Monday, November 19, 2012

Social Media In a Nutshell

If you don't  happen to have time or resources to take a graduate-level course in social media strategy, you can get a very good grasp on the basics by reading The Cluetrain Manifesto. If you get through such a course and think you may need a refresher later, without so much reading, bookmark it now.

The Cluetrain Manifesto is rather a remarkable document, and I'm beginning to understand that a lot of what we now know as best business practices around social media are summed up in it. As I read it, I see that a great deal of our required reading for my social media course is an attempt by the authors to convey the information in the Manifesto by watering it down into more traditional business-speak. It was first published in 1999, by a group of developers and other thinkers and writers on the world of high tech who saw what was coming. Since then, a long list of notables in the tech world have signed the Manifesto, and its site has been declared a "read-only landmark." You can read the whole book at that site, as well as the central tenets, some commentary, information about the writers and signers, buzz, discussion, and more. (You can also buy a paper version of the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's, and other booksellers.)

The central core of the Cluetrain Manifesto is a list of "95 Theses," basic ideas about social media, companies and markets that make up the basic message of the Manifesto. They can be summed up in the "Elevator Rap":

The connectedness of the Web is transforming what's inside and outside your business — your market and your employees.
Through the Internet, the people in your markets are discovering and inventing new ways to converse. They're talking about your business. They're telling one another the truth, in very human voices.
There's a new conversation
Intranets are enabling your best people to hyperlink themselves together, outside the org chart. They're incredibly productive and innovative. They're telling one another the truth, in very human voices.
between and among your market and your workers. It's making them smarter and it's enabling them to discover their human voices.You have two choices. You can continue to lock yourself behind facile corporate words and happytalk brochures.
Or you can join the conversation.

Or, in even more succinct form, "If you only have time for one clue this year, this is the one to get....we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings - and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it."

The 95 Theses begin with basic definitions:

1. Markets are conversations.  
2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.

They continue on, laying out a picture and a roadmap for businesses who want to survive and thrive on the social media landscape. Fundamental to this survival is the understanding that both companies and markets are made up of people who communicate, and with social media, communication is now more powerful than it has ever been before:
11. 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. 
12. 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. 
13. What's happening to markets is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called "The Company" is the only thing standing between the two.
 There's some straight talk:
20. Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them. 
21. Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor. 
22. 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. 
And some insight about the changing structure of companies in response to social media and the online revolution:
50. Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority. 
51. Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of paranoia.

52. Paranoia kills conversation. That's its point. But lack of open conversation kills companies.

53. There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One with the market.

54. 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.

55. 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.
 And much, much more. This is powerful stuff, highly concentrated; companies that took this information to heart a decade ago have thrived in the modern marketplace, and there are many organizations who can learn a great deal from it in a short time...if they have the honesty and courage to take it in.

The book (which is now available in a 10th-anniversary edition) contains further explanation and commentary on the ideas expressed in the 95 Theses, and it's also excellent reading - highly readable and full of useful food for thought. For anyone interested in social media, the Cluetrain Manifesto is a classic and a must-read...and you can get it free, so why wait?


  1. Thanks, Marty! This social media course shows me how much I don't know about social media, or marketing in general. Cluetrain sounds like an awesome resource.

    Just think if we, the people, could remember that our reach exceeds any company's grasp. Sometimes a lot of us forget we are far-reaching.

  2. Glad I could introduce you to it; when I started taking this course, my husband said to me, "I have been trying to get you to read this for years, but NOW YOU REALLY HAVE TO DO IT!" He was right. :-> Tons of fantastic information, and it amazes me that it was first published back in 1999, but is still just as relevant as ever.

  3. Hah! C. sez: "Thank you very much for pointing out this book! Despite having been on the internet for ~30 yrs., and knowing most of these rules implicitly, I was unaware that there was a resource that collected this info in a succinct form. As I have been tasked with developing a proposal for a graduate concentration in social media for a business school, this is the perfect book to be the focal point of that concentration. Thank you very much for pointing this out to me!" Thought you might like to know. ;)

  4. Excellent. I was amazed too - I'm kind of in the same boat, having been online (and very social from the start) since 1985 myself. I didn't know about it either until Ron put it in front of me, as I said. I think the things in it haven't been true as long as that; it's taken time for the technology to become widespread enough for this information to be applicable to a broad audience. It certainly is now, though, and it's high time more companies took it seriously.