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What Else Can We Talk About? 10 Years Since The Cluetrain Manifesto

Lori Halley 28 April 2009 4 comments

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.

Here’s #81:

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 so on.

These things we can agree upon, I believe — but, is money boring?

Not in the pit of an economic recession, certainly!

And not to a small non-profit organization who sees endless needs to be filled from ever-shrinking coffers.

Still, as a topic of conversation, money is undeniably one-dimensional. Someone has it, and someone else wants it. Simple as that.

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 sleeve.

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.

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Tuesday, 28 April 2009 at 3:58 AM


  • Full Circle Associates » Unfinished Business: Cluetrain Manifesto plus 10 said:

    Tuesday, 28 April 2009 at 7:59 AM
  • Chris Locke said:

    Wednesday, 29 April 2009 at 5:55 AM

    Funny you should mention cause marketing. Right after Cluetrain, I wrote a book called Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices, and it has a whole chapter on that subject. You might like it -- and used copies on Amazon are like a penny! (bummer for me, but a boon to the species. or something.)

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Wednesday, 29 April 2009 at 6:35 AM

    Chris, thanks so much for dropping by! Your comment sent me to check out the Google Books preview of Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices (http://books.google.ca/books?id=KYklV-lLyF4C&hl=en) and next stop is Amazon!

  • Matt Moore said:

    Wednesday, 29 April 2009 at 9:54 PM

    I think the biggest challenge that not-for-profits face is their own isolation & pride - at least that's I feel after exploring the sector recently. Here in Australia, NFPs view each other as the competition - if you give a $ to an African entrepreneur then you are not giving it to the mental illness advocacy group down the road.

    We need some 60s-style "free love" here (metaphorically speaking).

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