and where the scale comes down to blocks and homes, not industrial complexes and global markets?
What are the stops for this train for organizations, both formal and informal, and other "human" units? I think the points of Cluetrain apply in many cases, but with some different filters. Here is my take on the Cluetrain local. The order of the points HAS been changed. I've merged a few items for simplicity.
Background: The Times They Are A Changing
In the past year my company, Full Circle Associates, has been doing message development and subsequent focus group testing on a number of social service issues.
A very consistent thread has run through the feedback from the groups: stop throwing slogans at us. Give us the information you have. Advocate for your position. Then let us make up our minds.
People are tired of being inundated with selling messages. They have become cynical about them, which is frightening for those trying to deliver health education and community building messages. TV campaigns and government pamphlets are treated with suspicion and disdain. And they are responding to word of mouth more than ever.
This has significant ramifications for the nonprofit or "third sector." For the few blue ribbon organizations that are well-connected to the big business circuit, life is sweet and the cash flows. But for the majority, especially the smaller and community based organizations, life has changed and it is time to get a clue.
An emerging trend is actually a throwback to a familiar model that has been embraced by unions, religions and, gasp, even cults. Develop a constituency. Serve them. Listen to them. Work with them, don't have them work for you. Give them power and control and then fasten your seatbelts because all the rules change. Empowered parents make life tough for school principals.
To communicate, we must go back to what is primal, the human voice. Word of mouth. Me to you. You to your neighbor. Be it by electrons or megaphone, the only message people are trusting is a message coming from a trusted person. Forget the TV campaigns. Focus on the local connection, the local story, the local human "telegraph" circuit. Share information freely, provide human beings to answer questions and explain. Treat them with dignity.Then ask the next person to share it along their path.
This model comes directly up against our current non-profit structure which is based on hierarchy, relationship to traditional power brokers, and, oddly enough, competition. With growing social needs stimulated by conservative politics in the 80's, non profits sprang into being at astonishing rates, seeking to fill those gaps. At they same time they created an ever-growing fundraising infrastructure which in the end could only compete with itself.
It is time to come back down and find ways to collaborate, to involve each community. But it can't stop there. The other part is to communicate what we learn across networks and communities, to share the lessons learned and magnify the impact of good ideas and strong community actions. Imagine this: a network to share every early child hood idea across the country, or health resources. A place where a question asked about finding a good used wheelchair was answered in an hour by a dad 3 or 3,000 miles away.
So, how does this relate to the Cluetrain Manifesto? Here are a few ideas.
This Next Section is Not Finished!!!
Conversations, Communities and Connections
(This is where I think the Manifesto is most important. I've merged a few items for simplicity. )
Markets are conversations.
Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about human concerns.
The community of discourse is the market.
Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.
Ummm. Not so sure I am using words in the same way, but I'd like to take a step away and look at this. People's lives and needs are captured in conversations. Listen to them. Think "marketplace" - a gathering of human beings who may be interested in interacting with you -- not "market" as a thing. Marketplaces facilitate conversations. Conversations connect people. People make decisions and take or don't take action. The loop continues.
Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors. /LI>
Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
But what may be natural to me, may seem contrived to you. Don't assume. This may be one of the biggest sticking points for the nonprofit service sector, for we don't all speak in the same "type" of voice. If "human voice" is our keystone, how we cross that bridge becomes central.
People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
But don't assume that everyone can hear you. Or are listening... How do we cut through the garbage to listen?
The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
Amen. We need to assure the locals have access, as well as those on the main line. Access access access. Then we can focus on the quality of our engagement.
To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.
But first, they must belong to a community.
To speak with an authentic human voice, organizations and companies must be PART of the community, not simply taking the opportunities of cause-related marketing. Likewise, nonprofits must
welcome companies into the circle.
Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.
Nonprofits must reflect the culture of their constituency and community.
If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market.
Amen and pass the chocolate.
As with networked markets, people are also talking to each other directly inside the company—and not just about rules and regulations, boardroom directives, bottom lines.
Such conversations are taking place today on corporate intranets. But only when the conditions are right.
Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
Local coalitions subvert hierarchy.
In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.
This is a continuation or expansion of local activism, or what we beat to death as "grassroots." But REALLY grassroots. Me talking to you on the corner. Imagine when the local conversations become networked conversations.
These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
For some folks. Not for all. What do we do about those who are not plugged into the network?
As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.
The potential for this in terms of local action is staggering for the political status quo. Anybody nervous? If you treasure your sacred cows of power, you should be.
People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
There are many who not only don't get added value, but who don't get ANYTHING. How do they get on the train. We need to figure this out.
Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
Does this remind you of some politicians and those bureaucrats burnt out from years of pushing rocks up hills? For all these sectors, what constitutes renewal? What brings them back into the realm of human?
In just a few more years, the current homogenized "voice" of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.
I'm still laughing at this one. Look up from the very bottom of any social system. This is how it has always been. What will be the seminal events that cause this shift. Will this apply to the third sector? It needs to. Will it apply to government? It needs to. Will it apply to the PTA and the Scouts? It needs to.
Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.
Same for slogans for causes. People are tired of the latest spin. They do want to know what is below the spin. What are the facts? What do you want me to do? And then let me make up my mind.
Companies that assume online markets are the same markets that used to watch their ads on television are kidding themselves.
Non profits that assume people are listening to them are kidding. Connection is harder than ever to achieve. So don't think a website will change the world. But consider it as a tool to apply with wisdom and in collaboration with your constituents.
Companies that don't realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.
Tell that to the politicians and third sector folks. Loudly. Repeatedly.
Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.
If the third sector does not already know this, they should be out of existence. This is old news.
Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.
Some times third sector organizations need to realize that their constituents feel laughed at.
Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
Same for nonprofits. Lack of humor does not equate with lack of passion and seriousness of cause.
Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.
Companies attempting to "position" themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about.
Bombastic boasts—"We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ"—do not constitute a position.
Amen. Try "what can we do for you -- or even better -- what can we do together?
Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.
Amen. This is the key to success for the local cluetrain. It is the REASON for being.
Learning to speak with a human voice is not a parlor trick. It can't be "picked up" at some tony conference.
By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep markets at bay.
By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep constituents and supporters at bay.
Paranoia kills conversation. That's its point. But lack of open conversation kills companies.
There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One with the market.
In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.
As policy, these notions are poisonous. As tools, they are broken. Command and control are met with hostility by intranetworked knowledge workers and generate distrust in internetworked markets.
These two conversations want to talk to each other. They are speaking the same language. They recognize each other's voices.
Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.
If willingness to get out of the way is taken as a measure of IQ, then very few companies have yet wised up.
However subliminally at the moment, millions of people now online perceive companies as little more than quaint legal fictions that are actively preventing these conversations from intersecting.
This is suicidal. Markets want to talk to companies.
Again, I think PEOPLE want to talk to companies, and organizations. They don't want to be perceived as a "market."
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.
Markets do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the corporate firewall.
De-cloaking, getting personal: We are those markets. We want to talk to you.
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.
We're also the workers who make your companies go. We want to talk to customers directly in our own voices, not in platitudes written into a script.
As markets, as workers, both of us are sick to death of getting our information by remote control. Why do we need faceless annual reports and third-hand market research studies to introduce us to each other?
As markets, as workers, we wonder why you're not listening. You seem to be speaking a different language.
The inflated self-important jargon you sling around—in the press, at your conferences—what's that got to do with us?
Maybe you're impressing your investors. Maybe you're impressing Wall Street. You're not impressing us.
If you don't impress us, your investors are going to take a bath. Don't they understand this? If they did, they wouldn't let you talk that way.
Your tired notions of "the market" make our eyes glaze over. We don't recognize ourselves in your projections—perhaps because we know we're already elsewhere.
We like this new marketplace much better. In fact, we are creating it.
You're invited, but it's our world. Take your shoes off at the door. If you want to barter with us, get down off that camel!
We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.
If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.
We've got some ideas for you too: some new tools we need, some better service. Stuff we'd be willing to pay for. Got a minute?
You're too busy "doing business" to answer our email? Oh gosh, sorry, gee, we'll come back later. Maybe.
You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention.
We want you to drop your trip, come out of your neurotic self-involvement, join the party.
Don't worry, you can still make money. That is, as long as it's not the only thing on your mind.
Have you noticed that, in itself, money is kind of one-dimensional and boring? What else can we talk about?
Your product broke. Why? We'd like to ask the guy who made it. Your corporate strategy makes no sense. We'd like to have a chat with your CEO. What do you mean she's not in?
We want you to take 50 million of us as seriously as you take one reporter from The Wall Street Journal.
We know some people from your company. They're pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you're hiding? Can they come out and play?
When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you didn't have such a tight rein on "your people" maybe they'd be among the people we'd turn to.
When we're not busy being your "target market," many of us are your people. We'd rather be talking to friends online than watching the clock. That would get your name around better than your entire million dollar website. But you tell us speaking to the market is Marketing's job.
We'd like it if you got what's going on here. That'd be real nice. But it would be a big mistake to think we're holding our breath.
We have better things to do than worry about whether you'll change in time to get our business. Business is only a part of our lives. It seems to be all of yours. Think about it: who needs whom?
We have real power and we know it. If you don't quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that's more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.
Even at its worst, our newfound conversation is more interesting than most trade shows, more entertaining than any TV sitcom, and certainly more true-to-life than the corporate web sites we've been seeing.
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.
Companies are spending billions of dollars on Y2K. Why can't they hear this market timebomb ticking? The stakes are even higher.
We're both inside companies and outside them. The boundaries that separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but they're really just an annoyance. We know they're coming down. We're going to work from both sides to take them down.
To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down.
Cut the Turf
Yes, I am a pollyanna. We MUST work together. This little planet won't survive otherwise...
Companies make a religion of security, but this is largely a red herring. Most are protecting less against competitors than against their own market and workforce.
There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
The neighborhood had this figured out for thousands of years. Will the electronic neighborhood extend or destroy this? Should we care? Yes.
What's happening to markets is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called "The Company" is the only thing standing between the two.
This is particularly relevant to non-profits. I believe this is also an incredible opportunity for the third sector to transform itself to serve the community more, and sustain its own castles less. This will be a very hard transition.
Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.
Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market might see what's really going on inside the company.
Elvis said it best: "We can't go on together with suspicious minds."
Brand loyalty is the corporate version of going steady, but the breakup is inevitable—and coming fast. Because they are networked, smart markets are able to renegotiate relationships with blinding speed.
Networked markets can change suppliers overnight. Networked knowledge workers can change employers over lunch. Your own "downsizing initiatives" taught us to ask the question: "Loyalty? What's that?"
Smart markets will find suppliers who speak their own language.
(The high tech world has many tools -- when are we going to network them out into the local lines? It's not just the digital divide, it is an economic and cultural divide that is potentially in front of us.)
Companies typically install intranets top-down to distribute HR policies and other corporate information that workers are doing their best to ignore.
Intranets naturally tend to route around boredom. The best are built bottom-up by engaged individuals cooperating to construct something far more valuable: an intranetworked corporate conversation.
A healthy intranet organizes workers in many meanings of the word. Its effect is more radical than the agenda of any union.
While this scares companies witless, they also depend heavily on open intranets to generate and share critical knowledge. They need to resist the urge to "improve" or control these networked conversations.
When corporate intranets are not constrained by fear and legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked marketplace.
Org charts worked in an older economy where plans could be fully understood from atop steep management pyramids and detailed work orders could be handed down from on high.
Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.
Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of paranoia.
We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.