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A Response To My Cluetrain Questions

I asked Richard Binhammer five questions in honor of the 10th un-anniversary of the cluetrain manifesto. Just before the New Comm Forum he posted his answers, after catching my breath from last week, I now have a chance to respond, or at least comment on his answers.

In answer to question one, 1) What does the cluetrain manifesto mean to you? How has the book and theses influenced or not influenced you? Richard described some of the central ideas of the cluetrain manifesto. That the web is enabling people to connect in ways not possible before, those connections are extremely powerful, one because it is a community of customers coming together to discuss ideas and products and two because each voice of a customer is a human voice rather than a marketing message. Richard went onto to describe how he and Dell are participating in this new online world of customer discussion.

"if I can listen, learn and participate in conversations in a very human way, including apologizing for mistakes; joking; taking lumps when I am out of line; admitting mistakes; acknowledging we do not have all the answers but willing to see what we can do; follow up to make sure we deliver and don’t leave people hanging; and explain what my point of view may be; then perhaps I contribute to "humanizing" Dell. At the same time, I hope that means this is a business that will not be left behind, but in fact builds strong and direct personal relationships."

For one company, Dell, the cluetrain manifesto has proven to be an important document for describing what is happening with customers online, and a window on what to do about customers asking for a response online.

On question two, 2) Which companies have best implemented the cluetrain manifesto in your opinion and how were they effective? Richard described how he spends

"time helping to "accimatize" others at Dell to the marketplace as a conversation and the current emerging "tools" that can be used on the web."
I was wondering how Dell gives social media training to Dell employees who need it?

Richard also pinpointed a passage in the cluetrain manifesto where the authors suggest companies should search out people in their organization who understand what's happening with the web and customers, make friends with them, and make friends with the marketplace again.

Here is where I think it is not just a matter of giving people social media training, and an understanding of the dynamics of the web and customers, but giving people the resources to be able to listen and respond. With the volume of voices on the web, especially for a large company like Dell, no one, or a group of employees are going to be able to find and respond to every customer and commentator unless those employees are given enough resources. Dell is doing just that with Richard Binhammer and their colleagues. This dedicated resource approach does not mean that employees who don’t have a role in response using social media cannot respond to customers using social media during work or outside. Rather companies must both give social media training to every employee to empower them and protect them when they choose to use social media to talk about their company, and also dedicate certain employees to responding to customers in total.

I've heard a lot about how Dell has built a dedicated team to respond to customers using social media. I have not heard much how social media training is reaching the rest of the enterprise. I’d be curious to learn more.

On question three, 3) In thesis 57, the cluetrain manifesto states, "smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to 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? Richard suggested that we

"may be too early in the evolution of corporate involvement in blogs, social media and conversations to draw a conclusion about whether a single approach to "encourage" or "direct" employees to blog works best."
That this approach and results are going to be different for each company.

Richard suggested that we have to consider Dell in context. Dell's approach was directed by Michael Dell to get involved with conversations with customers using social media. Dell joined in because the company was not responding fast enough using existing communications channels. Dell directed employees because those employees needed a high level of tech experience to fix customer issues. However, increasingly more and more Dell employees are being encouraged to participate within social media.

Last week in New Comm Forum, and at Web 2.0 expo I had several conversations with people about dedicated resources and encouraging employees. My conclusion as a result of those conversations is that you have to do both, but that there will be a gap if in addition to encouraging employees a company does not also direct resources for social media monitoring and response.

In question four, 4) How can a company encourage employees to use social media, and empower them to answer customer questions and learn from customers? Richard described how the company is increasingly using internal blogs. And that use is getting more and more employees up to speed with both the tools and the culture of social media. Richard thinks this internal sandbox will mean,

"As our employees get more comfortable using social media internally, I bet they will increasingly engage externally."
So we do have some insight into what's happening with social media training within Dell, a lot of people are learning by doing.

Lastly, on question five, 5) Do all employees want to talk with customers? If not what percentage want to internetwork and converse? Richard did not have an answer specifically, though he did say that finance is less interested in talking to customers than other groups in the company. He is also finding more and more people want to get involved at Dell. This might make an interesting internal question for company employees at several companies using social media. The figures will give some idea of the adoption rate of social media technologies by employees but also the willingness to use social media to connect to customers and industry communities. Such a survey may help to identify what training needs to be given, but also identify those people who have a good understanding of the new marketplace, and who want to get involved.