“If you’re not part of the future than get out of the way” (Mellencamp, 2001, Peaceful World)


When I started The Cluetrain Manifesto and 95 Theses I wasn’t sure if it was forward thinking or silliness. Granted, I hadn’t gotten to the “meat,” because I almost stopped reading after this enthusiastic bit: “The sky is open to the stars. Clouds roll over us night and day. Oceans rise and fall. Whatever you may have heard, this is our world, our place to be. Whatever you’ve been told, our flags fly free. Our heart goes on forever. People of Earth, remember” (p. 5). Okay. But you can be over-the-top when you’ve written a corporate wake up call the equivalent of the Ten Commandments.


It’s pretty bold to imply the customer is always correct; it’s more so to state that businesses are completely wrong. Yet, that’s exactly what authors, Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger proclaim. Their Cluetrain Manifesto warns corporations to speak our ”human” language, include us in their discussions, realize conversations are online, outside, in-house, and that it’s no longer business as usual. We matter! We want a place at the table, we want to be heard, and we want them to change how they deal with us. “You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention” (78, p. 7). Good stuff.


Going for the corporate jugular, the Manifesto mocks how companies communicate not only with their customers, but also with their own employees. Having just received another company email explaining an administrator-approved, attorney-reviewed, HR-established procedure that strips away more employee soul, I particularly liked 44: “Companies typically install intranets top-down to distribute HR policies and other corporate information that workers are doing their best to ignore” (p. 5). Yep. And let’s not forget command and control. I work in higher education; I get it.


There’s some over-reaching with the truisms. We “get far better information…from one another than vendors” and “There are no secrets” (11-12, p. 6). Not necessarily, or we’d know the secret recipe for Coke and when Apple’s introducing the iOffice (I made that up). And the authors skipped over the fact that plenty of businesses have adapted, and adopted business practices that meet our needs. Many businesses do “talk” to their customer and market honestly. In my observation it’s the larger, often disconnection corporations that “do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations” (Locke et al., 2014, p.5). Where I live we have many small stores and franchises, both on the ground and online that engage in marketing strategies with a “human voice.”


Ernest Hemingway stated, “Every man should have a built in automatic crap detector operating inside him” (as cited in Rheingold, 2014, p. 77). In a lesson with his daughter, Rheingold delved into crap detection and the difficulty of knowing what’s credible in the online environment. Following his steps with his daughter was a bit frustrating (I wrote down the links to try), and yes, the Internet is full of companies that either missed the Manifesto, don’t know how to transition their hard-sell marketing techniques, or simply don’t care. Blaring banners, eye bleeding colors, tricky links, and less than truthful claims seem to be regular marketing practices today. (Could it be our culture of increasing acceptance of misinformation in politics that makes it okay?). You want to talk to us? Learn our language. You want to sell to us? Your old tactics won’t work. You want to reach us? We’re on the brave new ‘web of a world’. And when Rheingold’s daughter asks, “How can I tell if anything I find on the web is real “ (Rheingold, 2014, p. 78), that, dear child, is a great question.

Posted on October 18, 2015, in Marketing, Trust. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hi Dana, I agree that a lot of companies now are listening to their customers and asking for feedback. Many are also trying to above and beyond expectations too, which is nice. But some still are not. Thus, when I first read the Cluetrain Manifesto, I was wondering what year this paper was published. Regardless of the year, many of the points are still valid for some companies; I just would not use it as a blanket for all of them. 🙂

    I will say that it was nice that the authors also included the employees, since the employees seem to be an afterthought, but probably more-so for the contract workers. I’ve seen some companies take very good care of their employees with benefits and events, but the contractors do not often get those luxuries.

    But going back to the companies who do not put the customer first. Many of them act so busy that I thought that they ought to try Rheingold’s tips for intentional attention. Maybe once the people in power take a step back to re-focus through meditation, maybe later they can see things a bit more clearly. Or, maybe not. Maybe they have underlings for that. 😉

  2. I’ve experienced wanting a place at the table several times. I like my gadgets and my apps. My blog post this week mostly centers around this idea that as customers we want a voice. My post focused on Evernote, but I’ve asked to be on advisory boards for Mindflash and regularly participate in client surveys for MS OneNote and Office. I’ve been a BETA tester for Penultimate as well.

    But, this is nothing new really. The channel may have changed, but customers have wanted to be part of their products since, well, as far as I can tell, forever! Now we see web addresses on products, but I remember 800 numbers and little “Contact Us” on the outside of everything from Shampoo bottles to cans of tuna. Long before social media, I spearheaded user conferences who were designed, yes, to show customers new product features and offer training, but a main thrust was to involve them in focus groups so we could capture what they wanted.

    • Next week I’m in Indianapolis for the Educause conference; it’s higher ed IT focused and well attended. One of the things they do well is showcase sessions specifically for customer feedback on the latest in IT. While most conferences have sales sessions to promote their end product; often Educause talks prototypes and BETA testing. As you say, this conversation about a place at the table is universal and long standing.

  3. Just like there will always be folks who think that society will crumble after a leap in the distribution of information (like Socrates from the Rheingold reading), I bet there will always be people writing manifestos against the powers-that-be demanding that the people have a voice. I’m not complaining, but maybe that’s why some of the frustrations voiced sound so timeless.

    I’m guessing that there was a correlation between the people becoming more connected and companies losing control over the conversation surrounding their product. However, smart companies are now playing the on the people’s home turf when they become involved in social media and proactively become part of the public’s discourse. I still get a thrill when I give feedback to a company or a writer or a musician, and I receive a direct answer back. In fact, the last time a favorite cookbook author answered my question about his newest book I was so thrilled that I ordered a copy immediately. This is the age wonders!!!

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