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The Cluetrain Manifesto Communications Strategies

Critiquing The Cluetrain Manifesto

I have a critique of the cluetrain manifesto in mind, one that has been forming in the back of my mind for these last few years. I thought I'd write some notes in this post to start the ball rolling.

I pulled out all of the thesis from the cluetrain manifesto, which I thought were relevant for my purposes and on some of them I've written notes and ideas. This post is all in draft stage, as I am looking for feedback.


I do not disagree with the central tenet of the cluetrain manifesto that the world has changed because people or markets are internetworked in ways that empower them in ways that were unthinkable just fifteen years ago. Thesis 8 describes this, “In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.” I just think that after 8-10 years of the manifesto we need to take a critical look at exactly how companies are implementing the cluetrain's theses intentionally or un-intentionally, and if those theses are still relevant in the light of those actions?

My thanks to the authors of the cluetrain manifesto for inspiring this post, I hope you don’t mind my reproducing a number of the theses here, I found a stream of consciousness was about the only way I could get down some of my ideas. I also found it is helpful to write notes next to each thesis as I tend to often forget the single tree for the forest of ideas when it comes to the cluetrain manifesto.


9. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.

10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.

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.

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.

14. 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.

45. 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.

46. A healthy intranet organizes workers in many meanings of the word. Its effect is more radical than the agenda of any union.

47. 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.

- My experience with companies which use the cluetrain manifesto approach (encouraging all employees to blog or use social media) and the dedicated approach (only giving permission to a limited few to speak on behalf of a company) does not necessarily play out in the real world. For example, Dell is controlling networked conversations now that the company has developed a process to engage customers with their issues and complaints about the company, in blogs and social media.

Yet, the result has been good for both Dell customers and the company, how can the example of Dell be explained within the confines of the cluetrain manifesto?

Dell is not scared about letting people communicate directly. I suspect Dell will empower employees to connect with customers as much as possible as long as the discussion topics are about business. Maybe that’s the difference between the open approach used by IBM and Microsoft and the dedicated approach at Macromedia and Dell. Macromedia and Dell empowered employees with resources, while IBM and Microsoft give only verbal encouragement without the backing of cash and resources. There may not be a difference in strategy between the dedicated approach and the cluetrain manifesto, just in tactics.

48. 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.

51. Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of paranoia.

- Anarchy actually does not work, the cluetrain manifesto was a good book for recognizing the problems with the corporation and how the coming of the internet and social media will help people to be more networked, but the book did not provide a really effective road map for how to open up a company. In addition where companies have opened up to an extent, the effort was un-funded. That's not necessarily a criticism of the company or even the cluetrain manifesto, but rather it tests the hypothesis to see what works and does not work.

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

- Dell has not followed the open conversation approach, certain people are dedicated to open conversation, but the entire company has not been thrown open to Open conversation.

Maybe in the process of encouraging open conversation, companies like Microsoft and IBM have failed to give the training, tools and tactics necessary for success. While, Macromedia and Dell’s focus on a smaller group of dedicated people has produced more results. Microsoft succeeded with social media where the company empowered dedicated evangelists like Robert Scoble, Heather Hamilton and Channel9. Perhaps the open approach is doomed to lethargy? Here I’d like more input from IBMers and Microsoft people, I know I am a few years out of date from my 2005 study. If you do respond it would be helpful to read a genuine analysis of what’s happening.

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.

- One criticism I level at the cluetrain manifesto is that it fails to recognize that without command and control, there's no budget, companies give budgets to departments, campaigns, and disciplines, typically not individuals. Yet, getting involved with conversation with customers actually can take time. I've spoken with people who have encouraged their employees to blog, and although encouraged many do not, I think that the cluetrain manifesto was not clear enough in providing a roadmap for how companies give employees their freedom to communicate. The way to empower employees is to give them budget, in resources and time to converse.

Command and control may stifle the process of two way communication, yet in reviewing the activities of several companies using social media, it seems to me those companies that have done some of the best work with social media have used a command and control approach to the deployment of resources.

Dell is probably one of the best stories about the use of social media for engaging customers; in July of 2006 the company realized that 50% of comments about the company in their blogging community held a negative sentiment. That figure required action, changes to the structure of Dell and how the company engaged customers using social media. In Jan of 2008 the negative sentiments were down to 22%, a huge shift in sentiment towards the company, that results required structural changes but also the deployment of substantial resources to Dell's dedicated social media customer response team.

My information about Microsoft is not quite as up to date, but I understand that the strategy Microsoft followed was one of encouraging all employees to blog. Microsoft has had results, but the effects have not been as dramatic as Dell.

Macromedia was another company that focused its efforts on a few employees, 65, in development and product development when the company launched blogs in 2002. Macromedia has since merged into Adobe and their social media story is not quite as compelling, however, in 2005 Macromedia was using blogging for product development, customer service, sales leads, and higher rankings. When I compared Macromedia to IBM and Microsoft at the time in the Backbone Media Corporate blogging survey, I determined that Macromedia was achieving more results as a result of a more focused effort in their corporate blogging efforts. The Corporate blogging strategy cut across the enterprise, in contrast to Macromedia, Microsoft and IBM had a new media strategy which has been by its nature piece meal. Microsoft's strategy in fact was to build centers of excellence from which employees and departments would be inspired and follow suit.

My gut tells me the dedicated approach works better than the open approach in companies. Now there's a dilemma for cluetrainer's. In Thesis 57, the cluetrain states, "Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner." I don't think this is correct, unless those companies that have tried the cluetrain manifesto approach did not really follow the entire theses. In which case is there an example of a company that is actually following the manifesto successfully, used the open approach and had success? If not maybe it is time to reevaluate some of the details of the hypothesis?

I think one reason why the open cluetrain manifesto approach does not work as well as the dedicated approach is that unless resources are provided people will not have an incentive to communicate. In thesis 56, the manifesto states, "These two conversations want to talk to each other. They are speaking the same language. They recognize each other's voices," this is in relation to the conversations happening among customers and employees. I would suggest that most employees are not empowered to converse in the way that cluetrain manifesto suggests, and even if they are employees have as many cultural hang-ups as management. In talks with Zane Safrit about his company, Conference Calls unlimited, Zane has told me on a number of occasions that he encourages all of his employees to blog, but none really take him up on the offer.

Rather than encouraging employees to blog in company time, pay them to blog; give them resources, just as Dell and Macromedia did.

57. Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.

-Is this true will the inevitable happen, and what does getting out of the way mean? My criticism is that the cluetrain did not explain to companies what they have to do to get out of the way. Though maybe that was never the role of the book, and for others to interpret, however, I think the lack of a road map has led to more stumbling than should have been necessary.

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

- Do employees actually want to talk to customers?

65. 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.

67. As markets, as workers, we wonder why you're not listening. You seem to be speaking a different language.

84. 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?

- Early developments in social media adoption usually revolved around certain individuals who were self motivated to use social media to communicate their views. Those people are in every company, but not in huge numbers, Microsoft has 10's of thousands of employees but as a ratio of employees, the number of bloggers in their thousands is small. More people use social networking tools than blogs, so there may be greater conversation between employees and customers within social networking technologies.

85. 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.

- Maybe that's the problem with social media evangelism through the promotion of the cluetrain manifesto approach, the motivation relies upon the employee to adopt such practices, while in the dedicated resources approach used by Dell or Macromedia, you are guaranteed to cover the important products and bases in the company with someone who is paid to write, or record.

86. 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 web site. But you tell us speaking to the market is Marketing's job.

- Whose job is it to speak to customers? Companies may state it is everyone employee's job, but employees bring their own baggage to companies, maybe it is not a case of employees saying "management will not let me talk to customers," rather people think "it is marketing's job to talk to customers, not mine." Perhaps the method by which we get to the ideals of the cluetrain manifesto is by using some good old command and control practices that direct people to talk to customers with the right resources deployed. That may not be pretty and within the spirit of the book but I wonder if this is true?