Got a blast from the past when I read “Getting aboard the Cluetrain at SXSW.” I remember the excited and sometimes contradictory arguments within the office halls of Vignette back when the Cluetrain Manifesto came out. We had just started trying to figure out what story to tell with our new partnership with Net Perceptions (hint hint – in the end, nothing). Seth Godin was pushing Permission Marketing. The idea of marking as dialog made great books, fantastic PowerPoint slides, and lucrative sales. Memories of the huge Personalization Summit that year (1999) in San Francisco comes roaring back like a bad ghost locomotive.
So how did things go off-track then, and will social networking do what personalization could not?
Personalization and dialogue failed then for some very simple reasons. First, we were all getting too rich to care about execution. Second was that business was simply not ready for marketing to switch from a monologue to a dialogue. And finally, PowerPoint-level integration does not constitute a shift in the way enterprises market and deliver.
History doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme (Mark Twain). Back then, there WERE companies that understood markets were conversations. Dell and Southwest Airlines got it. Companies that have thriving support systems with forums got it. But what was key then, and what is key now?
“Discussions” cannot simply be between the corporate marketing department and the customer. Its not the latest widget or viral video. Social networking has already dramatically moved power into the hands of the customer. If you don’t believe that, piss off someone and then watch for the inevitable blog trashing you.
If markets are truly conversations, then you cannot keep most of your organization mute. Organizations must not gag their employees. Any member of the organization should be able to conduct some form of dialog with their customers, partners, and stakeholders. Until companies come up with empowering policies for blogging, social bookmarking, and social networking, then all of the software and conferences and books and webcasts will be meaningless.
Will we embrace the dialog, or continue to depend on link bait, SEO pixie dust, and widget-of-the-month efforts that lack effectiveness but keep management and marketing departments in absolute control of the the “official” conversations?
Perhaps the saddest thing about the Cluetrain Manifeso is that today, almost ten years later, the big orange box at the top of the its home page reads “This Site Declared A Read-Only Landmark.”