Is it really the 10th anniversary of The Cluetrain Manifesto? Actually, it isn’t. The book was written in 1999 by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger. It was published in 2000. I suppose then that John Cass’s meme inspired by the upcoming 10th anniversary of the book is meant to borrow the quality of being ahead of its time.

The Cluetrain ManifestoNevertheless, Valeria Maltoni nominated me as someone who should participate in the meme and chime in on the five questions Cass poses about where we are today with respect to the 95 theses that begat social media. Before I respond to the specific questions, though, a raw perspective:

We’re nowhere. Social media and true consumer-centric brand behavior is prevalent in the technology bubble and few other places. While adoption has been steady and progress has been made, the premise of the book hasn’t exactly “gone viral.” Businesses in general still think bottom line and “what’s in it for me,” first. Advertising still sucks, is loud and intrusive. And consumers still have little reason to trust brands, companies and even folks like me – marketers trying to connect them with products and services that fit their needs.

I’m still a used car salesman to a lot of people. Companies are still monolithic, smoke and mirrors, money hoards with automated phone systems and customer service that has nothing to do with the customer and scantly qualifies as service.

For a market-changing, environmental-shift of a document The Cluetrain was, either it actually wasn’t or the majority of American businesses and consumers are just plain dumb.

To me, The Cluetrain is logical. Be nice. Expect it in return. Why can’t we get this, people?

That said, some people are getting it. More every day. It’s a fight worth fighting. We’re trying to teach business and industry that they should do right because it’s the right thing to do. And someday, we’ll win. When we do, we all will.

  1. What does The Cluetrain Manifesto mean to you? How has the book and theses influenced or not influenced you?What The Cluetrain Manifesto did is put the core values of basic human decency back into business. Growing up in the shadow of small-business owning parents in a small town, I heard people talking about business ethics, particularly with respect to how to use Christian principles in one’s business approach. The corporate scandals of the 1990s seemed a sort of Sodom and Gomorra moment in business. The Cluetrain simplified the way brands – both large and small – should act. It put being human back in business. It whittled the mega-corporation down to its basic asset – its human characteristics, or more succinctly, it’s people.

    There’s more than an odd coincidence that the 95 theses were modeled after Martin Luther’s. In this case, consumers are protesting the smothering suffered at the hands of brands as opposed to similar behavior from the Catholic church. Through these, we can now visualize having a conversation with a company. This forces consumers to view them in a much different way. Those companies that participate in the conversation reap benefits. Those that don’t … or don’t very well … are earmarked for failure.

  2. Which companies have best implemented The Cluetrain Manifesto in your opinion and how were they effective?While the smart ass in me can’t resist the temptation to think John Cass is somehow being rewarded by Dell for starting this meme – they are, after all, the tech crowd (i.e. meme participants) defacto answer here (and not undeservedly so) – I will offer Southwest Airlines as my example. I may not be the first and probably won’t be the last to do so. Southwest has continually engaged consumers, fostered employee education and outreach using social media tools, reaped the benefits of praises for their openness and suffered the setbacks of dissatisfied customers out in the open. But what they’ve really done is simply opened the lines of communications with their customers. They didn’t just start a blog, they read it. They read the comments. They responded, both on the site and through actions. And they keep doing it.

    Perhaps it’s a coincidence, perhaps not. But there’s a strange parallel between Southwest’s post-9/11 success and its willingness to listen and respond to consumers. Sure price is a differentiator, but take away money and there’s still lots of reasons to LUV Southwest.

  3. In thesis 57, The Cluetrain Manifesto states, “smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable 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?Encouraging employees to use social media and blogging can be a good idea, but it can also be a bad one. With everything, these determinations have to be made on a case-by-case basis. I don’t want the dipshit who forgot to put a burger patty on my wife’s hamburger last week blogging on behalf of anyone. But when you Tweet something about Nielsen, two or three people who work for them normally respond and offer to help find information if you’re looking.

    To answer the question, you have to assess your employees and whether or not you trust they can be good representatives of your company. Certain ones will, others won’t. If the majority of them concern you, I recommend one of two paths: 1. Don’t expressly encourage them (understanding they might on their own, regardless of your consent). 2. Reassess who and how you hire.

  4. How can companies encourage employees to use social media, empower them to answer customer questions and learn from customers?

    The only way a company and its employees can be open externally is if they’re open internally. By openly talking about the employee’s responsibility to represent the company’s interest on- and off-line, giving them the training and the tools to do so and clearly illustrating that mistakes don’t come with retribution but only thorough discussion, you empower them to speak on your behalf. Once your employees believe in you, they’ll make others believe, too.

  5. Do all employees want to talk with customers? If not, what percentage want to internetwork and converse?Surely not. I can think of a couple Doe-Anderson employees who don’t want to talk with co-workers. What percentage want to internetwork and converse? To date, a relatively small percent, mostly in the marketing department, but unfortunately under the influence of stayed marketing techniques. What the social web is doing, however, is gradually moving both consumers to engage with brands, but also brands to understand engagement is a two-way street and someone needs to talk back. Say what you will about the echo chamber, but what it has done is forced the hand of corporations to move from a brand-centric perspective to a consumer-centric point-of-view. Add the flavor of scalability to the equation and companies have to use more than just the customer service team or PR department to engage.

    The percentage that want to internetwork and converse is probably still small (less than 30 percent) but is the exact percentage of employees who implicitly understand the individual customer is their most important asset.

Valeria asked who could enrich this conversation when she honored me with a tag. For me, enrichment comes from very smart people. So I hope that Cam Beck, Geoff Livingston, Eric Eggerston, Becky McCray and David Finch will participate.

Here are some others who have thus far:

Valeria Maltoni, Richard Binhammer, Michael Walsh, Phil Gomes, Mack Collier and of course, John Cass.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Geoff Livingston

    In the true spirit of Cluetrain, I’m passing on the meme. I don’t like rules :) Good post though.

  • Jason Falls

    Geoff — Instead of looking at is as a meme, look at it as a request from a friend to know your opinion. Heh.

  • Ike

    Sometimes, the contrarian in me won’t go away.

    My lingering question is “Exactly what percentage of the public LIKES advertising the way it is?”

    You could make the argument that having a company contact as a buddy carries a risk of being blindsided by ulterior motives. Just as there are people who stay out of relationships for fear of being hurt, there are people who like their ads loud, brash, and blatant. Makes it easier to tune them out.

    Not to say that technology won’t have an effect on upcoming generations, and change the prism through which they claim priorities and live their life. I just wonder about those who like to keep a distance from the sales-force, and whether they will ever engage at all. (And how many of them there will continue to be.)

  • Ryan Anderson

    Great answers… the whole idea is a pretty simple one, but for some reason it goes against the grain of corporate marketing.

    I posted my answers to the meme the other day:

  • ophelia chong

    “Be Kind, Rewind.”
    Before the “internets”, corporations lived in a vacuum. They relied on focus groups and ad agencies to tell them what “the people” wanted/liked/hated. Now they can venture out and type in any word in a search engine and see what the people think of them. Instant access to the mind of the consumer.

    At my local DVD rental store, there were two clerks; one cranky film snob and the other a happy smiling film buff. Back in the day when there were VHS, they would ask you to Rewind. I would always Rewind for the happy one, the cranky one I would run in and drop off the video in the INbox (I didn’t stay for his slow burn). Now, the lesson is, I love great salespeople and I would buy the item over a superior one because I know they will look after me.
    Corporations should send out the ones who are social animals. They are the ones who can sell the company. Because they care.

    :O) ophelia

  • Jim Turner

    “I don’t want the dipshit who forgot to put a burger patty on my wife’s hamburger last week blogging on behalf of anyone.”

    Perhaps he is a better blogger than burger builder? You have to let me use that example and line in my upcoming presentation on hiring bloggers. Great post Jason.

  • Jason Falls

    Ike — You certainly bring about a good point. Maybe advertising is best loud and obtrusive. At least if it is, we have an easier time distinguishing it.

    Ophelia — Thank you for the story and for stopping by. You should blog. And you are spot on … the social animals are the ones who represent the company best. Bravo, my dear.

    Jim — Use all you want, credit gratuitously (heh). And the kid might be a better blogger than burger builder, but anyone who forgets the beef can’t be all that bright.

  • ophelia chong

    :O) i have a blog at

    [awshucks, you are very kind]


  • Geoff Livingston

    I did a video on Cluetrain about 4 mos ago… Done with a flip, not what I would do today, but it’s the content that matters.

  • RichardatDELL

    Hi Jason,

    I am thrilled you were tagged in this meme…and I enjoyed reading your perspective. I think you are correct that Southwest is doing great things in social media.

    As you note, the Cluetrain “puts being human back in business.” The technologies are enabling us to connect on a broader scale than ever before, while driving up the value of relationships. great point about whittling the mega-corporation down to its basic asset – its human characteristics.

    Oh….Jason, just by the way, John Cass tagged me to answer, not the other way around. And, just so we connect I want to assure you that John Cass is not “somehow being rewarded by Dell for starting this meme.” Hope that helps clarify. :-)

    See you soon I hope

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  • rossspw

    Loved this post. Especially your description of how we’ve gotten well… no where so far. After 10 years. So I wrote my own in response. I think part of it is a generational divide:

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  • J.J. Toothman

    Just getting around to reading his now. Nice post. Especially concur with the “We’re nowhere” conclusion. One of my main takeaways from SXSW was Laura Fitton’s subway platform metaphor — stand on a subway platform in a place like NYC. Look around. Almost everyone will never have heard of Twitter or social media.

    As you put it, we need to break out of tech bubble. Thats why it’s important for folks like us to target industry after industry, find those ready to participate, and help show them the way. What’s in it for those early adopters? The ability to lead the way within their industry.

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