Who Has Control?

For decades, the overriding construct of good marketing and public relations was that you had to tightly control the message your company was broadcasting to the world. Commercials, press releases, and other materials were carefully meted, checked, and rechecked to make sure everything was “on message”.

In the 00’s (the “aughts,” if you’re wondering how to pronounce that), we like to call these things “talking points.” Even though we are still in an environment where the method by which we share information is changing on a frequent basis, companies still like to make sure that everyone is toeing the line. After all, you want to make sure that everything is portrayed in the most positive light possible, right?

The problem with this approach is that in this post-Cluetrain, post-information-revolution age, control is an illusion.

Companies don’t have control anymore.

The control has passed to the consumers. To the rank-and-file. Your company might try to stay on-message, but look at the statistics. People don’t trust “official” communication now. They see it as too closely managed, too dishonest and impersonal. They want to hear from someone they trust.

Your customers have already taken the conversation to places you possibly haven’t thought. Are they on Facebook? Twitter? A forum somewhere? Email lists of their colleagues? You’re not going to reach them by elbowing in on their turf with an impersonal, robotic corporate mouthpiece and a few posts somewhere. They don’t want subversion; they don’t want to be crushed. They might even be avoiding you.

They want you to participate. And they want you to participate—as in you, the person who is reading this. Not your company. Not some official place for them to gather information. They want to hear from people on the inside, from people very much like them. They want to “get to know you” and to build a relationship of trust.

Sometimes, they want to lavish praise on you. Sometimes, they want to dump on you. They want to share their opinions, and they want honest, personal responses and discussion. The reward for your participation in this conversation is that you earn a measure of trust and can then share with them things that interest you—and those are very likely the things you are working on. (At least, they should be, or you should find a different job.)

They’re in the driver’s seat now.

What are you going to do about it?

Well, I Know I Conversed with People About the Book.

For the last week or so, I’ve been deep into reading The Cluetrain Manifesto, and I will admit specifically to being late to the party on this one, as much of it was published back in 1999 on the Web. I’ve found it to be one of the most interesting collections of essays I’ve read in years, and to be truthsome I believe that, if I had read it back in college, I would have approached a few things in utterly different ways.

Does it have anything to say about ministry or about anything specifically Lutheran? By no means. But it does have some very specific and very pointed things to say about doing business—and doing business well—in an Internet-enabled world.

Part of what it has to say must be taken in the proper context. I had been pointed in the direction of this book by a podcast I was listening to this past week (though I had heard about it before). This book was composed between 1999 and 2001. It is, in hindsight, prophetic. I believe that it accurately predicted the results of the dot-com crash of the early 2000’s, and that the authors saw things happening that many, many other people did not.

There are, on the flip side of this, some things they could not have foreseen. The rise of Google as the preeminent provider of search and context-sensitive advertising had not yet happened, and I seriously doubt that the authors saw the meteoric rise of blogging as a publishing paradigm, as neither is really mentioned. Much focus is heaped on corporate intranets, which in many cases don’t exist anymore—IMO due to atrophy more than anything else. They banked on markets being more interconnected and organized than they appear to have become.

But some things in this book are very, very right. And we would do well to listen to them.

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