The Cluetrain Manifesto first surfed onto the internet (as you did then) in 1999, meaning that this famous piece of business literature has now come of age. A somewhat Lutherean piece, with its 95 theses, the manifesto explored the impact of the internet on marketing and corporate communications. The idea running through is that online conversations - the new 'markets' - would make traditional marketing tools and techniques obsolete.
The manifesto has a 'Brave New World' (in the original Shakespearian sense) feel about it, in its celebration of the human voice. This tonality is a far cry from the cute cats, grotesque gifs, saccharine motivational quotes, Trump memes and rants that made up my Facebook stream this morning. But let me think back to 1999. It was probably four or five years since I'd first gone online, my Homepage was Yahoo! and my social media activity consisted of something called the Wedding Forum (later Baby Forum) which was a kind of forerunner of Mumsnet. The internet was not for everyone in those days - we were surfing and stumbling, certainly not being fed.
So how is the Cluetrain Manifesto looking on its 18th birthday? I had a re-read, and was inspired all over again by many of the 95 theses. Some of these are basic truths that have nothing to do with the internet, and are just as relevant today as they were in 1999, and probably 1899 too:
2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
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
21. Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
22. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the
corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight
talk, and a genuine point of view.
23. Companies attempting to "position" themselves need to take a position.
Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about.
24. Bombastic boasts—"We are positioned to become the preeminent provider
of XYZ"—do not constitute a position.
86. When we're not busy being your "target market," many of us are your
people. We'd rather be talking to friends online than watching the clock.
That would get your name around better than your entire million dollar
website. But you tell us speaking to the market is Marketing's job.
But I do think the authors over-emphasised the potential 'smartness' of the majority. 'Informed' covers a multitude of sins. Informed by whom? With truth or alternative facts? With what you choose to listen to?
10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized.
Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.
And more worryingly, it is the 'new' internet corporations that are taking the mantle of the 20th century bad boys, speaking in contrived voices (the chummy dude Californian tone Facebook adopts is just as contrived as the old-style corporate pomposity) , gathering data, invading privacy, controlling newsfeeds, bullying and manipulating.
15. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked
conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound
hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
Another example, perhaps, of where Huxley got it right?
So, Happy Birthday, Cluetrain Manifesto - and let's see how things look in another 18 years. I do wonder what effect bots, Alexa and AI will have on the belief in the 'human voice.'