Cluetrain 10 Years Later: Conversation over Corporate Sites

It’s been ten years since the birth of the Cluetrain Manifesto, a book I’ve kept on my desk for most of that span. I’ve joined the CluetrainPlus10 project where 95 bloggers are riffing on the 95 theses from Cluetrain.

I’ve got #90:

Even at its worst, our newfound conversation is more interesting than most trade shows, more entertaining than any TV sitcom, and certainly more true-to-life than the corporate web sites we’ve been seeing.

The trade shows line goes without saying. I’ll avoid discussing TV sitcoms, as few conversations I have are as entertaining as the hour of The Office and 30 Rock. The last part is where it gets interesting.

Corporate web sites, and sites of all flavors, are increasingly social. It’s coming from a number of angles. Paltalk and Meebo make it easy to chat while perusing and consuming other content. KickApps and Vitrue are among the many technologies that provide social applications that can be incorporated into other sites. Review applications like Bazaarvoice bring conversations to product pages. Ning lets anyone create a social network from scratch.

Then we’re seeing it go a step further where third-party login platforms from Facebook, Google, and now Twitter make it easy for any publisher to create a community around their content, not by creating a community from scratch but by allowing people to naturally take their networks with them. One of my favorite such iterations of this is Glue from AdaptiveBlue turns various kinds of pages, such as for books and movies, into communal discussions. It will also recognize, for instance, a movie page on IMDB as referring to the same as the movie on Netflix or Rotten Tomatoes, so the conversation travels across all of them.

And then there’s Skittles. This is what first came to mind when I saw the Cluetrain thesis. I wrote a bit about “Why Skittles Killed Its Web Site” in March, and this point stands out as especially relevant:

Here’s the message Skittles is sending: What consumers say about the brand is more important than what the brand has to say to consumers.

Ultimately, that’s the moral of Cluetrain too. The conversations are more important than the marketingspeak, those controlled one-way blasts. There’s still a place for all that, as millions and millions of consumers want to interact with brands in social channels. But these social channels are where people interact with each other first, and brands, if they learn how, can participate.

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