Posts Tagged ‘cluetrain’

Let’s say you are a government communications type who’s keen on bringing social media into government. Maybe you think you have some ideas on how to make it work, but you can’t figure out why your executives don’t “get it.”

Maybe you’re thinking that social media can shake up the merry-go-round of government announcements. Maybe you think that your organization is not connecting effectively with its audiences online. Maybe you go so far as to think that your organization needs to get on the Cluetrain. After all, control, fear and paranoia get pretty tiresome pretty fast.

Well, the fact of the matter is that your reality is miles away from that of your senior executives — if you’ve ever wondered why their eyes glaze over when you start talking about digital engagement and the participatory web, it’s because this is what you’re up against:

Political management activities are conducted mainly out of ministerial offices by ministerial staff. However, in the overlapping and intersecting worlds of politics and administration in government, it is increasingly expected that the public service at the senior levels will be more involved than in the past with the design and execution of strategies of agenda management. A sign of this trend is the fact that senior public servants are increasingly being “put out front” to explain and even defend government thinking and to negotiate with outside interests.

In communications terms, the notion of separate outside and inside environments is becoming more artificial. The political, parliamentary, pressure group, and media processes serve to make government highly porous to outside influences and create a requirement for ministers and public servants to lead and manage from the “outside in” rather than following the historical pattern, which was more “inside-out.” Ministers and public servants spend an increasing amount of time gathering intelligence about developments outside of government and managing ongoing external relationships with groups within the various policy fields. The result is that communications networks in these fields span organizational boundaries, raising issues of information sharing, confidentiality, risk management, and accountability when government is only one, and not always the lead, actor on an initiative that becomes troubled and controversial.

Political and administrative cultures in government overlap. Ministers want error-free government with no high-profile mistakes. They don’t like surprises. To avoid negative stories and damage to their reputations, they want government communications specialists to practise, as much as possible, “information control” and “news management.”

Source: Who Is Getting the Message? Communications at the Centre of Government, a research paper commissioned as part of the Oliphant Commission.


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For many marketers, regardless of whether they are on the private or public sectors, the following graphic illustrates how they were trained to think about their role:


Ok ok, so in the public sector, replace “buy our stuff” with “believe what we say” ;+)

It’s the broadcast model. Controlled  and consistent messages delivered over and over again via mass channels – the “axe in our heads” that the Cluetrain Manifesto railed against.

But the reality is this:


These are taken from this presentation from a major agency in the UK. They are set up as a “then vs. now” comparison, given the rise of social networks, the blogopshere, user generated content, and blah blah blah.

Sometimes I think that this 2.0 stuff is merely bringing out into the open the way that people reacted (or didn’t react) to the broadcast model all along. But anyhow.

OK so we know that broadcast thinking doesn’t work in a networked world — Well what are the strategies then? We’re all experimenting, but I don’t think we’ve really begun to figure it out yet.

(found via craphammer)

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Since the Cluetrain is 10 years old, there’s lots of attention being paid to it. But some still miss the point a little. To wit –

A little less action, a little more conversation – Brand Republic News – Brand Republic.

This is the second place I’ve seen this post and I still don’t quite get it… esp. this bit:

But if markets are conversations, broadband technology and web inventions have created something the [Cluetrain] manifesto writers could not and did not anticipate.

Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging, e-mail, blogs, Skype – the internet is alive with conversations. Tempting for marketers to think that today’s challenge is to find a way of inserting themselves into these exchanges. No, that’s rude and it doesn’t work.

Our challenge is the much more interesting one – to allow customers to have a conversation with us on their terms and whenever they choose.

Hmm.. true in a strict sense that the Cluetrain could not anticipate apps like Twitter, Facebook etc. specifically, but if memory serves, isn’t the social web in general exactly what the Cluetrain was anticipating?

Not sure that the us/them, marketers vs. customers dialectic perpetuated by this poster in that last paragraph is what the Cluetrain had in mind either. Oh great, the marketers are “allowing” us to have a conversation with them now? Don’t need their permission, never did, thanks for nothing.

I much prefer this kind of approach. Marketing as “brand ethnography:”

Be quiet.  Listen.  Ask.

Likewise, shelve the impulse to be the one with the clever lines & arresting images.  You’re a brand ethnographer now.  Your field notes contain the seeds of strategies.

(h/t Jason Falls).

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Infographic by the ever-reliable Jeremiah Owyang. Boils down one of the key points of Cluetrain very nicely.

Govt types could easily replace the word “corporate” with “government” and “prospect” with “citizen” in this infographic.

It was created by the ever-reliable Jeremiah Owyang (the web strategist) quite some time ago, but I only just learned of it via his retweeting of the original post in which it appeared.

Boils down one of the key points of Cluetrain very nicely:  traditional marketing approaches do not work online. (Did they ever work in any medium?)

12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.


15. In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.

16. Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.

These points were drafted ten years ago — in 1999. When the web was in it’s infancy and buzzwords like “web 2.0” were but a twinkle in O’Reilly’s eye. Many in the private sector have adapted to the conventions of the participatory environment, but governments are only just starting to. We’ve got a long way to go to catch up.

Also like how this points to the importance of — at a minimum — monitoring the myriad of platforms hovering in the background  (blogs, podcasts, rating sites, IM, etc.) — something that us government folks are not doing nearly enough.

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Back to reading Cluetrain again. This tidbit – from Weinberger’s “The Hyperlinked Organization” essay – caught my eye:

An expert is someone who contains a lot of information, like a book contains information. In fact, experts are people who can write books. But, with today’s huge increase in the amount of information, you can be an expert only in something sliced so thin that often it’s trivial. Increasingly, a useful expert is not someone with (containing) all the answers but someone who knows where to find answers. The new experts have value not by centralizing information and control but by being great “pointers” to other people and to useful, current information.

i.e. in our current environment, useful experts are like useful links.


In short, your most valuable employee is likely to be the one who, in response to a question, doesn’t give a concrete answer in a booming voice but who says, “You should talk to Larry. And check Janis’s project plan. Oh, and there’s a mailing list on this topic that I ran into a couple of weeks ago…”

This struck a chord – I’d like to thinking that I’ve been working at being that kind of employee. An aggregator or a conduit who can help others get things done. This takes work though, as it forces me to connect with folks across the Department.

And that doesn’t come easily – there’s still a lot of walls between the various groups in our Department, what with it’s deeply ingrained culture of silos. I find that when trying to reach out and connect to folks beyond the borders of our Comms shop, I can often feel the mistrust in the air. I am willing to bet that this is not unique to my workplace either.

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More on Cluetrain. I got halfway through and had to take it back to the library or face yet another fine. Bummer — but I’ve requested it again already, so I hope it gets back to me soon, before I forget too much of what I read.

From David Weinberger’s first essay in the book, “The Longing,” this caught my eye:

We don’t know what the Web is for but we’ve adopted it faster than any technology since fire.

There are many ways to look at what’s drawing us to the Web: access to information, connection to other people, entrance to communities, the ability to broadcast ideas. None of these are wrong perspectives. But they all come back to the promise of voice and thus of authentic self.

This “voice” theme is a big deal so far in the book. How the internets allow individual voices to break through into public infospace that had been dominated by marketing, PR, corporate communications for a long time.

(I’m not so sure about the “authentic self” part of it, as it seems to me that a lot of public participation online is about cultivating a persona of some sort, but ever for the poseurs, the voice used is an individual one, not an organizational one.)

So, OK, the individual voice. There tends not to be an “I” or even “we” in much govt communications. Other than at the political level, the voice of public services is often a kind of non-voice, often passive, often vague and imprecise. This comes out of the standard process for creating our content — written by committee and way overcooked from endless approvals.

But in social media of all kinds, the voice used is almost always personal, individual, immediate. The blogger or commenter behind the post stands by their words – their own words – they own them in a way that corporate communicators aren’t used to doing.

So how to accommodate the individual voice in a corporate communications environment? Slipping into the organizational voice is a hard habit to break.

So I can’t wait to get the book back in my grubby little hands to see how this saga of the individual voice online turns out.

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I’m getting around to reading actual printed books (!) on social media and web 2.0. Thought I’d better start with the beginning, so right now I’m plugging away at the Cluetrain Manifesto. I know I’m nearly 10 years behind here, but anyhow. I take solace in the fact that people like Jake “Community Guy” McKee are still talking about it (link to a talk he gave recently posted on blip.tv, found via this post.)

Actually, the fact that this book is nearly 10 years old (and I gather that the website that spawned the book has already made it to double digits) is stunning. Circa Y2K, the web was pretty much uncharted territory for all but the serious IT types.

Here’s a little tidbit from the book that showed for me how ahead of its time this book is:

Companies that are actually communicating with online markets have flung the doors wide open … They’re not half as concerned with protecting their data as with how much information they can give away. That’s how they stay in touch, stay competitive, keep market attention from drifting to competitors. Such companies are creating a new kind of corporate identity, based not on the repetitive advertising needed to create “brand awareness,” but on substantive, personalized communications.

Actually us public servant types are pretty good a giving it away – there are millions and millions of Government of Canada web pages out there.

Thing is we’re still stuck in that mode, seeing the Internet as an information delivery mechanism, rather than a medium for substantive, personalized communications. So we put up reams of press releases, publications and other stuff. But we’re certainly not “flinging the doors wide open” to allow for two-way relationships online. Nor are we likely to without a serious push by social media evangelists within the PS, given the culture of the bureaucracy. We’re only beginning to see the light, 10 years on.

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