Ten years ago, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David
Weinberger laid out 95 principles for communicating with customers
online. The Cluetrain Manifesto,
sounded a visionary wake-up call that the Internet would change — was
already changing — the fundamental nature of the relationship between
businesses and their markets. Parts of the book are nothing short of
brilliant, while other passages still have us shaking our heads in confusion about the intended meaning, a full decade later.
Today, for its 10th anniversary, bloggers are revisiting the 95 theses of The ClueTrain Manifesto, thinking and writing about one thesis each.
Have you noticed that, in itself, money is kind of one-dimensional and boring? What else can we talk about?
There is more to life than money. Money is not the driving force for
most people who are involved in charitable causes for the public good
and social change and community actions. Money has value only as a
medium of exchange for goods and services that are of true value… and
These things we can agree upon, I believe — but, is money boring?
in the pit of an economic recession, certainly!
And not to a small
non-profit organization who sees endless needs to be filled from
Still, as a topic of conversation, money is undeniably
one-dimensional. Someone has it, and someone else wants it. Simple as
But smart companies are getting it — that consumers want more than a simple financial transaction. Hence the rise in cause marketing.
A recent Edelman Canada study
reports that three-quarters of those surveyed are more likely to buy a
product if the vendor makes a donation to a good cause, and many are
willing to change their buying habits — to pay more for a product — if
by doing so they can do good in the world. Sixty-three percent said
that brands spend too much on advertising and should put more money
towards charitable donations.
People are looking for meaning beyond money.
For a non-profit organization, talking of nothing but money would
mean that all your supporters would hear from you is a steady stream of
requests for ticket purchases and membership fees and sponsorships and
donations, followed — one hopes — by an accounting of how the funds
were spent to further your oganization’s mission.
Non-profits, traditionally structured on the same top-down model as
businesses are, might read The Cluetrain Manifesto to their advantage. Donors and
members, like the customers of business, want to be more closely
involved with the disposition of funds, at least to the extent of
knowing the stories behind the appeals for donations. Accountability is
a big part of it; but human connection is paramount.
Back in 1999, Nancy White checked in on The Cluetrain from a non-profit perspective, and saw that the conversation needed to go further and deeper:
People are tired of being inundated with selling messages. They
have become cynical about them, which is frightening for those trying
to deliver health education and community building messages. TV
campaigns and government pamphlets are treated with suspicion and
disdain. And they are responding to word of mouth more than ever.
This has significant ramifications for the nonprofit or “third
sector.” For the few blue ribbon organizations that are well-connected
to the big business circuit, life is sweet and the cash flows. But for
the majority, especially the smaller and community based organizations,
life has changed and it is time to get a clue.
An emerging trend is actually a throwback to a familiar model
that has been embraced by unions, religions and, gasp, even cults.
Develop a constituency. Serve them. Listen to them. Work with them,
don’t have them work for you. Give them power and control and then
fasten your seatbelts because all the rules change.
White’s response to The Cluetrain Manifesto was never completed, and
I can certainly see why. The whole book is a bit of a wild ride into
Utopia, some of the points so prophetic that today we take the power of
online conversations and communities almost for granted; others so
outright bizarre that critics can’t be faulted for laughing in their
Still, like the wide-eyed idealism of the hippie era, The Cluetrain
has left an indelible mark. The Internet may be led today by bright
young adults who were still preoccupied with acne and prom dresses when
The Cluetrain first rolled through, but the online world they grew up
into is a fair reflection of that original call to action.
Look around you, and the evidence is clear:
Ten years ago, the
Internet was largely a wasteland of billboards — static websites on the
print publication model — with the occasional geek-dominated forum or
BBS for two-way communication. Now, we’ve almost moved beyond talking
of Web 2.0 because the interactive technology implied by the term has
become so much the norm.
The technology is in place for the
conversation between organization and constituency — all that remains
is for the conversation to be encouraged in every organization.
You can still read The Cluetrain Manifesto online (free) at Cluetrain.com,
and it’s worth doing so if only for a nostalgic sense of the breathless
excitement that ushered in the first whispers of Web 2.0. And if you
find it a bit heavy-going, Michael Mace and Rubincon Consulting have boiled
down the best of The Cluetrain message into Ten Commandments for Communicating with People Online,
which is both easier to absorb than the orginal, and arguably
more readily applied by the kinds of slow-moving organizations that The
Cluetrain aimed to reach, ten years ago today.